The shock and anger that the Greek public is feeling is bad news for the government and their clumsy “damage control” isn’t helping at all. It went bad from the start, and the general feeling is that the government was more interested in saving face than accepting responsibility for whatever mistakes might have been made. In the days after the fire, details that emerged showed a definite lack of coordination between various parts of the emergency services, the provisional government of Attica, and the government itself. The responses the Greek public received were less than satisfactory — when they were not downright accusatory.
The first instance where the public demanded answers was regarding whether the government knew about casualties when they held a televised press conference in the fire service headquarters the first night of the fires. There was no mention of any loss of life by the prime minister. Over the next few days, men from the Coast Guard’s Underwater Mission Unit made statements that they had knowledge of casualties as early as 8:30 pm on July 23; the same goes for the hospital workers’ union, whose president shot down a claim by the Sismanogleio hospital director that he didn’t remember when the first casualty was brought in, as they have dated and time stamped pictures that show that the first casualty was there long before the conference.
The second point of friction is the number of missing people. The government provided the number of people missing, but not until after a two-day storm of posts on social media by people demanding to know how many people are still missing. Many assert that while the government knew that there were large numbers of dead and missing but delayed the release of information as long as possible in an attempt to minimize public shock and the backlash the immediate release a large number would have caused. The number the government announced was twenty-three people missing, and it is a number that is not believed by many.
The third point, and what has caused the most outrage, is the refusal of the government to accept any responsibility. Starting with the president of ANELL, the party that governs along with SYRIZA, and defence minister Panos Kamenos accusing a victim of the fire that voiced his grievances as a mouthpiece for anti-government media on live TV, to ministers blaming illegally built homes for the loss of life during the fires, as if that absolves them of any responsibility, claiming that the large number of dead was due to buildings and roads not adhering to a city ordinances. Yes, there are illegal buildings in the area, as there are in most of Greece, but the current government has established a legalization program where for a small fee you have a legal building. Also, the roads to the sea are as straight as can be
In effect, people are angry that the language used is essentially a narrative construction that has little to do with the truth. There were extremely bad decisions made while the fire was raging. From the port of Rafina that let two ferry boats dock and unload effectively creating a congestion on the Highway, to a police car that sent people through Mati while the place was on fire. Defending herself for the lack of coordination, the Attica Governor – and member of governing SYRIZA party – Rena Dourou, said that she feels wronged for having had the bad luck of that disaster happening on her shift. Putting it mildly, her statement was not popular, especially since the last tragedy was again on her shift: the November flash floods in Mandra had 23 victims.
The German government is concerned with the volume of fire the SYRIZA government is taking. After their “revolutionary period,” they had become a trusted partner and thus one headache less for Angela Merkel. A large portion of the Greek citizenry has turned on SYRIZA for their failure to teach a lesson to the European elite and signing another memorandum. Their behavior after this tragedy put the SYRIZA government in political coma.
Featured image: In this Thursday, March 3, 2018 file photo, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, right, and Greek public order minister Nikos Toskas attend a ceremony in Athens. Toskas has resigned on Friday, Aug. 3, 2019, in the aftermath of last week’s deadly forest fires near Athens that killed at least 87 people. | Yannis Liakos/InTime News via AP, file