A crime without punishment

The insistent proclamations by the government – according to which the burnt expanses of Mount Parnitha, Pelion and other parts of the country will be fully reforested – are hardly credible. And this is not because the cadres of New Democracy are less sensitive to issues regarding environmental protection, as members of socialist opposition PASOK maintain. This pessimistic outlook is a reaction to representatives of a state that has always sown disappointment and anger through its inadequacies, mistakes and shortfalls, irrespective of which political party is in government. And the lowered credibility of these state officials is compounded by their apparent immunity from punishment. Perhaps the situation could be remedied if, even at this late stage, action was taken to attribute blame to those officials whose negligence or oversight had contributed to major environmental disasters in the past. An investigation would determine whether they displayed indifference or incompetence, either in averting the disaster or in carrying out timely reparation. A procedure like this would – if nothing else – serve as a warning for those currently in power and those who will have to tackle similar problems in the future. They would know that any mistakes, shortfalls and blunders would not go unpunished. It is worth considering the major fire that ravaged large tracts of forestland in Attica in 1998. At the time, the media described the damage wreaked by the blaze as an «ecological catastrophe.» Citizens condemned the state for its passivity and slammed state authorities for failing to coordinate their rescue efforts effectively. At the time of the 1998 disaster, Prime Minister Costas Simitis was on holiday while the various ministers of his PASOK government’s cabinet were also on holiday, at the dentist or otherwise engaged. Summits were held at the Maximos Mansion after the disaster with the government already under fire for promoting legislation condemned as «forest killing.» And what was the government’s line of defense? It blamed the «extreme weather conditions,» «the bad faith of the opposition» and the «excesses of the media» – almost exactly the same line as the current government. Of course the lack of concrete action taken during PASOK’s stint in power and its failure to protect Attica’s forests compromise the current criticism of the ostensibly reformist PASOK. But it would be most useful to carry out an investigation into the fallout of the 1998 fire: Did the government of the time fulfill its promises to reforest the area and, if so, to what extent? Did authorities manage to avert development on the burnt expanses of land? And, if not, who is responsible? If a crime remains unpunished, one can be sure that it will be repeated.

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