They are sleepless at the PM’s office. That is the impression after the dramatic events of 21 July. The day after, and as the number of dead increased, the government’s communications team was in search of an escape route. They needed a way to shirk responsibilities without having to do the self-evident – to recognise their errors and apologise.
Then they implemented a tried and tested plan from the past, a plan to clean the dirty hands of the government, and the responsibilities that it has.
The plan was three-pronged:
Firtsly, they wanted to blur the image regarding who was responsible for all that happened. Day after day the responsibilities were shifted to others. Sometimes the prefecture was to blame, or the municipalities, or the Fire Service or the Police. Hence, nobody is to be blamed in the government.
The second axis is the operation to “hide” those who had to be hidden and to target others. The top aim was to protect the PM’s image, and that of ministers Toskas [public order] and Skourletis [interior] and Attica prefect Rena Dourou. There was a targeting of the small fry like Civil Protection chief Kapakis, Marathon Mayor Elias Psinakis, firemen, policemen, and Rafina Mayor Bournous, who “talks a lot” as the government believes.
Here there was a small shift, from the line, “We did everything right, we cannot find errors, and we are proud”, to the line, “It is provocative to say we did that we did everything right when there are so many dead.”, or “Responsibilities will be attributed.”
The third and more miserable axis is the operation to change the political climate. Defence Minister Panos Kammenos Kammenos effectively said “the dead are to blame” because they owned illegal structures, built without a permit.
That has been repeated by others, including three ministers in a bad performance announcing that illegal structures will be razed.
Hence, everyone else is to blame – especially the dead. This is the steadfast line of the government, obviously unconcerned that we continue to count the dead and cannot figure out who made the tragic mistakes that led to a national disaster.
Far from the disaster
The basic aim is to turn the lights of publicity on other issues and not on the horrifying scenes, not on the dead and their families, not on responsibilities and unanswered questions. Why were thousands trapped in Mati? Why did they delay in the rescue mission by sea?
Why did Tsipras and his ministers hide the deaths in the first hours?
Why was the force of the fire underestimated? Why did police direct people toward the inferno in Mati?
Why was there no evacuation order? Why was there no fire prevention plan?
Above all, why was there not a single resignation, as a sign of respect for all the dead?
The worst performance involves illegal buildings and those responsible for chaotic building conditions. Ministers Stathakis, Skourletis and Famellos are the protagonists in a performance with bulldozers that will continue through August.
This way, the limelight will turn away from photos and memories of dead children, and the horrifying stories of people who died and survived, with the memory of their tragedy.
On Wednesday, in a most cynical manner, Environment Minister Socrates Famellos said that the responsibility for the tragedy does not belong to the government, but rather to those who built and tolerated illegal buildings.
“Political responsibility means that we must confront the responsibilities that led to the loss of so many human lives. We must take care that no citizen will again be trapped by a fence or barrier,” Famellos said.
He said the government will take measures to confront anarchic construction and to “confront the essential causes of the tragedy”.
For Mr. Famellos, the fences and illegal buildings are to blame, but he forgot to mention that he signed a law to allow illegal structures to be legalised. One paper had carried the banner headline “The boss went mad”, regarding the legalisation plan.
Deputy Athletics Minister Yorgos Vasiliadis took a similar tack. “Tragedies like the one we experienced, whatever you may say, make us more determined to work hard, to correct the dysfunctions of decades, so as to create a country worthy of us and our children. We are going forward with our head high,” he said.
In an interview with the BBC, Defence Minister Panos Kammenos blamed the fire on the residents and disorderly building. “Anarchic building is a crime from the past, because most houses in Mati and the entire shoreline were built without permits. They occupied the coast without abiding by the law. After such a tragedy, it is time for them to understand that it is dangerous for them and their families not to abide by the law and rules,” he declared.
Kammenos blamed, two days after the tragedy, stricken residents for the lack of access to the beach.
Transport Minister Christos Spirtzis announced a probe of building permits in Mati, as there were luxury homes in the area, and buildings right next to the beach.