Nine days after the wildfires in Athens government and opposition are exchanging harsh words about who is to blame for the worst fire tragedy in modern history of Greece. The political opposition attacks the government and blames it for not timely response, for grave mistakes in the crisis management, for failure to warn people in time so that they will evacuate and even failure to provide clear information about the number of the missing and the dead. The government blames previous governments for having tolerated illegal constructions.
When did the government learn that people had died in the fires? Did they know the extend of the tragedy during the live broadcast of Tsipras with the Crisis Coordinating committee on Monday night? These and similar questions are flooding the media in the last days and demand for answers. From the initial questions on the first days about what was and what was not done the debate has moved to another level of question today: Did the the ministers and the high-ranking officers in charge know the extend of the disaster in real time and were they in position to realize the volume of the tragedy?
I remember on that Monday night on 23. July when Tsipras had interrupted his visit to Bosnia and rushed to Athens that the ministers and those in charge were quite – and surprisingly – reassuring. Short before Monday midnight.
I recall that I wondered while watching the live broadcast whether they were staging a show on TV to avoid panic or whether the situation was not as catastrophic and dramatic as we kept following with live transmission on television and on social media.
“The transfer of people stranded at the port is being concluded, the phenomenon is flawing up” they were saying on TV that night, at the same time I clicked publish to a post staring “a tragedy is taking place in East Attica tonight...”
In short, the reasons of the tragedy gave way to speculation whether the government tried to hide something.
Official reports from the Coast Guard have been leaked to the press today and they read that that the first dead were recovered from the sea at 7:03 pm on Monday, less than an hour after the fire reached Mati. The crucial question by the opposition immediately focused on “When where you informed about the first dead?”
Deputy Maritime Minister Nektarios Santorinios in charge of the Coast Guard said that the leaked report was written at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, 24 hours after the disaster.
But what exactly did the government try to hide and why is it important to know when the first dead was recovered, I have honestly not understood so far.That the Prime Minister protects the ministers and those in Fire Service, Police and regional government who have possible failed?
The narrative of the government is that everything was done by the book. But was it?
The government insists on blaming the rapid development of the fire – at the time wind was blowing with intensity of up to 11 Beaufort and the fire had reached the cost in 1.5 hour – as well as the notorious Greek pathogen of illegal building, the rambling street network of Mati that trapped hundreds, the former governments that allowed “anarchist construction”, the municipalities and the local residents.
Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis ordered the prosecution in Athens to investigate whether there was free access to the beaches in Mati or whether illegal construction had prohibited it and trapped people in the flames.
But will this bring the people back or will bring all residents of Mati who illegally closed the assess to prison?
Prime Minister Tsipras’ response to devastating wildfires was “brash” and “cynical”, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of main opposition conservative New Democracy said today in a press conference broadcast live.
In an all-out attack on Tsipras and the government, Mitsotakis stressed that those responsible for the tragedy will be held to account. He expressed confidence in the Greek justice, saying he would do his utmost as main opposition leader to ensure this happened.
He asked the resignation of the Ministers of Public Order and Interior, of regional governor, the head of Civil Protection and the Fire Service.
“I fail to understand what means political responsibility without a resignation,” the ND leader said hinting to the Prime Minister who claimed the political responsibility for the tragedy on Friday.
Also other political parties like Centrists’ Union, KKE and To Potami have asked for resignation.
Will resignations solve the problem? They may give a tiny bit of satisfaction to the families who lost at least 92 people.
But in the end another tragedy may happen if no radical reforms in the field of Crisis Management and Early Warning do not take place.
Much to my knowledge no Greek politician has ever resigned because a tragedy cost the lives of dozens of people. Be the one in Mandra in November 2017, the fires in Ileia in 2007, the shipwreck of Samaina, just to mention some grave ones after 2000.
Yet the impression I get in the last days is that political parties fiercely try to take advantage of this tragedy and exploit the loss of lives for political gains. Both the government and the opposition.
KTG reports about the Athens wildfires here.
BTW The party for the exit from the bailout agreements needs to be postponed….
When Greek political parties try to achieve gains from the tragedy in Athens wildfires
I remember the PUNCH & JUDY SHOWS
There was no doubt that there would be political opportunism in finger pointing after a disaster like this. As suggested above, this is a multi-dimensional problem of inaction, incompetence and abrogation of responsibility among both governmental and non-governmental entities. Illegal construction, brought on by innumerable layers of decades of built-up government bureaucracy that every major political party in Greece has played a part in as regards regulations, land titling and build permitting, is a contributor to this problem. All you have to do is drive around Parnitha mountain to see entire communities of homes with no civic planning, no supermarkets, no gas stations, in remote suburbs of the greater Athens area that are mostly forgotten.
Yet the same bureaucracy that has provoked illegal building, combined with the ongoing economic crisis, will also forever shut out the vast majority of the survivors from rebuilding their homes. They will continue to suffer the rest of their lives as their personal wealth has now literally disappeared in a cloud of smoke. All that is left is to understand the reason why these fires were set, and how to prevent them in the future. For those of us who are not ignorant of history, we know that these fires are often tied to land developers and prospective owners who may want land for their own purposes. This, in fact, may be one impetus for setting these fires in such a coordinated fashion. If that is indeed the case, the callousness of these deliberate acts should be cause enough to imprison these individuals for life and remove their wealth to redistribute to those who now have nothing.
The system and this culture must be purged, but who will be honest and powerful enough to overcome decades of systemic inertia and transcend party politics to address these issues? Until that question is answered, this tragedy will repeat itself in Greece. All else is political theater.