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Central Europe: The most important news from 16 to 22 August

By UME

Slovenia

  • On Thursday 19 August, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, Janez Janša, held a telephone conversation with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. They discussed recent developments and the situation in Afghanistan, the future activities of the EU Council in the face of the changing geopolitical situation, the future of Europe and the Bled Strategic Forum, as well as the agenda of the upcoming EU-Western Balkans Summit.
  • On Friday, August 20, the government amended the ordinance on the implementation of screening programs for the early detection of new coronavirus infections and redefined for which activities the cost of rapid antigen testing will continue to be covered by the state budget, Health Minister Janez Poklukar said today. Until further notice, the tests will be carried out once a week.
  • On Friday evening, August 20, left-wing demonstrators met with Prime Minister Janez Janša and Interior Minister Ales Hoys at the Kredarica Hut at the foot of Slovenia’s highest mountain, Triglav, and verbally attacked them. Janša and Hojs visited Triglav with a Hungarian delegation, and the demonstrators ideologically soiled the summit of Slovenia’s highest mountain with a 70th symbolic anti-war protest. During the incident at the mountain hut, the minister and prime minister remained calm while listening to the insults and accusations of the left.
  • On Sunday, August 22, Prime Minister Janez Janša stressed on his Twitter account that “the EU will not open European ‘humanitarian’ or migration corridors to Afghanistan. We will not allow the strategic mistake of 2015 to be repeated,” adding that only those who helped us during the NATO operation and the EU members who protect our external border will be helped.

Hungary

  • According to a poll published on Monday 16 August by the Republikon Institute, Fidesz-KDNP would receive 35% of the vote in next Sunday’s parliamentary elections, ahead of the Democratic Coalition (DK) of former Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and his wife Klára Dobrev with 12%, Jobbik (far-right, pro-EU populists) with 11%, Momentum with 6% and the Socialist Party with 6% – a total of 35% for the so-called László Toroczkai’s nationalist movement Mi Hazánk would receive only 1% of the vote. However, 26% of respondents are still undecided, even though the elections will not take place until April 2022.
  • Hungary’s GDP literally skyrocketed in the second quarter of 2021, increasing by 17.9% compared to the same period in 2020. This sharp increase (the highest ever) follows the equally sharp decline (5.5%) last year. This announcement is good news for Hungarian families, as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced in early June that families will receive a tax refund of up to Ft 800,000 (about €2,300) per person if growth is above 5.5% throughout 2021. This could affect one and a half million taxpayers. In addition, in the event of strong growth, premiums for pensioners are also provided. After all, according to the current forecasts, the Hungarian economy is likely to grow quite strongly in the third quarter as well.
  • Hungary’s public debt fell from 81% to 77.6% of GDP between 31 March and 30 June 2021.
  • In an analysis published on August 15 in the conservative daily Magyar Nemzet, political scientist Tamás Fricz broke the Huxit taboo and outlined the objective reasons that might lead the Hungarian authorities to consider such an option, which was previously considered unthinkable.
  • According to Eurostat statistics published on Wednesday 18Th August the construction sector grew by 2.8% between July 2020 and July 2021 and by 3.5% across the European Union. This growth is particularly strong in Hungary (+27.7%), Romania (+10.2%) and Austria (+10%), while three EU countries recorded a decline over the same period: Spain (-10.6%), Germany (-1.6%) and Belgium (-0.6%).
  • Throughout the weekend, Hungary celebrates its most important holiday, St. Stephen’s Day, to commemorate the founding of the country in 1000 by the first Hungarian king, Saint Stephen I (Szent István). On Friday, August 20, more than 700,000 people watched an extraordinary 36-minute fireworks display on the banks of the Danube between the Margaret and Petőfi Bridges in Budapest. 40,000 rockets were fired from 300 different launch points, accompanied by background music composed especially for the event and played by a 150-piece orchestra, while a speaker told the story of Hungary in six chapters, all opened and completed with drones.

