Throughout the crisis of the last four years, too many European governments have shown a depressing willingness to target and stigmatize some of the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in society as a distraction from their own failings.
Whether it’s disabled ‘benefit scroungers’, asylum seekers, ‘illegal immigrants’ or simply immigrants per se, this process of victimization and stigmatization invariably depicts certain groups as parasitical intruders, usurpers of national privilege, and a drain on the public purse.
On the one hand such depictions provide a pretext for punitive exclusionary measures that uphold the exclusive rights and privileges of a virtuous (national) majority. At the same time this process of victimization provides convenient outlets for popular resentment and anger at the grim consequences of austerity.
It isn’t surprising that so many governments have gone down this route. Terrified of the financial markets, mired in an intractable economic crisis that they are unable to solve, committed to a cuts agenda that is inflicting immeasurable harm on societies across the continent, even as it acts as a catalyst for yet another transfer of wealth and resources to the private sector, Europe’s politicians need all the distractions they can get.
It is therefore only natural that they should attempt to reinforce the distinctions between us and them, between ‘our people’ and the alien usurpers on our national territory, between the virtuous majorities of ‘hard-pressed families’ and the various manifestations of the undeserving poor who are supposedly fleecing the taxpayer and undermining ‘our’ public services.
In Greece, politicians routinely depict undocumented migrants as a threat to public health, and plans are now underway to put them in internment camps. In the UK Coalition government policies have made it virtually impossible for asylum seekers to access legal aid, and disabled benefits claimants deemed fit for work are now liable to be fined if they don’t go out to look for work.
Now the Spain’s conservative Partido Popular government has decreed that approximately 150,000 undocumented migrants will no longer receive free medical treatment, regardless of their medical condition or their ability to pay.
To their immense credit, 1,650 Spanish doctors and health professionals in five of Spain’s autonomous regions, including Catalonia and Galicia, have declared that they will not obey the new law. These refuseniks have called for an extension of their ‘objection campaign’ in this wonderful video, which brilliantly illustrates the inherent barbarity of the PP’s legislation law through an ironic inversion of the Hippocratic Oath:
For those that don’t know Spanish, the translation is as follows:
I swear that I will use my medical knowledge for the benefit of Spaniards and legalized foreigners.
I swear that I will put aside my ethics and morals en periods of financial crisis.
I swear that I will not allow human rights to get in the way of austerity measures and the maximization of profits
I swear that I will not use the facilities of the state to diagnose undocumented migrants.
I swear that I will not refuse health care to anybody, except those who don’t have a Foreigner’s Identity Card or a National Identity Card.
I swear that I will not prescribe medicines for AIDs to anyone without social security.
The video closes with this magnificent declaration:
But I swear that we will never comply with everything that we have just said. The Health Reform asks us to leave undocumented people without treatment.
But health is a universal right. Therefore we have sworn to provide care without discrimination and we are going to continue to do so.
Because curing people is our obligation and also our right.
Indeed it is. And in their insistence on the universality of that right even in the midst of one of the worst financial crises in Spanish history, Spain’s doctors and health workers have delivered a beautiful message to their own country and to the rest of the continent.