SYRIZA has experienced peculiar behaviour over the last days. Ministers and officials who were immediately involved in managing the repercussions of the tragedy necessarily have drawn publicity, but not always to the same degree, as various “protection” mechanisms have been activated.
This includes an array of officials, from the prime minister and competent ministers, to Attica prefect Rena Dourou and State Minister Christophoros Vernardakis, who will undertake the reorganisation of the civil protection system.
The same does not apply to otherwise loquacious SYRIZA cadres.
Where is Minister Nikos Pappas?
What has drawn more attention is the obviously planned absence of Digital Policy Minister Nikos Pappas. He has not appeared publicly anywhere in the last 10 days, in an obvious effort to salvage his own political capital. “Where is Pappas?” government members ask, and some say that he is preparing a dynamic return to the PM’s office, as the electoral battle, especially after the communications “Waterloo” with the fires, requires the presence of SYRIZA’s “heavy artillery”.
Pappas, who until recently was inaugurating optical fibres and was photographed at even minor events, now is in the group of the “missing” of the government.
Also, the vice-president of the government and Economy Minister Yannis Dragasakis – beyond an initial announcement that the development strategy is a pillar of collective security – had no particular public presence in the effort to defend the government’s management of the fires.
Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and Alternate Finance Minister Yorgos Houliarakis, who play a crucial role in the government, also have not made any reference to the national tragedy. The latter always avoids publicity, but there are questions about Tsakalotos, as in the government he represents the so-called Group of 53, a sort of internal opposition, and has often taken a stand on government policy overall.
In truth, Tsakalotos and Houliarakis at the moment are absorbed with seeking investors so as to ensure a return to the markets, even if limited, though that does not seem likely due to interest rates. All that, however, does not explain why they chose to be silent.
As regards the Group of 53, it has a number of members who are knowledgeable about city planning and environmental protection and they have spoken about the issues based on their experience, but they have avoided openly supporting government policy.
Even Social Solidarity Minister Theano Fotiou, who gave a lengthy interview to the newspaper Epohi, adopted a self-critical stance.
The role of Nikos Filis
Former education minister Nikos Filis avoided any public statement. In the past, he has criticised the government when it “does not rise to the occasion”, playing the role of the conscience of the party.
The same is true for various MPs and other ministers who were not involved in managing the disaster.
These absences and the radio silence are not due to the line of the PM’s office for cadres to limit their appearance in the media
They reflect the reluctance of many SYRIZA cadres to completely assume the task of defending a failed policy, which is attributable to others.
Even government announcements of moves that reflect the longstanding positions of the Left – such as tearing down illegal structures or expediting building procedures – are not supported by many who see these initiatives as too little, too late.
Many SYRIZA cadres realise that the tragedy reflects a failure in the ability to govern, which is much deeper than controversial positions on the FYROM naming agreement.
The fear now is that SYRIZA will be viewed as a party that is not in a position to govern.
That explains the great effort to show that the state stands by the fire-stricken. It also explains the silence of many SYRIZA cadres.