OPINION

The fifth column in the coronavirus war

the-fifth-column-in-the-coronavirus-war

The war on the coronavirus is global – it could be described as WWIII – in the sense that no country has managed to escape unscathed from it. It is more reminiscent of WWI, a war which was fought by soldiers in trenches, than of WWII with its spirited armored raids and vast landing operations. It is hoped that the discovery of the Covid-19 vaccine (or different Covid-19 vaccines) will have the impact of an atomic bomb, ending the spread of the disease. However, the rekindling of the pandemic every time a country eases its restrictions does not allow for any safe predictions about when it will finally come to an end. For the time being, it’s like two sides attacking each other, trying to steal a few meters of territory from one another.

In Greece, the war being waged by health experts, government officials and reasonable citizens is being undermined by the machinations of a fifth column. The group’s makeup is diverse. However, its members’ opposition to or violation of (whether intentional or not) the measures designed to curb the pandemic ultimately serves one outcome: undermining public health.

The Church of Greece does not officially oppose the coronavirus restrictions. However, the tone is being set by its prelates and priests – many of them clearly are swayed by conspiracy theories, while others seem to be playing power games inside their ecclesiastical circle – who claim that the Orthodox religion is being persecuted by the state measures. Not only are they refusing to cooperate with state authorities but they have even vowed to defy the measures. Meanwhile, they enjoy considerable influence among large swathes of the population, particularly in more tightly knit communities, as well as among political circles.

A similar attitude is displayed by the country’s Roma population, although they are not acting in tandem with the Church. From the onset of the pandemic, it was clear that the lifestyle of much of the Roma community would contribute to the spread of the virus. Many of its members actively defy the law and order framework, a fact that the Greek state has silently tolerated ever since its establishment. It is a known fact that the recent surge of the virus in western Attica is attributed mainly to Roma mobility in the wider area. The same has been the case in Larissa in central Greece and other parts of the country with large Roma populations. Their indifference or objections to rules is now also combined with a rise in crime.

The hard core of the fifth column, however, is of course the country’s young people, many of whom appear indifferent or reactionary towards the measures because of their age. They are joined by conspiracy theorists and Covid-19 deniers who often share ground with far-left and far-right activists. Kyriakos Velopoulos, the leader of the Greek Solution party, has tried to galvanize this section of society, also by using his program on television, where he promotes his alleged miracle drugs. Underestimating his influence and impact would be a mistake on many levels.