OPINION

Guns on Crete set back Greek efforts to save lives

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All the road signs in the mountain villages in the regional unit of Rethymno on the island of Crete are riddled with bullet holes. Visitors stop to take pictures of what is in the eyes of many a sign of Cretan exoticism, usually with a mix of awe and shame. What kind of places are these, where primitive customs like the vendetta still survive in 2020? Why do Cretans feel free to roam the streets carrying guns, with heavy ammunition, from AK-47s to hand grenades? Anyone who’s ever celebrated Easter in those most remote areas of the so-called Megalonissos (the big island) knows that fireworks are here often substituted by live ammunition and that, at local weddings, youngsters occasionally fire off live rounds in the air so as to get accustomed with the local tradition known as “balothies” from an early age. (By the way, gun possession is not rooted in some revolutionary tradition; rather, it is a product of the 1970s and, primarily, the 80s.)

So the recent double fatal shooting in the village of Anogeia did not really come as a surprise. For locals, the killing was actually a harbinger of more deaths down the line. One side accused the other of acting like a Gestapo officer (really, how could one throw such an accusation just 50 kilometers from the place where German General Kreipe was abducted?); it was only natural that someone would get upset. Or was it? Have people in the rest of the country gotten used to treating Crete, particularly the mountain regions stretching between the villages of Anogeia and Zoniana, as an independent state, a sort of Exarchia surrounded by sea, inhabited by odd, arms-carrying cannabis traders – and all that under protected status?

We fret at widespread gun possession in the United States and the huge influence of the gun lobby in the American political system but we tend to turn a blind eye when it comes to the status of the Cretan population and the failure of Greek politicians to take action against this outrageous phenomenon. It is estimated that there are between 600,000 and a million illegal guns on Crete. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis comes from Crete and has first-hand knowledge of the problem. He could take a personal initiative for the disarmament of the island with the backing of the island’s MPs.

Greece has in the past few months waged a successful struggle aimed at saving as many lives as possible. It has set restrictions on youngsters to protect high-risk groups, it has introduced protective measures for doctors and medical staff – all measures which represent an ode to life of sorts. We have neither the luxury, nor the right, to waste the lives of young people over an argument about a parking spot.