Yannis Palaiologos YANNIS PALAIOLOGOS

Perennial asymmetry

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Staff at a morgue in Athens, Thursday. Frantic relatives searching for loved ones missing in Greece’s deadliest forest fire in decades headed to Athens’s morgue Thursday, as rescue crews and volunteers continued searches on land and at sea.

TAGS: Fires, Politics

“It would be good if those in government, instead of planning communications strategies to defend it by discovering ‘asymmetric threats’ and invisible enemies, occupied themselves with dealing with the disaster.”

That was the reaction in August 2007 of the then SYRIZA spokesman – a rising star in the leftist grouping named Alexis Tsipras – to the nebulous conspiracy-mongering in which Vyron Polydoras was trying to envelop the dozens of dead in the fires of Ilia.

On Monday night, as prime minister, and before the true extent of the tragedy had become apparent, Tsipras referred to the fires in Eastern Attica as an “asymmetric phenomenon.”

In the 11 years since 2007, Greece suffered the worse economic crisis of any developed country during peacetime. Public spending was significantly reduced (and taxes were significantly increased). But there were also systematic efforts to improve the quality of public administration – so that it would finally embrace the values of meritocracy and accountability, and become more effective in terms of serving the citizenry, especially regarding the key functions at the core of the state.

It is very sad to realize that after a decade of crisis and eight years of bailouts, this goal has not been met. The country and its people, now as then, are at the mercy of a mechanism that torments them in their daily lives and fails to protect them in their hour of need.

Greece seems trapped in the past, condemned to constantly relive the same dramas, both minor and major, without taking any real steps forward.

The years go by and, instead of grappling with the challenges of a rapidly shifting economic and technological landscape, we are still struggling to resolve issues that more serious countries have long overcome: the absence of a land and forest registry, the illegal construction that has been allowed to run rampant because of this absence, the explosive cost – human and otherwise – of natural disasters, because of illegal housing as well as the competent authorities’ inability to coordinate and the clashes over landfills. And tax evasion, which leads to higher tax rates, which leads to more tax evasion, and chaos at the universities, which pushes the most talented among Greece’s young people out of the country, and the bureaucratic and judicial roadblocks that stymie investment.

And so much else which showcases the real, perennial asymmetry, between the requirements of the times and the vanishingly small stature of the country’s political leadership.

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