Wednesday, 27 August 2008

I cry for you, Greece

While many fires still rage through Greece, a state of emergency has been declared for the whole country and there are three days of mourning. Those three days are already nearly finished, the number of victims keeps on increasing and new fires still flare up daily. This disaster is not to be rectified with three days of mourning. This is a disaster such as has never been seen before in Greece.

From Saturday onwards TV stations showed non stop not only the terrible images of the fires, but also intense discussions between notables and anchor women, apparently not disturbed at all by phone calls from mayors desperately begging for help, describing how close the fire had approached their village, and angry people who didn't understand why nobody was coming to help them.

Words and images on TV are not enough to portray this huge disaster. Even the numbers of the ongoing outbreaking fires cannot describe it. Headlines shout: "Greece is burning!". Greece is crying.

Because you cry when you see villagers and homeowners desperately fighting against huge flames that threaten their properties: they fight with branches, buckets and garden-hoses, but in most cases in vain...

The government has stopped commenting. They themselves are now under fire because of the emergency service failures. Premier Karamanlis blames it all on arsonists, but no way do I believe that all fifty or so new fires that break out each day are the work of unscrupulous people.

The Greek government should be ashamed. Not only the current governing party, Nea Demokratia, but also PASOK. They ruled the country for years and are also responsible for this failing system that could not save people, homes, animals and land quickly enough.

In a Dutch book, 'Oriste, een reiswijzer Griekenland' (Oriste, a travelservice Greece) published by Teleac-Not in 1999 on page 154 they write about the fire brigade: "One of the developments to be concerned about is the increase in the number of wild fires and the failing fight against them. Until recently the forest administration was responsible for this, but now the responsibility has been transferred to the fire brigade. Fights between the two services, poor equipment, combined with often high temperatures, are not contributing to safe woods. It is as well to know that in a dry country such as Greece a thrown cigarette stub can cause an enormous disaster."

The Greek government only thinks of public enemy number one: Turkey. They invest huge amounts of money in the military. They forget the other enemy: fire. On a day that Greece was hit with about 180 fires, there were a thousand firemen battling against the flames, helped by 20 planes and 19 helicopters. How can you try to get control of so many fires with so few people and so little equipment?

It's very easy to blame it on landowners who see their land worth more when the trees are gone or on real estate agents that see in burned land ideal building sites. Of course they are to blame for some of the fires. But I'm afraid there are other causes that a government of a modern country should have dealt with long ago.

Was the government ever concerned about the illegal rubbish dumps in the Greek landscape? On every walk you make you will pass at least one such illegal dump. There only needs to be a bottle that works like a magnifying glass and whoops, there's a fire. Did the government ever encourage the building of garbage plants so that all those legal garbage sites would disappear? Last year such a dump caused a big fire close to Thessaloniki releasing toxic clouds. That's never happened in Molyvos, but whenever in the autumn they set fire to the garbage dump in order to clean up the place, it's frightening. Not to mention all the toxic fumes that you have to endure for days.

Some news broadcasters also mentioned the electricity poles that spark. On Lesvos we also have these poles that spread sparks. We even have one just beside the house. Especially in winter time, when there is wind and rain, they can make firework displays. I myself once saw a fire that started like that. But happily enough that was in the winter when we could only dream of drought and heat.

So just as the Chinese are said to be the cause of the increasing price of milk in Europe, the arsonists are all to blame for the devastating fires in Greece. The government should be ashamed. In a few weeks, on the 16th September, there will be elections. Early in the weekend of the disaster, all the leaders of the biggest parties (Nea Demokratia, PASOK and KKE, the communist party) ceased their campaigning in order to visit the worst hit places. Now that the criticism really starts, they stay under cover, too afraid to make a wrong move. Part of the campaign money is to be given to the victims, but you can never tell how people in a rage will react.

The heat wave seems to be over, although the weather reports keep on forecasting hot weather. The fires are far from being extinguished. When the time comes for the Greeks to vote, then the full disaster of human misery, the destruction of the ecological and the economical systems can be fully seen. It is promising to be very hot election days.

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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