A great European leader – and a true friend of Greece – once said that Greeks were a great nation, but their state is a mess.
The man was, unfortunately, right. We have just suffered a national tragedy. We are running around like headless chickens, making accusations and concocting conspiracy theories. We do this every time disaster strikes, but we never seem to take any meaningful action to ensure that it will not happen again.
The Greek state tends to become paralyzed by any crisis. It happened during the Imia standoff between Greece and Turkey in 1996, during the Peloponnese wildfires in 2007 and again last week during the deadly inferno that ravaged the seaside resort of Mati east of the capital.
The sight of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sitting at the fire department’s operations center as though he were at a cafe while all sorts of people from his entourage ran around asking officials silly questions was not that of a country leader during a crisis. Yet it was a familiar spectacle because we have seen it all before. Any serious country would have had a serious emergency plan in place. Authorities would know where the emergency meeting would be held, who would be sitting around that table and who would be making the briefing and the recommendations. Officials would have already conducted several drills and simulations in order to get an idea of how the system operates and who does what in case of emergency.
These are bizarre notions here in Greece, because our politicians prefer to spend their time either in meaningless pursuits or feathering their nests and appointing their cronies to key civil service positions. The mess that starts at the top of the country’s power structure spreads all the way down to the smallest local authority.
An evacuation plan in case of an emergency? An operations center that can coordinate the movement of police cars and people with megaphones while conducting the evacuation? Mapped evacuation routes overseen by policemen and municipal officials to ensure safe exit? There’s probably a manual stuffed in a dusty drawer somewhere that contains all of these measures, but without repeated drills and a healthy sense of professionalism they mean nothing. When disaster strikes, there is little time or mental acuity to put such plans into action. The long and short of it is that Greece needs to rebuild its state apparatus from the ground up. The funds, willingness and know-how to achieve this are there. State agencies have skilled staff who are usually bullied by the party-affiliated parasites. A superior will always transfer that highly-skilled and well-trained expert to some remote post just to break his spirit.
We need to come to an understanding and get our act together because with a state machine like this one, we are extremely unlikely to make progress.
And one last thing: conspiracy theories are the last refuge of a failed state. That someone else is always to blame is the alibi of failed states and, of course, of failed politicians who brought the former to this mess.