From ECR 2000
Politics and medicine make an unhealthy mix

Rinckside 2000; 11,2: 5-7.

he slogan of the Austrian Tourist Board used to be: “Austria makes people happy”. This seems not to be the case at present, at least in the of some politicians and journalists.

There was a Europe-wide outcry this spring. Thus, to begin this column in a politically correct way and in accordance with 14 of 15 European Union governments: “Austria is a rogue nation; its government is full of extremists who are apologists for the Nazi politics of Austria during the Third Reich; and it should be made clear that Austria never has publicly acknowledged its involvement in antisemitic actions during that period. The involvement of the Freedom Party in the government is a sign that the Austrian population has not changed attitudes. Therefore the country and population have to be punished and reeducated by the rest of Europe and the world.”

spaceholder red600   I have tried to find out what exactly is behind this mass hysteria. Everybody talks about it but nobody has hard facts.

If you read the governmental declaration of the Austrian central-right government, you won’t find the slightest hint of anti-democratic, anti-human rights, racist, or anti-European tendencies. Based on this declaration you would have to expel France from the European Union because of the bloodthirsty lyrics of the Marseillaise (“To arms citizens! Form your battalions! March, march! Let impure blood water our furrows.”). The Austrian government declaration sounds like a text from bible school (New Testament).

The real point at issue is populist comments and remarks by Herr Haider and some of his colleagues of the Freedom Party on foreigners, the SS, and similar topics. Herr Haider’s party is partner of the coalition government, because the other major parties in Austria could not agree on a central-left coalition.

This is nothing essentially new in European politics. Within the European Union extremists have been members of French and Italian governments during recent years, and there are strong extreme right-wing movements all over Europe. The causes for this development are manifold, one of them is the secret fear that foreigners may move in and take away part of the wealth accumulated after the Second World War; another cause is nepotism and corruption over decades of a two-party led country. The therapy would be in cleaning up – in Austria and all over Europe. The fundamental political situation is not different in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, or Great Britain.

No doubt that the Austrian state of affairs is unpleasant and potentially dangerous. Something must be done about the situation so that it does not escalate. Since Austria is a country with a democratic constitution and the entire process which led to the formation of this government was democratic, a democratic solution has to be found. I agree that pressure from outside might change the politics of a country; however, usually pressure from outside creates increased nationalism and thus is counterproductive. This is just what Herr Haider wants.

spaceholder red600   Basically, this foreign affair has nothing to do with radiology, except that the European Congress of Radiology (ECR) takes place in Vienna since 1991. I liked the words by Rolf Guenther, the president of this year’s ECR, during the opening ceremony of this conference in Vienna in March:

“Regarding the current political situation in Austria, I have two comments. First, the ECR is a nonpolitical organization, and our presence in Vienna should not be seen as an endorsement of the current Austrian political scene; quite the contrary is true. Second, we are committed to liberty and democracy, and abhor discrimination of any kind. Recent European history places an onus on all of us to be vigilant, and to be constantly on our guard against extremism.”

How to react

Some radiologists see this in a different way. According to a number of French and Belgian radiologists the best answer to Herr Haider would have been boycotting the European Congress of Radiology.

In our media-driven societies public opinion is sometimes running wild. I cannot understand this disproportionate boycott cry. The ECR is not the 1936 Berlin Olympics used by Nazi Germany as a propaganda show. You can boycott Austrian goods and Austrian skiing resorts, but not your own congress. The ECR is not an Austrian trade show. By the way, the French-speaking radiologists explicitly separate Austrian radiologists from the rest of the Austrian population; the Austrian radiologists belong to the camp of the good boys.

Another proposal is to move the offices of the ECR and the ESMRMB (European Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine and Biology) to another country. Again, where is the connection? I could understand if Simon Wiesenthal would decide to relocate his holocaust research center from Vienna to somewhere else, but whom do you punish by moving these offices? By the way, Simon Wiesenthal, together with many cultural and artistic dignitaries signed an appeal warning that the economic damage may soon dilute anger against Herr Haider and focus public outrage an Austria’s European partners.

None of the other countries of the European Union has solved the immigration problem, mostly because it is a taboo topic that politician do not want to touch.

"ECR must not become a traveling circus."

Anyhow, ECR is going to move from Vienna to other European locations. This was already envisaged before the recent undesirable political developments in Austria.

After ten years in Vienna, for the year 2002 either Brussels or Barcelona are on the list of choices. Most likely, the meeting will be held in Barcelona because Brussels does not have the infrastructure for a conference of this size and caliber. Besides, the mayor of Brussels does not like Austrian and Austrian-based events to be arranged in the city. In a move of unique stupidity he first kicked out Austria from the Brussels Holiday Fair and then advised that Austria’s flag must not be raised and that the name of Austria has to be glued over in all public relations material. This childish behavior reminds me of reactions of Nazi Germany or Soviet bloc officials when they wanted to show their power.

