Austerity the Lighting for Wildfires Destroying Greece

When approximately 100,000 hectares of the Greek mainland and islands were engulfed in flames of more than 500 fires in the first two weeks of August, the scenes were likened to a statement. Dead stigers fell from the sky, exhausted firefighters died on the ground, villagers assembled their own temporary fire trucks from farm pumps and a Syrian fled the island of Evia. used his van to charter locals to safety.

Twenty -two countries rushed to the aid of Greece’s New Democracy government, with water bombers, helicopters and firefighters sent from countries including the United States, France, Israel, Ukraine, and Romania.

When reinforcements arrived and locals resisted evacuation orders to defend their homes without help, the public began to ask why the authorities in Greece needed help – part of a growing cry over the general lack of government in land during the time of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. declared “A natural disaster of unprecedented proportions.”

Local mayors denounced “insufficient“National resources attributed to fighting the fire as residents told how the provision of emergency food and water fell on shopkeepers and individuals. As one man in Evia observed,” all the government does appeared on TV and told us it was a huge success that we didn’t all die in the fire. They should have hired firefighters instead of thousands of new police officers. “

The size of the fire and recent record-breaks temperature throughout the Mediterranean made for conditions truly unprecedented. But amid all the smoke and reflection of efforts to reduce political guilt – with guilt handed over to arsonists and unpredictable weather conditions – the fire has undermined the priorities of a neoliberal government that has been relentless. pursued private capital and public safety regulatory authority.

In the rare event that a politician apologizes for something, you can be sure that the extent of the damage is greater than their remorse. Such was the case when Mitsotakis appeared publicly in the midst of the backlash to announce his repentance to the government’s “shortcomings” to the thousands of Greeks who lost their homes, land, and livelihood. “We may have done what man is possible,” he said, “but in many cases it’s not enough.” The PM’s mistake of recognizing the official effort was immediately unproven.

The New Democracy government has systematically removed funding from national fire services since coming to power. In 2020, it declined to hire 5,000 new firefighters and budgeted as little as € 1.7 million of the € 17 million requested to meet basic service needs. The recent fire has seen new calls for the sector to hire at least 5,000 firefighters, a request the government has yet to respond to.

At the same time, the Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection was inflated by 4,500 new staff members and the defense budget more than doubled, making Greece one of NATO’s highest military spenders as a proportion of GDP. With just 500 firefighters battling across the country, satirical memes have spread on social media showing flying police cars pumping water over the fires and riot police in firefighters ’hats.

Criminal indifference

Government priorities have been apparent in Greece since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government of the New Democracy has a systematic funded private hospitals because of saving public health services, and empowering banks by leveling COVID-affected businesses with “loans,” while taking the state with the exception of massive expand the police powers alongside others with power reforms.

In northern Athens, which suffered some of the heaviest fire losses, government sources sought to justify their inaction by claiming by various that the forest was inaccessible or reached them. of turbulent winds. Such excuses were quickly ridiculed by locals who posted aerial footage of numerous roads through the site and meteorological reports of unconditional conditions, decrying the “criminal indifference” of the Greek state.

A resident in the area recounted how he visited the remains of his house every day after the fire and only found out that his neighbor, an influential businessman, had a fire truck parked inside the doors of his not hurt house. The public property was apparently intended with official permission and firefighters told the woman they could not leave the house to extinguish areas on other properties.

Such rampant corruption in the service of private interests is typical of Greece’s current ruling elite, which seeks to protect private capital while administering “shock therapy“In the country since taking office in 2019. In the midst of public emergency diversions, New Democracy is rushing through a range of reforms under the banner of the so-called” Greece 2.0 “program. here are areas protected by mining and privatized the electricity grid, repealed university asylum laws, and introduced some of the most revolutionary changes in labor law the country has seen in recent decades.

Firefighters and volunteers tried to put out a blaze in the village of Markati, near Athens, Greece, Aug. 16, 2021. Reuters / Alkis Konstantinidis

It’s the same private interest that will saturate the devastation done by fires – notably, by the plague of illegal developments predicted to be initiated on burned public land, initiated by Greece’s dismal forest register, in a task income -increasing exercise for a predatory political economy. As an irate and exhausted firefighter write in a social media post at the height of the fire, “my question is, does it make sense for the villas you’re going to build if there’s no more green around you? How can you breathe there and we’ll get down here?”

This neoliberal faith informs the New Democracy government’s response to the climate crisis more generally. Unlike many right-wing governments around the world, New Democracy immediately recognized the threat of climate change, announcing a € 44 billion reform program that included some of the most radical decarbonisation targets in EU countries. Yet the plan centers on the same pillars of privatization, marketisation, and minimal public investment that characterize all New Democracy’s agendas, with little concern for social and environmental consequences.

For example, in 2020, New Democracy passed a controversial new environmental bill that allows the development of extensive private wind projects on islands and mainland with little or no compliance with environmental protection measures. environment. As an Athens -based political ecology researcher explained, “climate change works as an alibi for everyone, including Greek capitalism. The climate change policy of the New Democracy is based on a typical ideology neoliberal – that the market will save us from Armageddon. “

So when Mitsotakis said of a climate crisis speech in May that Greece should “make the great existence of this crisis a great opportunity,” he did not specify the possibilities for social change, job creation, or investment in the public sector – he was referring to a business opportunity.

Faced with criticism of the government’s handling of the fire, the prime minister announced a cost of € 6,000 per damaged household and € 4,500 for the injured – a small amount compared to the size of the damage. And with new fires erupting across the country, ridicule continues about the government’s willingness to provide anything valuable resources to alleviate the economic toll on individuals and small businesses and prepare a fire force adequate to the task. “Everything needs to change,” Mitsotakis told the nation after the fire this month. Faced with ashes and another looming economic crisis, many Greeks feel the same.

Zoe Holman is an Australian journalist and author based in Athens and working on social issues, migration and the Middle East.

This article was originally published in Jacobin.

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