As French President Francois Hollande was being treated to a lavish welcome during his official visit to Athens, the Greek capital was experiencing a number of intense, though not at all unusual, downpours.
The only thing that was unusual about Thursday’s arrival ceremony was the over-the-top fanfare with which the voluminous minister of defense and coalition partner leader heralded the French leader.
So, as a rather ill-at-ease prime minister and an overexcited – you could see it in his eyes – minister of defense welcomed the foreign dignitary, streambeds blocked by construction and other debris filled with mud, bringing destruction to many parts of the capital, and causing at least one man to lose his life.
In Menidi, Kamatero and Ilion, the Eschatia and Pikrodafni streams were overflowing. The floods hit the western – mostly poor – suburbs of Attica for the umpteenth time because of the state’s rampant indifference and unregulated construction. It has been so for decades. After every natural disaster, promises are made that things will be rectified, but the halfhearted attempts are soon abandoned.
Meanwhile, the responsibility for this abhorrent state of affairs is constantly being passed on from one authority to the next. The regional authority blames the Infrastructure Ministry, the Infrastructure Ministry points the finger at the local authorities and all three together say it is the fault of money-grubbing, rule-breaking contractors and builders, etc, etc.
The residents of the stricken areas are not all free of blame, as many of them are owners who insisted, at a price, on building their homes in areas that were blatantly illegal.
Thankfully, Attica doesn’t experience the kind of extreme weather that every so often slams parts of the United States, for example. Had it been any other way, the Greek capital may well have been razed to the ground.
So, when the rain stops, the floods ease and the mud dries, life gets back to normal – at least until the next rainfall that becomes a catastrophe because decades of neglect have turned the simplest natural occurrence into a major event.
The lyrical and pragmatic speech that Hollande made in Parliament in his effort to boost morale and impart the spirit and ideas of the Enlightenment was addressed to a European nation which, like most of Europe and despite the problems and disagreements, has a duty to follow certain fundamental rules to ensure a tolerable, basically humane, environment.
All Hollande saw was a rainy Athens. He didn’t see the consequences.