Athanassios Gantonas, stands inside his burnt house following a wildfire in the village of Mati, near Athens, Friday. Tragedies will continue to happen unless the state gets its act together and people change their mentality.
When the Greek coalition government realized at some point during that cursed Monday that the wildfires in the area of Kineta west of Athens and, in particular, in the eastern Attica settlement of Mati had spiraled beyond all control, it almost instinctively turned to doing what it does best: managing the crisis so it would have the least negative political impact.
It announced that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was cutting short his trip to Bosnia (as was only natural), obviously in an effort to show that he was taking the helm both in government and the state machine. The government also made sure to publicize his pathetic – in terms of conception and appearance – briefing by his ministers and state representatives on the developments.
In the meantime, the public was kept in the dark for a good 10 hours as everyone seemed to disappear: from Attica Regional Governor Rena Dourou and Defense Minister (and leader of the junior government coalition partner Independent Greeks) Panos Kammenos to the punching bag that is the country’s shipping minister, Panayiotis Kouroublis. They were all obviously awaiting instructions from Tsipras.
The magnitude of the disaster became apparent in all its horrific detail, yet the government stayed true to form: with declarations, meeting upon meeting, curses against extreme weather, belated displays of readiness, visits to and inspections of the stricken sites by officials and denials of responsibility, without any visible improvements in coordination or effectiveness in terms of the response to the disaster. Nor of course was there any attempt to assume a degree of political responsibility, even in a display of political sensibility, as was the case with the interior minister of Portugal, Constanca Urbano de Sousa, who resigned after last year’s deadly wildfires.
It is obvious that the government – during whose tenure Greece has mourned the largest number of flood and fire victims ever – does not consider itself in any way responsible. It believes that extreme weather phenomena and climate change are the culprits (according to Dourou and Alternate Citizens’ Protection Minister Nikos Toskas), and that it is doing the very best it can.
The truth is that the deadly fire in Mati and the floods last year in Mandra, western Attica, were bound to happen sooner or later. Tragedy is bound to happen when you have a state apparatus that is at best incompetent and at worst nonexistent – and apparently only getting worse under this administration.
We can expect nothing else when there is no planning whatsoever by the authorities responsible for responding to emergency and extreme phenomena, when precautionary protection measures are not in place, when words like “planning” and “coordination” are missing from the state’s lexicon, when the people in charge can’t act in a professional manner, when you have a hopeless mess of red tape, responsibility shirking, unclear lines of command and complete loss of control, when citizens have no sense of civic responsibility, when laws and regulations are blatantly flouted, when construction is allowed to run rampant and unregulated, when local government operates below par.
And tragedies will continue to happen unless the state gets its act together and people change their mentality.