I have been doing this job long enough not to be surprised by the ruthlessness so vividly displayed in the infamous recorded conversation about the deadly 2018 wildfire in Mati. I remember a police officer in an important position once telling me, unperturbed: “If I had information that this or that person would be murdered and I thought this would get rid of my main competition, I wouldn’t tell anyone.” Then there was a senior military officer who had a meltdown on the night of the 1996 Imia crisis: “I didn’t even deserve to make brigadier. The party promoted me. And I just lost it that night; I wasn’t ready for such an incident.”
This is the problem in Greece. It is institutional and deeply political. The former fire chief is a symptom of a disease, the product of a cancer that has been eating away at the Greek state for decades. Secret dealings and games are in his DNA; his sense of duty is not. He is part of that Fire Brigade which former alternate citizens' protection minister Nikos Toskas himself once described as the most problematic mechanism of the Greek state.
SYRIZA was a new political force that could have changed all that. It had no political debts to repay, no baggage. The leftist party could have found those most capable to appoint, regardless of their political affiliations. It could have also trusted a new generation that, for the most part, was disgusted by the accumulated political rot of the past decades. SYRIZA did this in some instances and, up to a point, in the armed forces. In most instances, however, the party chose what was convenient, which mostly meant corrupt. In its obsession to consolidate its power, SYRIZA embraced a problematic system and became one with it.
But convenience only lasts until you have a crisis on your hands – like the blocked TV licenses or the wildfire in Mati.
The audio transcript published by Kathimerini on Sunday illustrates the country’s biggest problem, which was concealed by SYRIZA’s belligerent denials and attacks on the media.
So that’s the one real problem. Now our political system must decide what it wants. Does it want judges who can do their job undisturbed, officers who will not go into meltdown during a war, firefighters who can put out a big blaze? Or does it prefer party lackeys who crowd the offices of politicians to create the illusion that you can run a country with them? This is now the dilemma and it concerns all of us, not only SYRIZA, if we really want to honor the 102 dead in eastern Attica and not experience another national tragedy.