The orphaned dead

The orphaned dead

Whenever we are shaken by the sudden death of many of our compatriots, we hold the same conversation. Who is to blame? Today’s government or the previous ones? The victims themselves, the state, or some other agent – capitalism, foreign forces? And each time we see how divided we are, how we disagree over everything. Our narratives of the past are different, as is our reading of the present. We cannot agree on the roots of the present crisis, nor how to get out of it, nor why it seems to have no end. We cannot honor our dead with the appropriate sense of responsibility and respect: If we do not wave them about like revolutionary banners we want to bury them deep in the dark, judging them not on the basis of how they died and why but on who we are and what we think is in our best interests.

The 21 who drowned in western Attica a few days ago are among the orphan dead. Like those who burned to death in the forest fires in Ilia, southern Greece, in 2007 and in the Marfin Bank branch in Athens in 2010, like the many other victims of accidents and violence whose names did not become well known nor their martyrdom turned into song. The 21 found themselves facing death without warning, without a way out. Drivers passing through and residents in their homes became one in the water, the mud, the debris of the torrent of bad luck and national malfunction. They were victims not only of the extreme weather but because of the negligence of others – many, specific others who did not do what they ought to have done to contain the damage that rain could cause, to protect roads and communities, to warn residents and travelers of the dangers. This conversation, too, is held after every disaster. And the causes are always the same: sloppiness, arrogance, lack of self-discipline, sloth, passing the buck, meaningless disputes, red tape, inertia.

The 21 of western Attica did not belong to a specific party, their death was not the act of some class enemy who could be vilified. They just happened to live in this country, continually in the shadow of disaster, and their deaths were avoidable. Of course, today’s government and previous ones share responsibility; the greater burden, though, is always on those currently in office. Who today are those who reply with the tried-and-tested “Others are to blame,” who know better than others how to deify their own dead and to ignore the rest.

The orphaned dead, though, are not forgotten. Left to their fate, exposed to every danger, they stand silent witness for us, they represent us, the many.

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