Demonstrators hold up signs of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, crossed out with a cross, following the deadliest rail disaster in the country’s history, in Athens, March 16, 2023. STOYAN NENOV / REUTERS
More than 40,000 people demonstrated again on Thursday March 16 in Greece, more than two weeks after the train disaster that killed 57 people. Yiorgos Vassalos, a teacher at the Institute of Political Studies in Lille, explains the current mobilization of the Greeks by the continuous dilapidation of public services and describes the country’s turn “towards a form of authoritarianism”.
How do you explain that the anger of the Greek population does not subside?
This rail accident, which could have been avoided if safety measures had been taken and if there were more personnel, is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is the most serious railway accident the country has ever experienced and everyone in Greece has taken this line one day, since it is one of the only railway lines that operate in the country. But the anger now goes beyond that. It is the expression of a fed up with the decay of the public sector that had already begun during the economic crisis (2010-2018) and against which the Conservative government did not fight during its mandate.
When did this destruction of public services go back to?
As a condition for the “rescue” of Greece from 2010, the country’s creditors (European Union, European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund) imposed, in exchange for the loans, very harsh austerity measures, and in particular a reduction the number of civil servants and budget cuts. More than 180,000 jobs in the public sector have been lost, which translates into shortages in essential services such as firefighters, hospitals and schools. The management company of the Greek public rail network (OSE) has only around 700 employees while, according to staff representatives and unions, there should be 2,500. During the destructive fires of Mati, in 2018, or on the island of Evia, in 2021, the lack of equipment and personnel to extinguish devastating fires was also felt.
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Under the Mitsotakis government, as the financial stranglehold loosened, nothing was really done to strengthen these public services which had suffered. The Covid-19 pandemic provided an example of this situation. During the first wave, Greece was little affected, mainly due to its geographical position. But the hospital budget was not increased, and the following waves were less well managed. Ultimately, the death toll per capita was among the highest in Europe.
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