How the ESC Supported Barcelona After the Attacks

Eight days after a terrorist attack shook Spain, the European Society of Cardiology united more than 31,000 attendees in Barcelona in a show of solidarity and strength.

Guell Park in Barcelona. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock.

On the afternoon of Aug. 17, Isabel Bardinet, chief executive officer of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), was in Las Ramblas, one of Barcelona’s busiest neighborhoods. She was making preparations for the organization’s flagship event, ESC Congress, to be held in Barcelona the following week, Aug. 26–30. Luckily, she left Las Ramblas just minutes before a van drove through a crowd of pedestrians, killing 13 people and injuring more than 80 others.

“The attack in Barcelona was horrific and left us all — ESC staff and volunteers alike — stunned and profoundly saddened,” Bardinet told Convene via email. “That evening, ESC’s leadership consulted on the phone and quickly determined to go ahead with ESC Congress 2017. I thought, whatever happens, we have to go through with this. If not, we will be giving in. These attacks are meant to terrorize and disrupt. They only succeed if we allow them to succeed.”

ESC’s leaders weren’t the only ones who wanted to stand up to the hatred that shook the city. MedPage Today polled a group of cardiologists to see if the attacks had an impact on their decision to attend the event. The results found that “the only change appeared to be an increased enthusiasm to make the trip.”

“We are united around the world with Barcelona and its wonderful people,” Martha Gulati, M.D., M.S., chief of cardiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix, told the medical publication. “Of course it affected me and gave me second thoughts. But that lasted for a minute. My husband and I are going. And we will be there in solidarity with the world, standing up for peace and love.”

Other cardiologists shared Gulati’s sense of purpose. In fact, Bardinet said that of the 31,703 registered attendees, less than 50 even emailed the organization to inquire about cancellation plans. Of those individuals, she estimates that about half chose not to attend.

With the tragedy on attendees’ minds, ESC wanted to make sure that the event paid tribute to the victims. “A number of ESC Congress faculty suggested holding a minute of silence at the start of each of their scientific presentations,” Bardinet said. “It was decided, however, that it would be more fitting for the president of the ESC to call upon the cardiologists attending the inaugural session to stand as one to honor the lives lost and show our solidarity with the people of Barcelona and all of Spain. It was a small gesture, but I believe it sent a powerful message.”

A Community Looks Ahead
That sense of support and community wasn’t confined to the five days of the ESC Congress. Cecile Dorian, international MICE promotion manager for Barcelona Turisme Convention Bureau, told Convene that the city’s spirit is rebounding to be as strong as ever. “While the events of August 17th were terribly unfortunate and sad, they compelled Barcelona to focus its full attention toward all the positive [acts] being done in their wake,” Dorian said. “Despite the shock, the entire city quickly shifted back to ‘community mode’ where generosity and spontaneous acts of kindness helped ease hearts and minds. Hand in hand, the entire Barcelona community has taken the necessary measures for our daily lives to get back to normalcy, feeling safe and protected.”

Barcelona, of course, is not alone. From Istanbul to Paris to Orlando and beyond, destinations around the world have been forced to deal with the new normal of heightened risk. Despite the increase in unthinkable acts, Dorian noted that the meetings and events industry has come together to chart the course forward.

“Our MICE industry, along with the world, has had to face adversity of all types in recent years — an economic crisis, political unrest, erupting volcanoes, and sadly, acts of terrorism,” Dorian said. “These challenges generated a need for greater cooperation. More than ever before, we have seen our industry come closer together around its core belief that our business is about people first. Each time, we rise to the challenge, and each time, we join forces for the greater cause [to shape] this global industry of the 21st century.”

David McMillin

David McMillin is staff writer at PCMA.