Political naivety has propelled Greece in a perilous direction

The mimosa trees are in full pink blossom along the dusty road which winds its way through an abandoned army base on the outskirts of Athens.

Behind the wire fence is an ordinary, brick building. Inside is something extraordinary.

It’s a busy afternoon at the Metropolitan Community Clinic of Hellinikon. Volunteers deal with a constant stream of patients.

“We are not an NGO,” one of the volunteers, Christos Sideris, tells me.

“We are a grassroots organisation.”

Christos used to work in the shipping industry. He’s currently unemployed but volunteers at the clinic. Joining him are retired pharmacists, doctors laid off from the public system and consultants from a range of disciplines who volunteer their time and expertise freely.

There are around 500 such community clinics scattered around Greece. They are desperately trying to plug the gap left after swingeing cuts to the public healthcare system.

Greece has an insurance-based health system. Workers pay into either a union or industry-linked mutual. But insurance benefits quickly run out when you’re unemployed. And that leaves people relying on the public system, a system that has been decimated.

Takis Mouchimoglou shows me his insurance book. It’s a big, old-fashioned pad…and he flicks back over the thirty five years of his contributions.

“I never claimed for as much as an aspirin,” he proudly tells me.

“I worked until I was 67 because I am a lazy Greek,” he says. Greeks have a disarming way of letting you know what they think of the world’s prevailing view of their country.

He owned two clothes shops but the recession destroyed his business and forced him to close. The tax authorities repossessed his house (there goes another cliché). Now his insurance has run out and he’s completely dependent on the clinic for medication for his heart condition.

“These people are angels. . .Without them, I am dead.”

The clinic is a microcosm of everything that is good and bad about Greece. The clinic is run like a well-oiled machine. Everyone is completely committed. It brings “putting the patient first” to a whole different level.

But as Christos explains, the clinic shouldn’t exist. It’s here because the state system is broke. That’s the stark and bleak reality with which Greeks have been living since this crisis began.

This year the clinic won a Citizens Award from the European Parliament. The irony is not lost on those giving their time here and those waiting patiently for its lifeline.

Here the torturous high-wire act between Syriza and the institutions of Europe are distilled to one request: they want their healthcare system back.


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