In Greece, the political pendulum has often swung from one extreme to the other – at great cost to the country. When the 1967-74 dictatorship fell, it was imperative to purge the country’s civil protection and security forces and make them more transparent. Over the years, however, this process went off the rails and the forces came to be run by political and unionist power centers. Discipline and respect for the hierarchy, which had already been seriously damaged by the junta, fell by the wayside, along with accountability.
The findings of an investigation into the deadly fires of last July in eastern Attica are evidence of the tragic consequences of this phenomenon, of the fact that a large chunk of the country’s civil protection authorities are ailing from the same failures that plague Greece’s public enterprises. Positions of responsibility are filled with people who are unqualified and unable to handle any crisis. Officers who are trained in special fields are transferred to irrelevant jobs because achieving professional excellence is seen as a sin. The absence of discipline, meanwhile, makes a mockery of the chain of command, which is so crucial during a crisis. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not restricted to the fire service. In the navy, for example, performance reviews were diligently carried out for many years until they too started falling by the wayside in recent years as a result of political interventions. The mentality of shirking responsibility and letting bad behavior go unchecked became prevalent. People in the know claim that it was this mentality that was responsible for one or two unfortunate incidents in recent years that were reported in the media.
When a bomb nearly killed a former prime minister, meanwhile, there was a concerted effort to prevent any blame from falling on the shoulders of the guards who failed to properly inspect a booby-trapped parcel. This is but one example of what has become a culture of abolishing operating procedures in services that are such a vital part of the state apparatus. This phenomenon has snowballed since SYRIZA came to power in 2015 because the leftist party lowered performance standards even further and sanctioned the abuse of democratic freedoms. But it was born long before that.
The danger now is that efforts to completely destroy structure and discipline ahead of the national election will become more deliberate and intense. It will take a great deal of effort to keep the pendulum swinging close to the center so that we can have some degree of certainty that tragedies like that of last July will not happen again.