Four days after the tragic Attica wildfire, in a nationally televised address to his cabinet, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he assumes political responsibility for the disaster, and called upon his ministers to do the same.
The move came after days of fierce political and media criticism of the fact that no one in the government had either apologised or resigned over the handling of the affair.
“The dead cannot speak, but the least we owe to their memory is respect, at least for the truth,” the PM told his cabinet.
At the same time, he called on his ministers to assume their share of the responsibility. It was unclear whether this represented an indirect call for voluntary resignations.
“I will not hide that I am overtaken by mixed feelings at this hour, as I assume you all are. Pain, devastation by the human lives that were lost unexpectedly and unjustly, but also anguish. Anguish over whether we acted correctly regarding all that we should have done. Whether we reacted properly during those critical hours. Whether we could have done something more. Whether we could have saved even one more soul of those who left unjustly,” the PM said.
“I also do not want to hide that I am not avoiding the thought and fear of whether, from some instinct of self-preservation, we are committing the same error that we have seen others [previous governments] commit – offering excessive excuses in order to reduce [our] responsibilities.,” he said.
“Just as we did not attempt to escape our responsibilities when we were confronted with an enormous economic, national, and humanitarian catastrophe [economic crisis] for which others were responsible, we will not do so now either,” the PM said. “Tragedies are often an occasion for problems, situations and negligence, which under normal conditions are hidden from the public dialogue, to come to light. Today, we comprehend in a painful manner that we are governing a country in which for years endemic dysfunctions dominated.”
“Sackings, in the hour of battle, which was the rule in previous tragedies, are not an act of political courage, but rather of cowardice. This is all the more true with the easy condemnations of firefighters who heroically went to battle, policemen, Coast Guard officers, and military men who heroically fought on the fronts of the fire,” the PM said.
“The couch warriors [critics] should not train their fire at those who saved thousands of people – the firefighters who heroically rushed in, placing the struggle above all, and the policemen, without whose presence on the battlefield we would be mourning even more people, and the Coast Guard, which saved thousands at sea,” Tsipras said.
“We shall proceed decisively in drafting a national plan to confront the housing dysfunctions of decades, with the help of professional organisations, universities and experts. I call upon everyone to participate in this effort, including opposition parties,” the PM concluded.