All those who have been at the site of the Mati tragedy for a week, registering the shocking images, felt rage over PM Alexis Tsipras visit to the area, with the stealth of a thief. That includes the heroic firefighters who continue to battle, rescuers who know there is no hope but continue searching, soldiers who have not slept for days, and dozens of Greek and foreign journalists who were there from the first moment.
The totally “sterilised” visit of the PM, as organised by his office, was completely staged and removed from public view. It did not give the opportunity to government officials to see all that which those who were at the scene from the first moment of the tragedy saw.
Mr. Tsipras’ decision to “disappear” for a week and to watch on television Mati’s residents who lost their loved ones and were destroyed, has been judged by citizens. One need only read the messages on Twitter and Facebook.
Instead of an apology and answers to countless questions, instead of real remorse and the acceptance that many mistakes were made and that everything was not done perfectly, the PM took government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos and his staff, went to Mati in the early morning, stayed for a brief time, and did not talk to residents. He did not offer the answers that he should have or listen to the questions of residents.
In many countries, with similar or smaller national tragedies, the leader is there from the first moment.
In the German parliamentary elections of 2002, the leader of the Social Democrats, Gerhard Schroeder, was not doing well in the polls.
However, on 12 August, 2002, the level of the Elbe River began to rise dangerously. On 13 August, Dresden and other cities were flooded.
Schroeder’s reaction was immediate. On 13 August, with the flooding continuing, he announced the first disaster relief programme. On 14 August, the cabinet announced 100mn euros in aid, and Schroeder visited the stricken areas. After further governmental interventions, he won the elections.
In the catastrophe that Hurricane Sandy left behind in the US, President Barack Obama from the first moment headed the coordination effort. On the other hand, President George W. Bush did not do the same during Hurricane Katrina.
What the PM did not see
Alexis Tsipras, in choosing to hide from the public, did not see much of what those who are working day and night in Mati, to inform and help in every way, saw.
The prime minister, during his week-long absence, did not see homes burning even the day after the tragedy.
He did not see the site where over 25 people died on Eirinis Street, where small children in their parents’ embrace perished tragically.
He did not see the hundreds of burnt cars in the middle of the road.
If Mr. Tsipras had visited the day after the tragedy, he would have seen the keys left in the cars and the personal effects on the seats, abandoned by panicked residents.
The prime minister did not see the hundreds of rescuers who came from all over Greece, anxiously entering homes to find the living. He did not see a rescuer crying because he found a mother who had been burnt alive in the house.
He did not hear residents say that for the first two days they were abandoned by the state, without even being given water.
There was no one to coordinate, so different teams entered the same house.
The PM did not see firefighters crying over all they had seen since the night of the tragedy, when Mr. Tsipras was conducting his show at the Fire Service Operations Centre. He did not see the burnt fireman who went home and hugged his children more than ever before.
He did not see the relatives of the victims on the second day approaching journalists and rescuers, showing photos of their children and wives and crying out, “Have you seen them? Please help us.”
The PM did not see people sitting on the sidewalk in front of their homes, and crying because they lost everything in just one moment. He did not hear the shocking accounts of each person of how they were rescued, how they saw neighbours burning in front of them, and how they stayed in the sea for three-and-a-half hours, a hair’s breadth from the flames.
Obviously Mr. Tsipras did not see over the last days entire neighbourhoods that disappeared in the ashes.
He did not see people walking around like ghosts all these days.
He did not see young high school students picking up the shovel to help with all their might. He did not see policemen and a plethora of volunteers struggling to bring some hope to Mati.
There was much that Mr. Tsipras did not see. Above all, he did not feel the smell of death in the entire area. “My friend, the scent of death is something that cannot be forgotten,” a rescuer said on the second day.
Mr. Tsipras forgot all that with his choice of visiting the area a week later.
That is why he will find himself in the eye of the storm.