Rarely does a piece of investigative journalism cause such a stir and such a large number of diverse comments. Since last Sunday, when Marianna Kakaounaki’s report in Kathimerini pointed to an apparent attempt by officials of the previous leftist-led government to cover up the gross mishandling of the deadly July 2018 wildfires in eastern Attica, comments regarding the conversation between the fire service investigator for the case and the former fire chief have come thick and fast.
The Kathimerini report is multifaceted and hones in on the paralyzing decay of the public administration, of the state apparatus, of the political system and of society. Nothing is left out of focus. The worst thing is that there is nothing really surprising about it all. The revelations contained in the report are a deeply uncomfortable reminder of an evil that raises its ugly head in front of our eyes – and cannot be lopped off.
It was not just the emotional charge caused by the report as it coincided with the two-year anniversary of the tragedy in which 102 people died. It was also that it demonstrated the underhand dealings, shady exchanges and arbitrary schemes that define the Greek state 46 years after the restoration of democracy (another anniversary that was marked yesterday).
It is worth highlighting the following excerpt from the conversation between the ex-fire chief and the investigator, which refers to the report that the latter was assigned to draft and submit to the prosecutor. “Keep it simple, even if it makes you come across as as an idiot… Five basic things: Winds, combustible matter, the combination of pine trees and houses, anarchic, illegal construction. As a result, the fire was out of control in less than an hour. I’m not trying to you get into trouble or anything like that; just write down five basic things based on your experience; if the data is incomplete, f… them, what will the prosecutor possibly say to you? Nothing. This is what I have, this is what I came up with, this is what I put down. If you don’t like it, pick someone else [to do the job].”
All it takes to survive in public administration, not just the fire service, is “five basic things.” The chief’s manual is a distillation of experience. A mix of fear, cynicism, irresponsibility, timid obedience or disguised wrongdoing (it’s the same) and selective indifference. Five basic things, which all serve a single goal: the cover-up. An entire system that wastes all of its energy and ingenuity on self-preservation. On a live-and-let-burn attitude. An attitude that occasionally takes an unbearably literal dimension.