Bernard Kouchner, the Founder of Doctors Without Borders and former French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, was in Toronto for the 8th Annual Economic Summit at The Fairmont Royal York on November 22, 2011.
Mr Kouchner played a key role in European politics for many decades, having been a Minister in various French governments for a total of eight years. He is an outspoken advocate for humanitarian causes and his experience as Foreign Minister, and prior to that Minister in charge of both Health and Humanitarian Action, enabled him to share his informed insights as to what happens behind the scenes and what he feels can be done for a better future.
BOLD Magazine had a one on one conversation with Mr Kouchner. Here is the highlight of the meeting.
B: In the 60’s, political borders barred you from entering into some countries and provide assistance to some patients: Can we say that the economy and education are the borders today?
BK: Education … and education means also prevention and knowledge. With Internet, the situation is getting better, information spreads faster, and information and education are the key for prevention. When we started Doctors Without Borders, we were outlaws, but sometimes you have to be out law to change the legislation; and we did. It was an exciting adventure for us, but it wasn’t just that, as I mentioned before, globalization started with “Doctors Without Borders”.
B: Let’s talk about democratization. In September you gave a conference at Grano Cafe where you said that a military intervention in Syria would provoke a global war in some countries like Iran or Israel. In your opinion what would be the best way to participate in Syria’s development and return to democracy?
BK: Political pressure from the United Nations. Obviously there is a political pressure, but is not enough. The massacre is still going on an some brave people are taking the streets to protest for the current situation and they are being murdered. The proper thing would be setting sanctions but right now it is impossible to get to a resolution because of the attitude of China and Russia. Sooner or later the Syrian government will be defeated, but with the way things are right now it probably will be later.
B: Millions of people die everyday from diseases or wars and others are “ greedy and selfish” as you once mentioned and “would do anything for a little more money”. So we are aware that we are living an economic crisis, but are we also living a moral crisis?
BK: Nowadays, the crisis is more moral than economical but they are certainly merged. The world is not a world of economists, the world is not a world of investors, the world is not a world of only shareholders, they are important, economy is, but democracy is more. Economy is not bad, it is a science, the problem is finances, finances are only speculation and the fact that speculation rules the world is not acceptable for me.
B: Most of the countries spend their budgets in military instead of research or medicine: Are these economic models the root of today’s conflicts?
BK: I don’t think these economic models are a problem. The real problems are dictatorships, that’s why I’m working with United Nations, to try to fight against them. Honestly, I think we are doing a good job, I think the world is getting better.
B: Is it possible to talk about a politically united Europe in a near future? As well, you mentioned today during your conference that it was a mistake having the same currency without having a united economy.
BK: Yes, the future of Europe is politically united. It is a slow process but we are on the way to unity. European countries lived in peace for the last 60 years, it seems a lot to us, but is nothing compared to the thousands of years we fought against each other.
Now, at first just the social-democratic parties in Europe were in favour of a European Economic Government, but in the present even the conservative parties like the German represented by Angela Merkel looks forward to a united Europe. Just the idea of having 27 people around a table trying to get to agreements makes me think that this is going to be a long process. We should create a confederation of countries, since we are sharing a currency, and we should keep a similar level of taxes.
B: For some people, the access to health care is very difficult here, what would you think is the next step to give in public health?
BK: This is a very difficult question, probably it has no answer. I agree it is better not to increase the deficit, but health is not a commodity, it is not like roads or other constructions, health is everything for human beings. People should pay for health services in proportion of their salaries. Obviously nobody will include this in his or her program for elections because nobody would vote for them; and that makes the access to health unfair in some places.
By Javi Yebenes – Photography by Every Leon