From Grief to Action: The Call for Change in Greece

On 28 February 2023, a head-on collision occurred between two trains south of the Tempi Valley, near the village of Evangelismos in Thessaly, Greece. The collision, involving the passenger train and an freight train, killed at least 57 people, making it the deadliest rail disaster in country’s history.

In the wake of the tragedy and the grief, the people of Greece are now consumed by anger. For days now, protesters have clashed with the police outside parliament in Athens, demanding answers for the dead. Banners read “criminals” and “rage”, as people take to the streets across the nation to voice their concerns about the safety of the railways and the government’s neglect of it. Many of the demonstrators are students, as most of those who perished in Greece’s deadliest train crash were students.

Railway workers across the nation held a two-day strike for two days to express solidarity with the families of the victims and demand immediate answers and a concrete timetable for implementing long-overdue safety measures. The transport minister’s resignation was prompted by this movement. Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the conservative Prime Minister of Greece and member of the New Democracy party, made an apology after few days and blamed the human error, but this is not just about individuals. It is about the whole system.

I spoke to the people and most of the protesters feel a deep sense of rage that in 2023, with all the technology at disposal, two trains could collide and cause such devastation. The fact that this tragedy occurred on Greece’s busiest train route between its two largest cities only adds to frustration.

Widespread slogans were: “This was not an accident, this was a crime“ and simply chanted “ΔΟΛΟΦΟΝΟΙ – DOLOFONOI” which means murderers. They are heard not only at the protests but in everyday conversations and countless vigils.

The clash between protesters and police at the central building of the Greek Railways.

Protesters have gathered outside the train operator’s headquarters, expressing their anger at poor safety and the neglect of the railways by successive governments. Workers argue that lighting and traffic controls don’t work because of a complete inaction in implementing a new modern system.

While the administration has promised an independent committee to investigate the crash, for the people, this is about more than just an investigation. They are demanding justice and systemic change to ensure that such a tragedy never occurs again. Protesters condemning the government’s policy of devaluing and privatizing the railway were commonplace in the discussions.

However, the first reaction of government, despite the apology of the prime minister, was attack on the protesters. Opponents argue that Mitsotakis’ actions demonstrate an attempt to evade accountability and trivialize the matter as merely human error.

One of the survivors of the fatal accident expressed their thoughts to a local media outlet stating that “Our hearts go out to the individuals who lost their lives, those who were injured, and their families, colleagues, and partners. We must remember the workers, students, and other members of society who are deemed expendable in this system. It is our moral, political, human, and social responsibility to hold HELLENIC TRAIN accountable for this tragedy, which was covered up by the state and claimed dozens of lives. We must also transform our fear and mourning into a fight for justice.”

This sentiment is not limited to protestors, but shared by many ordinary people from Greece who are making their voices heard without waiting for the elections. The tragedy has caused immense pain and inspired deep human solidarity with the affected families. Every revelation about the incident highlights the plundering and degradation of Greece by both domestic plutocrats and supposedly modern and efficient European institutions that continually criticize the Balkans for their “backwardness.”

These powerful sentiments could fuel a dynamic movement for justice and change, the very least that the victims of the Tempe disaster deserve.

The situation in Greece remains tense as a result of a year of trade union and social movement mobilization. Despite initial expectations that the upcoming general election would weaken more the radical and anti-capitalist left, the avoidable Tempe disaster has sparked anger and agitation that may create new opportunities for the groups advocating for a radical changes from capitalist policies.

The current situation is closely tied to the impact of the so-called “rescue” of the Greek state in 2015, which was in reality a massive sell-out of the country. Operations from across Europe and beyond stripped Greece of all profitable services and infrastructure, leaving the state with the sole responsibility of funding their upkeep and operation. This has had significant repercussions on Greece’s infrastructure, transportation, energy, water, and other public goods.

The heavy attack of Athens police on protesters at Sunday 5 March. (Video from me)

lack of management

The Greek railway network has been on a countdown towards a serious accident for some time now. The last 15 years have been marked by neglect, with infrastructure and services constantly deteriorating. Projects on the Athens-Thessaloniki axis have been delayed, and contracts were only aimed at patching up the imperfections and poor workmanship of previous ones. The lack of staff has been dramatic, a result of the memoranda that have effectively cut the railway, and it has been clear that a major disaster was waiting to happen.

The safety system needed an upgrade for which the State of Greece agreed and bought back in 2014, but the update was never made possible due to issues between the companies involved and the State of Greece.

All trains in Greece are currently being operated manually, with no electronic system in place to prevent human errors. There was an attempt to introduce automation into the system back in 2000 for the Olympics, but it has been fraught with problems. It is unacceptable that such a tragedy could have been prevented, but for a lack of action and investment in the railways.

It is understandable that the people of Greece are angry and upset, and they will not rest until justice is served and systemic change is enacted. The protests will continue until their demands are met, and we will be the voice of the lost, demanding that their deaths were not in vain.

Call for general strike

A substantial surge of strikes has been instigated, potentially causing a significant disruption across the nation on Wednesday, March 8th. Trains and commuter trains shall remain non-operational until March 9th, in accordance with the resolution of the Hellenic Train workers’ unions to prolong their railway strike. The objective of this action is to guarantee secure train movement and to identify those accountable for the lamentable train catastrophe, regardless of their position. “We implore all relevant governing bodies,” the workers declared, “to promptly take action and implement the essential measures.”

In response to the call, the Athens Labor Center has announced an escalation in their struggle for a rally in Syntagma Square of Athens. It is anticipated that tens of thousands of workers and youth will participate in the rally. The Center emphasizes that their objective is to hold those responsible for the Tempe train accident accountable and prevent it from being forgotten. They seek to eliminate anti-popular policies that compromise human life and transform transportation into a commodity. The Athens Labor Center states that they will continue to fight for modern, safe mass transport and health and safety measures in all workplaces.

However, the crux of my analysis at the end pertains to the clash of competing forces at play. In Greece, the left is characterized by a deep-seated conservatism and adherence to tradition. Nationalistic, religious, and populist undertones are ingrained within its very fabric, rendering a socialist perspective for the future all but unimaginable. To make matters worse, certain factions and tactics within the leftist movement champion fascism in countries such as Iran, employing a disturbingly racist and colonialist mindset under the guise of combating imperialism and Westernization.

Even the most radical elements of the left ultimately fall prey to chauvinistic tendencies, revealing themselves to be little more than philanthropic rightists at heart.

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