By Antonis Karakousis
The unrelenting wildfires of August that destroyed the pine forests of Evia and Attica and harmed large tracts in Ilia, Messinia, and Eastern Mani stirred a sense of bitterness among all Greek.
They also harmed the image of the “effective” New Democracy government and for the first time placed the PM, who was hitherto unscathed, in an exceptionally difficult position.
Waves of rage and indignation emerged from the burnt forests. The residents, as usually occurs after natural disasters, in their desperation sought to apportion responsibility for the ills that they suffered – burnt homes and property losses.
There was plenty of criticism over the last days, particularly regarding the inadequate and poorly coordinated wildfire water planes, insufficient fire-fighting forces, and even the evacuation plans that were implemented in order to save lives.
It was the first time during his 26 months in office that Mr. Mitsotakis was personally called to task, accepted that mistakes were made, and apologised to the citizenry.
It was a major wound as the trust of citizens in the government was shaken and the political damage is certain. One cannot yet tell the extent of that damage, but the PM already feels pressured by society and is well aware of the fissure in his relationship with public opinion.
His opponents hastened to exploit the shock and attacked him strongly in Parliament, and he responded in kind in an effort to ameliorate impressions.
The unfortunate thing for the PM is that the public health crisis is returning with a vengeance and may well place an added burden on the government, after the political damage caused by the wildfires.
The question now is to what extent the government can be reborn and renew itself so as to transcend the crisis of confidence caused by the catastrophic fires and the insecurity they stirred in the public.
The government is aware of the political damage caused by the wildfires but it believes it is manageable and that through imminent initiatives to compensate the fire-stricken and to bring about the rebirth of affected areas it can regain the lost ground.
At this stage, the focus will be on stemming the fourth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic so as to ensure the unhindered rebirth of the economy, which the PM believes will create long-term benefits for the country and its citizens.
To achieve that, he must reckon with strong subterranean currents of irrationalism which dispute and obstruct the use of vaccines, which are the only tried and tested scientific tool for managing the pandemic. These currents undoubtedly start in the depths of Mr Mitsotakis’ wing of the political spectrum.
Clearly it will take much effort and decisiveness to counter the wide anti-vaccine front and those who condone it so as not to create even greater disputes that can delay or undermine the crucial effort to achieve economic rebirth.
The coming months will be very decisive in determining the future.
Now it will be decided if the PM and his inner circle have the endurance and force to transcend a host of obstacles that lies before them, to heal the wounds, and to regain the trust that was shaken by the events of this disastrous August.