Imperial Greek Students and Staff of Imperial College against the invitation of Mr. Adonis Georgiadis
Over the last five years, Greece has been facing a crisis that has brought it to the verge of bankruptcy and has had enormous repercussions for the living standards of its population. The Troika of international lenders (EC, ECB, IMF) has, via its bailout plan, imposed on Greece the most brutal austerity measures in Europe since the Great Depression. The results today are staggering; GDP has declined by 27%, wages have been cut by more than 25%, coupled with tax increases and emergency tax hikes, while unemployment has risen to 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. Greece is suffering a severe humanitarian crisis – 34% of the population live in poverty or suffer social exclusion. Tens of thousands of Greeks have been forced 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 and a very controversial figure in Greece. 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. As Greek students, staff and alumni of IC, we believe this invitation is offensive and uses the name of IC to serve political interests. We thus oppose it.
Mr. Georgiadis’ policies are dictated by the troika and have been imposed on every country receiving financial support from the IMF in the past. The disastrous consequences of these austerity measures, notably the preventable loss 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 forced to close, further burdening the already overcrowded hospitals, while public-health workers face layoffs. Meanwhile, as the number of state-subsidised pharmaceuticals has drastically decreased, many patients with chronic conditions (e.g. cancer, AIDS) are unable to cope with the increased 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, deteriorating 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 has risen by 43% and suicide, alcoholism and drug use rates are spiking. Mr. Georgiadis responded to protests against the imposed policies in a provocative way. The Minister has repeatedly bullied doctors and medical staff on national television, blaming them for the existing problems, while advocating the need for budget cuts. However, depriving a whole society of basic health care in the name of debt repayment is, in our opinion, unacceptable.
Of course, other public services like higher education have not been spared from austerity policies. Since 2009, the funding of public research centres and universities, as well as the salaries of research staff and faculty members, have been cut by more than 30%. Over 1000 new lecturers, appointed years ago, have been placed on a “waiting list”. More than 1700 administrative employees were put into a “suspension” scheme, 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: “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 anti-semitic remarks (“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 these authoritarian and 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; they act as political partisans and exploit an IC society to serve their own political interests. Mr. Georgiadis attempts to use the status of IC to promote himself inside Greece and legitimize his controversial policies. Many, if not most, of the thousands of 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 misleading and quite ironic. On top of that, we believe that a person who has so vehemently lashed out at Greek universities, which are the almae matres of many current students and staff of IC, cannot be welcome here.
*The sources of the quotes and figures used in the text are available on request.