I wonder what would happen if Germany would decide that Belgium must not participate in the International Nuremberg Toy Fair because of the child molesting scandals in Belgium which shook the country and the world and has not been solved because of the unhealthy entanglement of corrupt politicians, police, and pederasts.

Look at it from a different point of view

Let’s look at a medical example: We have a patient with sinusitis, nothing chronic yet, nothing recurrent. He visits several physicians. The first one tells the patient: “Wait and see”. The second one prescribes antibiotics and pain killers. The third one proposes immediate radical operations of the entire family but not the patient, and the last one sends the patient to the hairdresser’s to get a permanent.

spaceholder red600   Which therapy would you prescribe?

Ignore the disease, treat it appropriately and with diplomatic tact, bomb the brains out of the entire population, or boycott the fascist Viennese taxi drivers? History repeats itself, but the Vienna of spring 2000 is not the Vienna of spring 1935.

People say: “Perhaps not yet.” Nobody can predict the future, but of course you can learn something from the past. Moving an international organization such as the ECR will not have any positive influence upon the current political situation in Austria. It might only treat some of the symptoms of the disease, if at all, but definitely not hit the cause of the disease. Prevention would have been better than cure.

Were there any sanctions or initiatives like this one in the past, for instance against Great Britain because of the civil war in Northern Ireland? I did not see any similar reaction by European radiologists when France restarted nuclear tests. There is no outcry that communists were and are members of the French and Italian governments.

So let’s boycott radiological meetings all over; most countries and their governments do or have done dirty – and definitely not democratic – business. No more radiological meetings in London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, or Rome. I am looking forward to the French Radiological Society boycotting all its Franco-foreign associations of radiology, in particular the Franco-Algerian, the Franco-Moroccan, and the Franco-Syrian. Politics in these countries cannot be really considered democratic.

Ulterior motives?

Perhaps, there are some ulterior motives behind the idea of shutting down the ECR offices in Vienna and moving the congress elsewhere. The success of this conference is seen as a threat by others. In a recent article by Adelfio Elio Cardinale, the president of the Italian Society of Medical Radiology (SIRM), the antagonism of some European radiologists against ECR becomes quite apparent [1]. According to him, ECR threatens the biannual Italian Congress of Radiology, not because of the scientific or educational content of the conference but – hidden in a long and flowery text – rather because he fears that the commercial exhibition at the SIRM congress will shrink.

Among the few who should not fear ECR are the Journées Françaises de Radiologie (JFR). This congress is the biggest national congress of radiology in Europe. It has a similar number of participants and exhibitors as ECR and an extremely good organization and scientific program but, since it is a national conference, 90% of the attendees are French.

Some of their organizers feel that ECR and JFR are in competition, but they are rather supplementing each other, although more so than other national congresses. The best solution for these two congresses, and perhaps other national congresses would be a coordination of the continuing education program, a challenging but necessary task for the European Association of Radiology (EAR).

"Moving a congress is costly, inconvenient, and a logistical problem."

This cannot be done by turning ECR into a travelling circus which will be held in conjunction with different national conferences every other year, as Cardinale demands. Such a step would be detrimental for the creation and stability of ECR as the ultimate radiological scientific platform for Europe and would send more European radiologists across the Atlantic to the RSNA. We do not need another radiological social event like the International Congress of Radiology or some of the national congresses.

Only losers?

Permanently moving a congress from one place to another is very costly, inconvenient, and a logistic problem. Today, membership in ECR and, hopefully in the future, a European Society of Radiology is a bargain. I do not believe that the members appreciate waste of money.

The biggest losers will be the radiologists from Eastern Europe. For them, Vienna is relatively easy to reach, Barcelona is far away and, most likely, even more expensive.

Nearly one quarter of the participating radiologists at ECR come from Eastern Europe, only 5% from French-speaking countries. Italian radiologists present 12%, Scandinavian 15% and those from German-speaking countries more than 22%. In Barcelona, the center of gravity will be displaced. However, perhaps a congress in Spain will attract more participants from the Hispanic peninsula and France.

spaceholder red600   One final thought: Arnold Schwarzenegger, also an Austrian, portrays in his movies characters far more violent than Haider. His movies have a real impact on children and young adults. He wants to become a politician in the United States. Ever thought of boycotting him?


1. Cardinale AE: European radiology: the nowhere building. An initial success of the Italian Society of Medical Radiology. Report to the Board of the Italian Society of Radiology. Radiol Med (Torino) 1999: 97; 217-228.

Citation: Rinck PA. Politics and medicine make an unhealthy mix. Rinckside 2000; 11,2: 5-7.

A digest version of this column was published as:
Politics and medicine make an unhealthy mix.
Diagnostic Imaging Europe. 2000; 16,5: 19-20.

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