in Slovakia, the Prime Minister pays the price of his acquaintances with the Russian vaccine

Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič (right) and Slovakian Health Minister Marek Krajci deliver a press statement at Kosice International Airport, Slovakia on March 1, 2021.
Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič (right) and Slovak Health Minister Marek Krajci deliver a press statement at Kosice International Airport in Slovakia on March 1, 2021 (PETER LAZAR / AFP)

He is arguably the first major political victim of these serial controversies over Covid-19 vaccines in many countries. Igor Matovič, the Slovak Prime Minister, provoked an outcry at the beginning of March, by deciding unilaterally, without consulting anyone, to order two million doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, including 200,000 immediately imported. He went so far as to receive them himself on the tarmac at the airport in Kosice, the country’s second largest city, a bit like his Hungarian neighbor, the controversial Viktor Orban.

The Sputnik V vaccine is still not authorized by the European Medicines Agency, and Slovakia is part of the European Union. In this small country of five million inhabitants, in the heart of the former Eastern Europe, this story is the straw that broke the camel’s back because the management of the pandemic by Igor Matovič, in particular since the second wave in the fall, is chaotic and inconsistent. With almost 10,000 deaths, Slovakia has one of the worst results in the world when we relate this mortality to the population. The contamination rate is very high. Result: 80% of Slovaks demanded the resignation of Igor Matovic.

But the Prime Minister has only half resigned. It’s even quite lunar as a situation. In a few days, six of his ministers slammed the door of the government, including several heavyweights: the ministers of Education, Health and Foreign Affairs. All pro-Europeans, all irritated by this importation of Sputnik V which looks like an allegiance to Russia.

On Sunday March 28, Igor Matovič finally decided to throw in the towel, but not completely. He used a convoluted formulation, where he referred to the Easter holidays, “symbol of sacrifice”, to then add “that he was ready to make a gesture towards those who ask for his resignation.” He offered to quit his post, on condition of exchanging it with the current finance minister, a member of the same party as him. A sleight of hand that leaves you wondering.

It must be said that Igor Matovič’s party is a curious party, which appeared from scratch a little over a year ago. Olano (this is the name of this party), an acronym, for “party of ordinary people and independent personalities”. Olano came first in the legislative elections with 25% of the vote last year. He had campaigned on a simple idea: degagisme and the fight against corruption, omnipresent in the country. On this level, Igor Matovič also presents a rather positive assessment: dozens of magistrates and police officers suspected of corruption have been arrested. And the great mafia leader of the country, Marian Kocner, has been brought to justice, in particular for having ordered the assassination of a journalist, Jan Kuciak.

But for the rest, the ideas of Igor Matovič, rather classified in the center right, remain vague. This former vodka importer turned press boss is more comfortable posing on Facebook than developing a political program. The Russian vaccine business is therefore undoubtedly too many inconsistencies.

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