To the Community of Public Health, Athens 1st January 2015

Jeffrey Levett
A new dawn, a New Year and here is my first Blog of 2015. May I wish the Public Health Community of Europe, the ASPHER community, its staff, and institutional members a happy New Year, 2015. Note my progress: a year ago I was not quite sure what a Blog was. According to my card reading I will learn much this year! I will have many discussions and my economics will improve [hope springs eternal]. Will the heavy burden of austerity be a thing of the Past? With respect to money matters a man in the cards and catalyst was identified. If you know him or happen, to be him, please let me know. It can not be anyone from Public health, no money there. My cards touched so many things. I recall that the definitive study on astrology was undertaken by the father of medical measurement Sanctorios of Padua, who debunked it. Assassins failed to nail him but he knew their master. As 2014 wound down leaving us in a tight fit between the frayed edge of the old year and the new ledge and threshold of the New Year, I am sending you Greetings from Greece. May this brand new year bring you consolation, if needed, calm and internal contentment to the best of its ability and/or add additional excitement [professionally and personally]. May it add creative adventures to your lives as it unfolds, or just answer your heart and its inner desires?

For Public Health, JERUSALEM may be just the thing to add creative bursts of energy and new things for you…. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lifts up its eyes and sings, Hosanna in the highest…and ASPHER too…..If I make it, I hope to see old friends, stroll the streets of the old city and the Scrolls Museum. Maybe also recall David and how he brought Goliath down. What about chopping down the beanstalk with a goose’s golden egg in pocket and the giant grounded? Am I in Gulliver land driven by Hans Christian Anderson? Did you know that in a village close to Swift’s, people were rather short? If I recall his teenage son was next to him when he married his mother.

The J–agenda [ASPHER’s Directors' Retreat in Jerusalem, Israel, June 2-4] aims at mapping future direction and comes with the expectation of active involvement. The Association needs a “thumbs up” to the ASPHER 2020 strategy. The agenda has taken shape and is close to complete with Reflectors from the EU and WHO to add to the reflectors and genuflectors at the Wailing Wall. Surprise visitors from across the Atlantic river, from Ghana and a representative of the Open Society Foundation will be on tap to discuss bedside ethics and new approaches to global collaboration. There will be insights from our hosts including Israeli Public Health by the Head of the nation’s Public Health Services. There will be something on training for preparedness whatever that might mean. If you have difficulty in staying afloat there is a trip to the Dead Sea. I can’t help but mention a vague regret that EAGHA is not considered…as a true ASPHER asset. His suggestion for further discussion could be entertained in J.

Back in Greece, we end the year with disaster and a near perfect response to it on the high seas as well as with parliament unable to vote in a new President: a death toll, a hundred missing at one point including the passenger list and the ship listing in cold rough seas between Albania and Italy: a few votes short of electing a President with the candidate being a past Commissioner in Brussels. As a result we will start the New Year with elections, questions of preparedness but with hope.

Being the hopeful optimist that I am, I will let the cards reveal their story with a little bit of help from future scenario science thrown in. The unfolding space is a win–win situation for Greece. But first the odds: the current coalition may just hold on to power, or the left’s new wave may just gain a foothold, both by the skin of their teeth. LET’S HOPE FOR BALANCE, harmony, progress. Let us hope for a government. Whichever way the coin falls the winner will have to demand something substantial from Europe. Sacrifices have been made by most and austerity has burned the pockets of many and filled the pockets of a few. The powers that be enter the arena on a success story, the opposition calling attention to the ongoing humanitarian disaster. Europe together with our politicians has played a significant role in the precipitation of the still unfolding success story and the creeping disaster. Which came first the chicken or the egg is a mute question, what counts is the final omelette and the appetite. WILL THE FORMER BE nutritious, the latter reasonable. Enrichment has taken place on both sides, helped on by powerful commercial interests. Capital and interest have helped to fill deep pockets with the connivance of commercial enterprises and off-shore mechanisms. Politics has shortened the arms of most delving into almost empty pockets and lengthened them in the few as they delve into much fuller pockets. So today it is not only a case of Greeks bearing gifts, beware it is also of Europeans bearing bribes. What troubles me now is that the two invisible hands, in post-election time may still skim the coffers at the expense of development. What troubles me most is that the new power structure might contain the demise-makers. When developing nations received sequential loans from international money pockets playing the market game, development remained an uphill battle. It was difficult to arrive at development even after the nth [6th?] loan. The n+1 loan went mainly to interest and the wrong pockets were filled. In Greece the edges between right and left have been blurred by greed and mismanagement leaving polarisation between memorandum and anti memorandum. My impression is that politicians in Greece and politics in Europe are playing dangerous games. Both add to the uncertainty. As for the media……………Of note, and forgive my redundancy: many who played a role in demise are now playing a pre-election role. The ongoing rhetoric leaves important questions hanging in the air: will Greece collide with Europe, can such a course be corrected or is collision inevitable? Which of the two stands to loose most, what steps can be taken to avoid loss and is time on the side of correction?

The mismatch between the two parts makes it difficult to predict Greek reactions or to conceptualize how for Europe would react under similar circumstances. Asymmetry, small-large/highly developed-not so developed, etc. is also reflected in a set of well arranged, well planned European societies both socially and economically and a poorly arranged and mismanaged Greece, stumbling along with a destroyed economy. One thing is sure Greece has demonstrated courage. One thing is still unsure: can Greece reorganize the State? I believe it can! Even so predicting outcomes for Greece, for Europe………….

What should the winner of the Greek elections [25th January, 2015] try to negotiate, I ask myself in a thought experiment? Why not return Greece to democracy and say goodbye to the troika. Why not a trimmed haircut to that what Greece owes except to those countries who came to its help, well into the crisis e.g. Spain? Why not pay back time of wartime reparations? That should solve the Greek debt crisis. It could be the spark plug of development. It would impact the current uncertainties, elevate the low and falling GNP, reduce higher than high youth unemployment and keep brain power in Greece. Why not a fund for youth development, education, research and why not also for public health? Investing in Schools of Public health can bring rich rewards. OK you members of the HC push more.

If we dwell on the equation say of colonialism or modernism we will find that there is an imbalance or a not equals sign and many sighs between gains and losses. Colonialism took more away that what it gave, but the field was large. Schools of public health throughout Europe helped to bring balance.

If Greece falls apart and fails to give unto Caesar what it owes, Caesar still owes Greece much more. Banking system estimates are what they are. Meanwhile where is public health?

Europe would obviously prefer to deal with the present crowd and powers that be in Greece. Should they win out in the elections they will ask far less than what the left will ask for, if it makes it to power? Have they already signed away more? The left scares the drachma or is it the euro out of Europe. It is saying what it will do, but can it? Alexander the Great conquered much larger armies by not following the rules expected of him by the PERSIAN field commanders. Alexis may do the same or he may do the opposite. After all, it is not easy to beat City Hall! As I wish you well in 2015 my start of the year questions are what of Europe without Greece? What of Europe without the Balkans? What of Greece without Europe? It is difficult for me to envisage a Europe without Greece. Will the cradle rock? Will the baby fall? Hope springs as eternal as birth….hooray for the EU and the Zone of Euro.