This week’s piece intended to discuss Greece’s impending national elections and the disenfranchisement of Greek citizens living abroad. However, in the wake of the tragic train collision at Tempi resulting in the death of approximately 60 passengers so far, the frame of reference has changed.
The terrible tragedy at Tempi may have happened under the watch of the outgoing Mistakes Administration, but culpability lies with all the parties in Parliament. The systemic negligence regarding evident problems with the national railroad infrastructure extends to previous administrations, including left-wing, socialist, and conservative governments alike. Even parties that never governed, but exercise significant influence through their stronghold on organized labor, bear their share of the blame for this horrific accident, which could and should have been averted.
Even as the nation mourns the loss of its sons and daughters, partisanship still continues to shamelessly rear its ugly head, like vultures scavenging the accident scene. Television channels and other media are covering this story nonstop, but often give disproportionately large air time to political agents who should be running for cover right now, not casting stones – because it’s obvious none of them are blameless.
Ideally, society should be turning its attention to the families of the victims, the whistleblowers whose warning of the imminent dangers went unheeded, voices of knowledgeable and capable citizens who don’t have the political clout and media backing to amplify their message, but who could succeed in sparking sweeping change if they somehow managed to gain a foothold in public discourse.
This might sound idealistic, but it seems quite practical when compared to the alternative. The frequency of disasters with shockingly high death tolls has grown markedly in Greece. Over the past two decades, Greece has made international headlines for all the wrong reasons due to deadly natural disasters like forest fires and floods, or accidents like the train collision at Tempi. When compounded with the fallout due in no small part to derelict and self-serving administrative decisions like the lunacy of across the board cuts during the memoranda years, directly responsible for the sharp rise in the suicide rate of a citizenry plunged into financial despair and hopelessness, or the lives of patients needlessly lost due to a health care system where even necessities like bandages, medicine, and emergency care are not a foregone conclusion, the indictment against the present state of partisan politics in Greece grows even stronger.
The latter examples may not be as high profile, but they are just as lethal.
One of the most infuriating shortcomings of the Greek state is that it treats individual citizens with rigidity and punitive proclivity when they fail to satisfy its irrational bureaucratic demands, but shows remarkable elasticity and appeasement when it comes to special interests. For example, state and private entities responsible for the railroad should have been compelled to upgrade the network years ago and adhere to strict safety protocols. On the contrary, the obstacles raised by the state apparatus against ordinary citizens are sometimes so insurmountable that bribery often seems to be the lone recourse. Essentially, the dysfunctionality of the system fosters corruption. This is not to suggest that such phenomena do not exist elsewhere. However, in Greece, all too often, it unfortunately takes tragedy for the appropriate reforms to be enacted.
When the dust settles, the dead are buried, and the initial outrage subsides. Partisan politics will then once again come to the forefront – if history serves as any indicator. Candidates will continue campaigning on empty words, supposed superior management skills, often attached to some gimmicky slogan, and the cynical belief that the architecture of the political system will enable them to get elected despite the preponderance of bureaucratic and party inertia. Undoubtedly, they are banking on the fact that voters will just have to grin and bear it.
It’s obvious that real reform demands bold changes to the political system, capable of neutralizing endemic problems. Reforms like the distinct separation of powers in the government, revamping the largely ceremonial position of President of the Republic to create a counterbalance to the self-serving interests of political parties preoccupied only with reelection, and sweeping reforms of the administrative code need to proceed.
Although disenfranchised, Greeks of the Diaspora, unfettered by cronyism and special interests, could provide a great service by amplifying this message and showcasing viable remedies to the maladies plaguing modern Greek politics.
If even one life can be saved by averting future accidents and disasters, the effort will be well worth it. Who knows, it might even generate the necessary momentum to expose the electoral engineering of the parties opposing general voting rights for all Greek citizens abroad and provide a valuable service to democracy.
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