What does an “absentee” state machine mean for a country? The two reports from prosecutors investigating the deadly fire in eastern Attica last summer and the floods in Mandra, western Attica, in November 2017, serve as a scathing condemnation of Greece’s political leadership and public administration, be it in their references to the civil protection system or the role of regional authorities.
What they found in their investigations into the two events were mistakes, oversights, coordination and communication breakdowns, zoning violations, slipshod public construction and incomplete infrastructure.
In their report on the fires of July 2018, the prosecutors noted that “had the civil protection system worked even to the smallest degree and some mechanism were employed to inform and warn residents in the areas that were at risk, they would have had the time to evacuate before the fire approached, even by their own means.”
As for Mandra, the “completion of flood prevention work would have been effective.”
But neither the flood prevention nor crisis management systems were working in 2017 and 2018, leading to a total death toll of 125. What these events show us is that the state machine, beholden to political expedience, is doomed to produce just two things: jobs for cronies and tragedies.
That said, we should not overlook the third thing that the “absentee” state machine generated, and that is cynicism. When there are no rules, oversight or accountability to deal with the breakdown of the state machine, it is a short and slippery slope to chaos and a moral crisis that hits at the heart of our humanity. When left unfettered, cynicism can turn men into beasts, and not just those men who already defend violence and the extremes. When the political leadership shrugs off its responsibilities, it sends a message to every citizen than heartlessness is acceptable and normal.
In one of the dialogues from that fateful summer afternoon in the seaside town of Mati that was made public, the emergency responder can be heard telling a frightened and desperate resident asking for help, “It’s not like a taxi that we can just call up...”
Now, a few months later, a taxi features in another story, where a driver refused to help another person who was in need and kicked a person who was shot and bleeding out of his taxi. What does one have to do with the other? Let’s ask ourselves.