Polen

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in Canberra on August 15 that his country had just purchased one million BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines from Poland to be used to vaccinate Australians between the ages of 20 and 39, particularly in Sydney.
  • According to the Polish Statistical Office (CIS), Polish GDP grew by 10.9% in the second quarter of 2021, after a slight decline (0.9%) in the first quarter. This high percentage increase must be seen against the background that Polish GDP fell sharply in the second half of 2020 as a result of the so-called “first wave” of covidian measures (8.3%). The GDP of the second quarter of 2021 is thus 1.7% higher than in the second quarter of 2019.
  • Following the fall of Kabul on August 15 and the Taliban’s de facto seizure of power in Afghanistan, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on his Twitter account that Poland would “issue humanitarian visas for 45 people working with the Polish delegation […] have worked in Kabul, as well as for their family members”.
  • Poland, which, like Lithuania and Latvia, is facing an influx of Middle Eastern migrants from Belarus (eight times more than last year!), decided on August 13 to reinforce its border guards at the Belarusian border. “The situation on the border with Belarus is under control. I thank all those who work for the security of our borders, for their professional work. The Polish state is prepared for any possible development of the situation,” Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński said on the subject.
  • The Polish liberal-conservative movement Konfederacja expressed concern on Thursday, August 19, about the possible abuse of the so-called “Law 1449” to combat infectious diseases presented by Health Minister Adam Niedzielski, which provides for fines of up to 30,000 zloty (6,500 euros) for each “concealment of information” about the epidemic. Jakub Kalus, who represented the Konfederacja, denounced that the bill does not provide for the possibility of compensation in the event of death caused by the vaccine and excludes compensation for people who tested positive for Covid on the day of their hospitalization. For Krzysztof Bosak, deputy chairman of the Konfederacja, “these regulations are in drastic contradiction to the official propaganda of optimism and security advocated by the government […] If the government were fully convinced that vaccinations are just a formality, that everything is safe and practically risk-free, it would be easy for them to implement an efficient recycling system that captures all negative reactions to vaccinations and to set up an efficient and transparent compensation fund.” Krzysztof Bosak then also called for the resignation of Health Minister Adam Niedzielski, because “a man who introduces such regulations is not worthy of an office that serves the good of poles. The government must respect the rights of citizens.”
  • The European Commission has decided to suspend subsidies to the Lesser Poland Voivodeship because this Polish region has adopted a resolution declaring itself “free of LGBT ideology” – a largely symbolic statement.
  • Following the signing by Polish President Andrzej Duda of the amendment to the Code of Administrative Procedure, which stipulates that an administrative decision can no longer be challenged 30 years after its adoption, and the subsequent outrageous statements by leading Israeli politicians who falsely described the Polish amendment as anti-Semitic and a violation of the “rights of the victims of the Holocaust”, the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieck on August 15: “Israel’s decision to lower the rank of diplomatic mission in Warsaw is unfounded and irresponsible, and the words of Israeli Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Yair Lapid arouse the indignation of any honest person. Anyone who knows the truth about the Shoah and the suffering of Poland during World War II cannot tolerate such a kind of political game. […] To use this tragedy for partisan political interests is shameful and irresponsible. If the Israeli government continues to attack Poland in this way, it will also have a very negative impact on our relations – both bilaterally and internationally. For example, the Israeli government has recalled its prodigy in Poland and decided not to send its ambassador to Warsaw for the time being, while officially asking the Polish ambassador, Marek Magierowski, not to return to Israel. In view of these growing tensions, the Polish authorities have decided to send the children of the Polish ambassador to Israel back to Warsaw for security reasons… Poland has so far been one of the few European countries to systematically defend Israel on the international stage.
  • The Warsaw Court of Appeal ruled on Monday, August 16, that Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking, the authors of the book “The Night is the Next”, do not have to apologize to Filomena Leszczyńska for the claims made in their book that their uncle Edward Malinowski was “complicit in the deaths of several dozen Jews during the Second World War, who hid in the forest and were handed over to the Germans”. The chairman of the Polish League against Delander (Fundacja Reduta Dobrego Imienia – Polska Liga Przeciw Zniesławieniom), Maciej Świrski, who supports Filomena Leszczyńska in the case, announced that he would file a cassation.

Czech Republic

  • Lufthansa subsidiary Eurowings, the low-cost airline, has announced that it will open eleven new flight connections from Prague from 31 October. In addition to the existing route to Düsseldorf, Eurowings now also connects the Czech capital with Athens, Barcelona, Birmingham, Bristol, Copenhagen, Fuerteventura, Malaga, Milan, Tel Aviv, Tenerife and Zagreb.
  • At the same time, the public advertising agency CzechTourism has just launched a campaign in the German border regions of Saxony and Bavaria as well as in Berlin and Thuringia, which focuses on spa and city tourism. In 2019, the last year before Covid, more than two million German tourists visited the Czech Republic. Similar campaigns have also been launched in Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.
  • In an interview with Parlamentní Listy, Czech President Miloš Zeman sharply criticized the United States and NATO for the fiasco that was the case of Kabul on August 15, reminiscent of the case of Saigon in 1975. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš called such a hasty withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan “useless nonsense.”

Slovakia

  • The government application for using QR codes is now available. Its use is at the discretion of the owners of shops and leisure facilities.
  • Bottlenecks are also threatening the construction industry in Slovakia, and costs are expected to rise by 10-25% in the coming months.
  • According to an AKO poll, former Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini’s party is the most popular with 19.5%. This is followed by the SaS with 14.7%, Robert Ficos Smer with 11.3%, then the party that leads the governing coalition, OL’aNO with 9.8%, followed by the PS with 8.9%, Sme Rodina with 6.6% and KDH with 6.3%. The other parties are below 5%, especially the nationalists of Kotleba (L’SNS) with 3.9%. 16.2% of respondents intend to abstain and 14.5% are undecided.

Lithuania

  • Relations between the People’s Republic of China and Lithuania have been strained since authorities in Vilnius allowed nationalist China (Taiwan) to open a trade office in the Baltic country in July. In retaliation, as the Three Seas Initiative (TSI) announced on Twitter on Thursday, August 19, China has decided to suspend all direct rail links between China and Lithuania as part of the New Silk Road project until further notice. The province of Taiwan, to which Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist Chinese government of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party of China, in power until 2016) withdrew in December 1949 after its military defeat against communist troops and which officially calls itself the Republic of China, is considered by the Chin People’s Republic as an integral part of Chinese territory. Despite some efforts, the Republic of China (Taiwan) has not yet officially proclaimed its independence from its communist big sister.
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