The World Today for March 15, 2023

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GREECE

A young man traveling on the train from Athens to the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki on Feb. 28 was having trouble speaking to his mother on the phone. “Mum, there are too many people on the train,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse. “I’ve never seen a train so crowded. I’ll call you when we get there, come and get me.”

His train then struck a freight train head-on. At least 57 people died in the worst accident on the rails in Greek history. Most of the dead were college students returning to study.

Today, the slogan “pare me otan phtasis,” a transliteration from Greek for “call me when you get there,” has become the hallmark of the protesters blaming lazy, incompetent, or corrupt government officials and business elites for the disaster, and the woes that seem endemic in the southeast European country. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets, Reuters reported, with protests sometimes turning violent.

Officials have claimed that a faulty automated signaling system led an inexperienced stationmaster to make an error that led to the collision. Criminal charges have also been filed against railroad workers, the Guardian added. Critics, including protesters, countered that the politicians were scapegoating railway staff to cover up their failure to ensure public safety.

“Greece’s railways long suffered from chronic mismanagement, including lavish spending on projects that were eventually abandoned or significantly delayed,” wrote the Associated Press.

The accident and also recent corruption scandals belie the progress Greece has made over the past decade.

Nearly 13 years since the 2010 financial crisis devastated Greece and forced it to request three bailouts, unemployment is down and the country’s economy is projected to grow six percent in 2023 in a “seemingly stunning transformation,” according to a report by the European Commission.

Still, the pervasive problem of corruption, which in a 2010 report the International Monetary Fund noted as being a major contributor to Greece’s fiscal crisis and has existed since the end of the military dictatorship in 1974, continues to linger and is widespread, noted Georgios Samaras of King’s College London in the Conversation.

That is reflected in the widespread sense in Greece that something is wrong, with 98 percent of Greeks saying that corruption is rampant in the country. The Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament recently issued a statement lamenting how the rule of law, a free press and other checks and balances on corrupt officials and criminals have been weakening.

“Corruption is eroding public services and goods,” the lawmakers said in a press release. “Civil society organizations are under enormous pressure.”

Greeks can’t even trust their members of the European Parliament. Police recently arrested Eva Kaili, a Greek legislator who was rapidly climbing the power ladder in Brussels, the capital of the European Union. Kaili, a former celebrity journalist, was ensnarled in a bribery investigation, Politico explained, exposing the rot behind her glamorous facade.

Closer to home, Greece’s “Watergate” scandal blew up late last year after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who had promised to fight corruption when elected in 2019, is now facing outrage and possibly new elections after it emerged that the country’s intelligence service spied on journalists and opposition politicians, including Nikos Androulakis, the leader of the center-left opposition party Pasok and a member of the European Parliament, the Guardian explained. The prime minister, who has called the surveillance legal, has claimed he knew nothing about it. Most Greeks don’t buy it, the Guardian added.

Still, for the moment public outrage is focused on the train crash. On Sunday, thousands hit the streets to demand those responsible be held accountable, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, the leftist news website Jacobin blamed austerity and privatization for years of dangerous underinvestment that led to poor, fatally unsafe infrastructure. Jacobin quoted a public declaration from a Greek rail workers’ union from Feb. 7, a few weeks before the accident saying they were considering a strike or other industrial action because the railway system was unsafe. Union leaders wrote that they didn’t want to see executives shed “crocodile tears” after a tragedy occurred.

Too late.

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