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28 May, 2024
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Bad luck can't always be held responsible

'It was unfortunate. Bad luck was also blamed for the deaths in Mati in 2018. And for so much more.'

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

“It was an unfortunate moment,” the stationmaster in the deadly train crash is said to have claimed. How many times has the inadequacy and failure of the broader Greek state mechanism been hidden behind such phrases? Sometimes it is blamed on “bad luck,” at others, it is dismissed with “That’s Greece.”

I still remember the first time I heard an official explaining why the state had been unable to get the November 17 terrorist organization behind bars: “It’s a matter of luck,” he said and when he was asked to elaborate, answered: “Like when they were all gathered in Sepolia. We didn’t encircle them and they got away. It was unfortunate.” Bad luck was also blamed for the deaths in Mati in 2018. And for so much more.

The point is that “unfortunate moments” cannot be prevented. They will always happen. They are inevitable. Dealing with them, however, takes professionalism, training, constant drills, performance evaluations, absolute discipline and total commitment to protocols and essential procedures. Particularly when there are no electronic or automated systems to ensure that accidents do not happen or to at least give an early warning, the onus falls on one or two people. These people are often products of a disorder where crucial agencies and services are treated like inessential offshoots of the state apparatus. Their criminal inadequacy is exposed at the most important hour.

Our politicians are quick to recognize the rot and chaos running deep in the system. Their instincts tell them to sweep it all under the rug. No one wants to take drastic action. They know that from the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) to the Fire Service and many others, what’s needed is a radical overhaul, from the top down. Hesitant to clash with unions and party interests, they choose inertia instead. They avoid the political cost at that moment but end up paying much more for this failure.

That said, OSE is something of a special case. I can still hear the voice of an experienced politician and former prime minister saying many years ago: “OSE, you should know, will be one of the reasons why we go bankrupt.” The company was a huge black hole that swallowed up billions of euros of taxpayers’ money and European funds. It is a blot on the record of a political system that, even when it didn’t benefit from the waste, showed incredible cowardice and/or indifference in dealing with the problem.

The responsibility for the crash may, formally, lie with the stationmaster. But neither he nor “bad luck” can be entirely to blame. The biggest part of the blame lies with those who ran the relevant ministries and agencies, and this is a fact that was acknowledged by Transport Minister Konstantinos A. Karamanlis, who made the unusual – for Greece – decision to step down. It was the ineptitude, arrogance and cowardice of the political system that led to the deaths of so many of our fellow citizens in Tuesday night’s train collision.

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