Letter from Athens: If Mati’s Ashes Could Speak, Fire Victims Would Scream for Justice

February 7, 2021
On the rare occasion in Greece when a politician, celebrity, the rich, someone in power or privilege is charged with a crime, prosecuted, shows up in court, appears for the sentencing or – most unlikely – convicted, they can buy out their jail time for around 5 bucks a day or, if jailed, say they have a headache or are a mother and be released.
Everyone else stays in the hoosegow.
So don't be looking for any justice for the 102 victims of the July 23, 2018 wildfires northeast of Athens who've been forgotten faster than certifiably crazy Republican lawbreakers don't remember their maniac backers attacked them in the U.S. capitol.
We still don't know the name of the man police said accidentally started the blaze by burning brush on a windy summer day, the conflagration spreading faster than lava down a hill, trapping many victims in the seaside village of Mati.
But we do know the names of those prosecutors say are the criminally negligent officials asleep at the wheel, causing the death toll to be so high – public officials who in the real world couldn't hold a real job, starting with former Premier and Looney Left leader Alexis ‘Don't Blame Me’ Tsipras.
Not only did his incompetent band of amateurs not have a disaster plan, they bungled the response, costing lives, and now a dogged investigator named Athanasios Marneris, who's going after the truth like a pit bull, is being stonewalled by people he said faked and falsified reports to cover their tracks and be held blameless.
This being Greece, they are not being named other than said to be high-ranking fire brigade officials and alleged civil protection people who didn't have a clue what to do when the sky was on fire over Mati and didn't send the Navy or Coast Guard to rescue people huddling in the sea, still being burned by the intense heat onshore.
The fire moved faster than a runaway freight train, catching many people trapped in their cars in a traffic jam when police – without guidance from superiors – mistakenly directed them into the fire’s path and others didn't have time to jump into the sea feet away.
Many couldn't find their way through a rabbit warren of dead ends caused by unlawful building that successive governments allowed to happen, and there was plenty of blame to spread around, but the fire happened on Tsipras’ and SYRIZA's watch.
The prosecutor and independent reports said firefighting aircraft weren't sent on time, there was no government disaster plan, nor a coordinated response. The cowardly Mayor of Marathon, Elias Psinakis, reportedly couldn't be found, which means someone didn't look under his desk. Part of the fire was in his jurisdiction.
In March, 2019, prosecutors charged 20 people, including Psinakis, then-Attica Gov. Rena Dourou from SYRIZA and the Mayor of nearby Rafina, Evangelos Bournos, along with the former civil protection head and fire service officials.
They were accused of involuntary manslaughter, causing bodily harm due to neglect, and arson through negligence, charges that carry up to five years in jail but none of them will ever see the inside of one. Of course, they have denied any wrongdoing.
An initial 292-page report described “a series of mistakes,” in handling the disaster, a euphemism for criminal negligence. While they were hiding, the fire was burning, victims crying out, melting, turned into cinder, and cremated alive.
They included 9-year-old twin girls huddled with their grandparents and 22 others on a bluff overlooking the sea they couldn't see because of the fire and smoke, or were afraid to jump onto the rocky shore.
Some Coast Guard vessels and private boats, including an Egyptian fisherman, plucked 700 people from the sea while Tsipras was nowhere to be found, the Greek Navy in its docks, officials planning defenses why they did nothing wrong.
Families of some victims, rightfully not trusting the state, hired analysts for independent reports and Marneris has run into a wall that fire couldn't burn: including three prosecutors who wouldn't let him elevate charges into felonies. This cover-up smells worse than smoke.
In his third swing and a miss, a 41-page report including witness testimonies of hiding the truth was swept away like so many ashes after a fire, this one carrying the remains of people who couldn't speak out for justice.
So who's left to do that for them?
So far, it's just Marneris, who is as persistent as Colombo, but the TV detective didn't have the Greek bureaucracy or injustice system to face and it wouldn't help for him to say, “just one more question” because it wouldn't be answered.
According to reports not specified, prosecutor Giorgos Noulis deemed there was not enough new evidence to substantiate the request for more serious charges, said Kathimerini, but no explanation why after Marneris said he produced it unequivocally.
His findings said officials faked and falsified reports to cover their failures and protect themselves, lied about when firefighting planes were dispatched, and that a state of emergency had been declared when it wasn't.
A firefighter then serving, Konstantinos Voutelas, told Marneris there was time to carry out an evacuation “but the order never came.”
What did you expect? They didn't start the fire but they let it burn.


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