The waiting time for a public ambulance on the Greek island where Hippocrates, father of Western medicine was born, two and a half thousand years ago, is around six hours. Even though, Kos can be self-sufficient, from energy to healthcare, resources are managed privately not publically. And most clinics and doctors for the tourists that the island’s economy depends on are private.
Today, Hippocrates, famous for the fifth century BCE ethical oath which doctors take is what makes Kos internationally famous. But medical facilities are rationed in a way perhaps worse than in the first half millennium before Christ. It’s no exaggeration to say that hundreds of thousands of Greeks have been killed by the deal done by the “troika” – the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank. Their policies have pushed life expectancy sharply down.
The IMF – responsible for mass impoverishment in the developing world – is now forced to admit it got Greece wrong. Its economists admit they exacerbated the near-destruction of the Greek economy after the 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Last summer, Christine Lagarde’s organisation first blamed the “fiscal multiplier” – technocratic speak for endangering lifesaving public services. Then, the IMF, in effect, said they had got it wrong merely because they were “over optimistic”.
What would Hippocrates think of the apocalyptic plan devised by the “troika”? With three signatures, Greece’s health budget was slashed by 40 percent after Lehman. These strokes of the pen destroyed the livelihoods of some 35,000 doctors and nurses. Infant mortality in turn rose by 40 percent. The effects of the European Union-Washington Consensus policies saw new HIV infections doubling and malaria cases not seen since the 1970s emerge in the South of the country.
The National School of Public Health in Athens says one third of all Greek patients have to take lower doses of prescribed medicine because they can’t afford treatment. Walking across the ruins of the ancient Asklepion on Kos, where Hippocrates was taught medicine by his father, it’s not too crazy to imagine islanders going back to praying at temples to the son of Apollo.
Anecdotally, support for the great political hope represented by Syriza has waned since the heady days when its leader, Alexis Tsipras, rocked the Greek political establishment to come second in general elections and first in European elections. He may have helped to see off the fascist Golden Dawn Party, but his willingness to work within European institutions has taken the shine off his anti-capitalist agenda. Europe and its neoliberal heritage is seen by the people as an enemy that cannot be appeased.
Kos is only a mile or so away from Turkey with its two percent GDP growth and re-election of Recep Tayep Erdogan. In Greece, there is no growth – its GDP contractions were until recently wavering between minus seven and eight percent. And the EU not only mythologises capitalism with its catastrophic economic plans for Greece – it even tells lies about the history of Kos. There is little reference in guidebooks to the four hundred years of Ottoman Rule from Constantinople and the reasons why Arabic inscriptions adorn ruins and monuments on the island. As if to try and erase the island’s Islamic past, there is no explanation in guidebooks for tourists as to why even engravings around Hippocrates’ Tree, where the great man is thought to have taught – are all in Arabic.
It’s the same amidst the ruins of the castle in Kos Town attributed to followers of St. John the Divine, author of Revelations. EU history is re-imagined into a story only of Christian crusaders despite Arabic letters on broken marble.
Incidentally, a clash of timelines means St. John can’t be the same John of the gospels. This is the St. John of the four horsemen. And his predictions of doom seem palpable on Kos. Even if St. John spent most of his time on the nearby island of Patmos, infamous for the mansions of corrupt post-war Greek politicians, his apocalyptic biblical clairvoyance could equally apply to Kos. The seeds of Greek destruction were sown after the Second World War. But there is a curious lack of rage about how a U.S.-backed junta erased post-war formulations of a brighter future.
That’s not to say though there isn’t disgust at CIA-legacy politicians like incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. He had the nerve to actually praise austerity in Greece. He warns worse is to come – in a nation where unemployment has risen from seven percent in 2008 to 28 percent earlier this year. Not for him is any sympathy for the more than half of those under-25 who are without a job. Instead, he proposes the scrapping of the troika in favour of a so-called “special” European Commission taskforce. Twice a year, it will help in the fight against democracy in Greece, known for its contribution to, er, democracy.
In a throwback to the Greek Colonels, Juncker is keen to slam the pragmatic policies of Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner who currently fights vulture hedge funds. “Greece could have been a good example for Argentina to avoid the problems it was not able to avoid.”
Greece, Juncker emphasises, is not Argentina. The U.S. meanwhile uses its courts to destroy the Argentinian economy over debt accumulated under the U.S.-backed military dictatorship that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983. But austerity measures in Argentina are statistically insignificant compared to what the troika has done to Greece, which was itself ruled by a CIA-backed military junta from 1967 to 1974.
The Greek Ministry of Health is now desperately planning to enlist retired doctors to staff rural clinics on Greek islands. But this is more to care for injured tourists on off-road buggies than Greeks.
Hippocrates said “Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.” Well, Kos is famous for its legendary hospital – supposedly the first in history. Given the destruction of healthcare on the island, today, the father of medicine may well have deduced that for the IMF, the EU and the ECB, there is only an abiding hatred for humanity.
Afshin Rattansi is the host of RT’s daily British news and current affairs show, Going Underground, broadcast in the UK on Freeview 85 and Sky 512. The shows are available online at https://www.youtube.com/user/GoingUndergroundRT. Afshin can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org