The Hellenic Society of Imperial College has invited Mr. Adonis Georgiadis, the Greek Minister of Health, to speak about the Greek “national effort” to exit the crisis and the “pan-European dimension” of this effort on Sunday 16th March 2014. The Greek students and staff at Imperial College are outraged and have issued this statement:
‘During the last five years, Greece has been faced with a multi-dimensional crisis which brought it to the verge of bankruptcy and had enormous repercussions for the living standards of the country’s population. Under the terms of successive bailouts agreed with the troika of international lenders (EC, ECB, IMF), Greece implemented savage austerity measures, unprecedented in European history since the Great Depression. The results today are staggering; GDP has declined by 27%, wages have been cut by more than 30%, coupled with tax increases and emergency tax hikes, while unemployment has reached 28%. Public services, including health and education, are under-funded to the point of collapse. An extensive privatization programme has under-sold many state companies and assets. The depression has caused a severe humanitarian crisis inside Greece, with 34% of the population living under poverty or social exclusion, and has forced tens of thousands of Greeks to seek work or study opportunities abroad.
In this climate, the Hellenic Society of Imperial College has chosen to invite Mr. Adonis Georgiadis, the Greek Minister of Health, to speak about the Greek “national effort” to exit the crisis and the “pan-European dimension” of this effort. Mr. Georgiadis is a staunch and flamboyant supporter of the austerity cuts. His term of office in the Ministry of Health has already been marked by the most violent reforms, budget cuts and layoffs in the health sector since the beginning of the crisis. Mr. Georgiadis’ policies are dictated by the troika and have been imposed to every country receiving financial support from the IMF in the past. The disastrous consequences of these austerity policies, notably the preventable losses of human lives, have been demonstrated by several reports, the most recent of which was published in The Lancet journal. With health spending capped at 6% of GDP and no recruitments in the public health sector in 3 years, public hospitals are severely understaffed and face shortages in basic consumables. Despite that, primary health care centres have been closed, imposing an extra burden to the already overcrowded hospitals, and public-health workers face layoffs. Meanwhile, with the number of state-subsided pharmaceuticals drastically decreased and patient contributions increased, many patients with chronic conditions (e.g. cancer, AIDS) are unable to cope with expenses. Furthermore, it is estimated that 2.3 million people are uninsured, practically lacking access to health services if they are unable to pay. Finally, worsening living conditions and limited access to health care have led to a resurgence of malaria and tuberculosis, the levels of HIV infection are soaring among drug users, infant mortality between 2008 and 2010 has risen by 43% and suicide, alcoholism and drug use rates are spiking. Protests against the imposed policies were faced by Mr. Georgiadis in a provocative way. The Minister has repeatedly bullied doctors and medical staff on national television, putting the blame on them for the existing problems, while advertising the need for budget cuts. Whether it is acceptable to deprive a whole society of basic health care in the name of debt repayment is a matter of debate.
Of course, other public services like higher education have not been spared of austerity policies. Since 2009, the funding of public research centres and universities has been cut by about 30% and 40% respectively, the salaries of researchers and faculty members have been cut by 40%, more than 1000 new lecturers have been placed into a “waiting list” although they were elected years ago, more than 1700 administrative employees were put into a “suspension” scheme leaving many universities understaffed, subscriptions to academic journals have been halted for months and many departments are lead to merger or closure. All these measures are coupled with frequent defamatory comments against public universities by government members, including Mr. Georgiadis who has openly promoted private institutions.
The rise of Mr. Georgiadis in Greek politics is a symptom of the authoritarian, far-right turn of the Greek government. Many members of the government have promoted xenophobia and racism, with the Prime Minister himself stating that “We have to re-conquer our cities from immigrants”. A 2010 law opening the door to citizenship for second-generation immigrants has been repealed. Democratic institutions are also under attack. The government passes controversial laws by decree, one of which ordered the sudden closure of the state TV and radio broadcaster last year. Several strikes have been outlawed in advance using a “forced mobilisation order”, a concept originally designed to be used in national emergencies. Mr. Georgiadis has been in the vanguard of these developments. He has suggested that “left-wing ideology has surrendered Greece to the hands of Muslims, transforming Athens into a Taliban-land”. He has also said: “One of the goals *of the government] is that they [immigrants] understand they are not welcome in Greece. One of the ways to convince them is to frequently prosecute them […] to make their life as difficult as possible so that they understand it is time to go”. Mr. Georgiadis also has a history of remarks about Jews (“all major banks belong to the Jews”, “the Jewish lobby will determine the fate of Greece’s foreign debt”).
Therefore, the “effort” of Mr. Georgiadis and his government is all but “national”. It is rather an effort towards increasing inequalities, selling-off public property and turning against the weakest members of society. The “pan-European dimension” of this effort can only be interpreted as a call for the adoption of neoliberal policies across the continent.
As Greek students, staff and alumni of Imperial College we strongly oppose the invitation to Mr. Georgiadis. We want to make clear that the few committee members of the Hellenic Society do not represent the Greeks of IC and that they act based on their own political interests. Most of us, as well as thousands of other Greeks in the UK and other European countries, have been forced to leave Greece because of the policies of Mr. Georgiadis’ government (and the governments preceding it, which came from the exact same parties that are in power today). Inviting someone with such a background to lecture on exiting the crisis is quite ironic and surely problematic. On top of that, a person who has so vehemently lashed out at Greek universities, which are the alma mater of many current students and staff of IC, cannot be welcome here.