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Society

“Message Me When You Get There” – Greeks Rallying Cry, Parents Fear

ATHENS – It’s devastating news for Greece’s ruling party New Democracy – and for previous governments too – that the phrase “Message Me When You Get There,” once used by parents to give to their children before trips, has now become an expression of anger following a train tragedy that killed 57 people, many of whom were university students.

The phrase has been plastered on signs during street protests against Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ conservative administration, which claimed to bring Greece into the 21st century of high-technology, yet trains still rely on walkie-talkies and manual switching at some stations. This, coupled with the admission of a stationmaster that they had made a mistake in routing a passenger train with 350 people directly into an oncoming cargo train, is to blame for the catastrophe, which safety measures should have prevented.

In a feature article, the British conservative magazine, The Spectator, highlights how the phrase has now become a means of attacking the government and the train company following the loss of so many young lives.

The majority of the students were traveling in the first two cars of a train en route from the capital to Thessaloniki, the country’s second-largest city. They were returning from annual carnival celebrations, which had been cancelled for three years due to the waning coronavirus pandemic.

“Protesters were visibly enraged, yelling ‘murderers’ outside the parliament building in Athens, prompting PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis to delay announcing the date of the next elections,” reported Yiannis Baboulias, a fellow at the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

Protesters take part in a rally following a train collision in central Greece, in front of the parliament, in Athens, Sunday, March 12, 2023. Thousands of people protested Sunday against safety deficiencies in Greece’s railway network and to demand the punishment of those responsible for the deadliest accident in the country’s history, which killed 57 on Feb. 28, when a freight train and a passenger train that had been mistakenly directed to the same track collided head-on in central Greece. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

 

“To understand why this particular incident threatens to upend the ruling party’s certainties, we must unpack the phrase used by the protestors. It’s hard to overstate the emotional resonance of that simple line for Greek people. My own phone is full of messages like that, sent by my mother whenever I travel,” he added, explaining how the phrase is used.

In Greek society, many children live at home even as adults, often into their mid-30s. Even when they’re on their own, their parents, especially Greek mothers, fret and worry and want confirmation that they’ve arrived safely on a trip or at their destination abroad.

For many, the message was never received because their children were dead, torn apart by the ferocity of a head-on collision and left in pieces or incinerated by a fire that reached temperatures as high as 2700 degrees, twice that of a crematorium.

The tragedy sparked a fury that went beyond mere anger, with a palpable sense of outrage in the streets and homes directed at the government and railways. The railways had received 800 million euros ($854 million) in European Union aid to fix the trains, but failed to do so, with no accounting of where the money was spent.

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

“This isn’t just about the youth of the victims; there’s a sense that this train wreck symbolizes the country’s situation after more than a decade of austerity under incompetent governments,” wrote Baboulias.

He added that it’s “fueling anger against a whole class of politicians who seem unwilling to change course and stop the terminal decline that the country has been in since the 2010 debt crisis, leaving its young people with no prospects at best, or tragic victims of its failures at worst.”

These young people could be a catalyst in the upcoming elections, originally scheduled for April 9 – a week before Easter when many families and their children would be at their villages or islands where they vote.

However, following the tragedy, the elections have been postponed and are now likely to take place on May 14 or May 21, according to media reports. Mitsotakis and his government are trying to assess the fallout and the message before them.

“The train crash is part of a recurring pattern in every disaster that befalls the country, such as the annual summer fires or the ongoing pandemic which has strained Greece’s crumbling healthcare system,” the article added, highlighting the frustration and fears.

Baboulias wrote that although the current government blames previous administrations, they have been in power for almost four years and have repeatedly postponed the implementation of safety measures, while complaining about a lack of funds to fix the railways.

“The sense of injustice fueling the protests grows stronger because, as many demonstrators have noted, the current government seems to be able to find funds for things they deem important,” he wrote.

This includes hiring 4,000 police officers when Greece already has the second-highest number of cops per capita in the EU, as well as awarding lucrative contracts for COVID-19 messaging to favored media outlets while shutting out those they disfavor.

In a rare admission of guilt, the Athens union of daily newspaper journalists – in a country with many media outlets having political agendas – admitted their fault in not covering stories about railways unions complaining about lax safety measures and warning of an impending tragedy.

“The warnings of the railway workers did not receive the coverage they deserved, and the few reports by journalists, media, and investigative journalism groups were not widely reproduced,” they said. But now, “Message Me When You Get There” is taking the forefront.

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