It is 11 years since 2007 when the fires in the Peloponnese took the lives 63 people. Now we see a larger-scale disaster in Attica, with 75 people dead so far, dozens missing and hundreds wounded.
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras from the Syriza party said on the night of the disaster that the fire is an “asymmetrical phenomenon”.
Climate change has become more intense—but this is not the only cause of the fire.
Strong winds after a very dry day are not new. This happens every summer throughout the country, meaning that there can be dozens of fires. There were 47 specifically on Monday, the day when the tragedy occurred in Eastern Attica.
What is asymmetrical is that the government has subordinated all social needs to austerity to satisfy lenders and “markets”.
This has meant harsh cuts and privatisations that have broken forest protection, firefighting, the ambulances, the hospitals and the councils. All those services that are crucial in the event of a disaster have faced cuts.
What is asymmetrical is that the government sold £6 billion in bonds in 2017, while fire prevention costs are £8 million and the fire service costs £350 million. Firefighting facilities and a number of measures that can prevent the fire from spreading have been abandoned.
What is asymmetrical is that the Greek state rents firefighting aircraft and helicopters from private companies because its own are old and decommissioned. At the same time 700 firefighters have been made available for fire safety at the privatised airports and roads.
An asymmetrical phenomenon is that the state spends 2.5% of GDP annually, or about £3.5 billion a year, on equipment but has only 21 firefighting planes, out of which it can fly nine.
An asymmetrical phenomenon is the spending of huge sums so that border guards can hunt migrants and refugees. Yet at the same time the government won’t find the money to fill the 4,000 vacancies of permanent firefighters that were cut in 2011—on top of their wages.
This is the lethal cost of the austerity memorandum demanded by the EU to pay Greece’s debt—not to mention the money spent on arms and the EU’s racist border policy.
Tsipras’s promised end to the austerity memorandum in August will not make anything better.
The cuts will continue unabated, while privatisations will hand more land over to multinationals for exploitation.
It will mean an extension of the asymmetrical system that has deadly consequences.
The answer to these governmental choices—because political choices are not “phenomena”—is to strengthen our struggle against the asymmetrical system called capitalism.
We need to fight for a society that puts people above profits. For the people who struggle to save themselves on boats—be they refugees or those fleeing the fires—from the absurdity and barbarity of this system.
For the workers, the firefighters, the paramedics, and all the others who all day and night gave the fight against the flames and death.