After the deadly train crash in central Greece, despair has turned to anger against past and current governments.
“57 dead” is written in red on the paper that a demonstrator has attached to her sweater. Everyone in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, knows what it’s about: 57 are the number of people killed in the devastating train crash that occurred on the evening of February 28, when the locomotives of two trains traveling at high speed collided in the surroundings of the village of Tempi, which is located near the city of Larisa.
The 58-year-old woman with the letter on her sweater is one of hundreds of thousands of protesters in Greece who took to the streets to vent their anger on the streets of more than 50 cities large and small across the country.
Protest in Greece – The train crash showed that pilaf no longer holds water
For this woman and the other 20,000 people who filled the center of Thessaloniki, this tragedy shows a complete political failure: “It shows that all those who have been and are in the government do not think about the welfare of the people, but only about personal benefits . This crime shows that well,” she says angrily.
“Crime” is a word that appears on many placards and stickers; “killer” is the other word. But the protesters protest not only against the current government, but also against the previous one. People of all ages and political persuasions protested on March 8 side by side agreeing on one thing, that the entire political system must accept responsibility for the victims of the crash.
Unrealized hopes from the Greek government
The train crash showed that the pilaf no longer holds water. With elections expected to be held, the anger of the people seems to come at an inconvenient time for the government of Prime Minister Qirjako Micotaqi.
Nothing remains of Mitsotaqis’ promises of progress and modernization, promises with which he came to power in the summer of 2019. The hopes of many Greeks regarding his tenure as prime minister have now turned to disappointment and anger.
Perpetually underfunded rail system
These days, the applause is not received by politicians, but by trade unionists like Thodoris Varidakis. He is responsible for the smooth running of trains at the privatized Greek train company, Hellenic Train, and has drawn attention to the poor state of the sector for years.
Greece | Trade unionist Thodoris Varidakis
Finally, the day has come for people to listen to what he says when he speaks on the podium in front of the demonstrators about the large absences, which, according to his judgment, show that for employers the priority is not job security, but the minimization of costs.
Speaking to Deutsche Wellen, he says that the railway company is consistently poorly financed and understaffed. Everyone knew this, and they did not take any action. He thinks that the political gestures of Athens after the disaster are a farce: “It is not enough for the government to react only by resigning a minister. On the first day, the prime minister pointed the middle finger at the railway station guards, blaming them,” he says angrily.
Collective failure of politics
Thodoris Varidakis underlines that no government of the last 20 years is innocent of the 57 dead in Tempi. Not only the current party in power, Nea Dimokratia, but also the social democrats of PASOK and the left Alliance of former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, did not take the appropriate measures when they were in power to guarantee safety in the transport system: “Competitiveness is seen as a higher priority than safety and health,” says Varidakis. He also warns that other transport sectors such as buses, planes or ships have been neglected in terms of technical security issues.
Protests after the railway accident in Greece
Almost every day, a new discovery appears in the Greek media that sheds light on the catastrophic state of the railway system.
The conservative newspaper Kathimerini writes about mistakes made in the modernization of the signal system and the commissioning system, mistakes that have been known since 2018. With modern security systems, installed long ago in the segment where the collision occurred, but without still put to work, human-made errors are detected and eliminated. Kathimerini concludes that if the system had been implemented properly “there would not have been any deaths today” and that “successive governments have been equally indifferent to this problem”.
“I don’t feel safe”
For many people in Greece, the train crash has become a symbol that shows the bad state of the economy and the successive wrong decisions of a political elite, which has made many problems of the country’s daily life only cosmetic treatment. Ruined roads, outdated buses, overloaded electricity grids: In Greece, people accept these shortages with gnashing of teeth, without trusting that the state will solve these problems. But the train disaster in Tempi has awakened the country from the sleep of collective resignation. The 57 dead don’t let you get off the list of political failures easily.
“I don’t feel safe in this place,” says 20-year-old student Alexia Athanasiou from Larisa. In a video circulating on social media, she speaks with words that have shocked the entire country: “We are all guilty, because we vote for the same people who have destroyed the country. They make me hate my country.” In an interview with Deutsche Wellen, she expressed regret, because many of the victims were students: “They kill our future,” she says angrily. “How can it happen that governments bring the country to this state?”
Protests after the railway accident in Greece
However, she does not give up her faith in democracy. In the parliamentary elections that are expected to be held, she will vote for the first time and thus hopes for the political consequences.
Consequences for the elections
When these elections will take place is still unclear. After initially talking about holding them on April 9, it is now more likely that they will be held on May 21 or July 2. In the first polls conducted after the train crash, the party of Prime Minister Qirjako Micotaqis has lost three percent, falling below the level of 30 percent. The SYRIZA party, led by Alexis Tsipras, does not benefit from this loss and continues to remain at 25 percent. Volfango Pikoli, a political advisor with a focus on risk and crisis management, thinks that Micotaqis has lost credibility: “The government has reacted badly to this crisis from the beginning, saying that the cause of the accident had to do with human error. Then the Minister of Transport resigned, but nothing more than that happened. I think the government has misjudged public perception.”
Now Prime Minister Micotaqis is trying to backtrack: “He apologized on social media and asked for investigations to be carried out, which, however, will be carried out by a commission created by the Ministry of Transport, without even consulting the opposition.” says Picoli when speaking to Deutsche Wellen. “We have often seen this, for example during the wiretapping scandal. Even during this scandal, the crisis management by the government was not good.”
Picoli thinks that the elections that are expected to be held will be a big challenge for Micotaxis: “He must calm people’s anger, without coming out too much in the foreground. The space to act is very small.”/DW