Fire in Greece: a ‘natural’ disaster fuelled by the drive for profit

greece fire
People in Mati were forced into the sea to escape the deadly fire.

On 23 July the deadliest wildfire of the past decade worldwide swept through parts of eastern Attica, causing one of the worst tragedies in the modern history of Greece. More than 80 people are known to have died, with dozens still missing, and many others injured; hundreds of homes have been burned along with thousands of acres of forest. Livestock has been devastated. GIANNIS, a Greek comrade from the New Left Current (NAR) for the Communist Liberation and the ANTARSYA coalition, reports.

The cause of this disaster goes beyond the intensity of the winds blowing across Attica that day and the intense summer heat. In the first place, the inadequate infrastructure of the state of Greece is to blame. Fires in Greece happen almost daily in summer, yet despite the country having the second-highest military spending, in terms of percentage of GDP, among NATO members and one of the best equipped riot police forces in Europe, it still cannot provide enough firefighters or equipment, often relying on volunteers’ help. On 23 July, simultaneous fires burst out in different locations close to Athens, but the fire brigade could not handle them all. No rescue force arrived for many hours, by which time even more people had died, some drowning as they tried to escape the flames via the sea. Despite that, nobody from the government or the Attica borough, both controlled by Syriza, resigned or admitted their failure in handling the situation, provoking the rage of the people.

However, there is a much deeper reason behind the fire, as well as many others in the past. It is the development of Athens and its greater region, Attica, that has only been designed for capital speculation, especially that related to the construction and tourism industries. The population of Athens has increased tenfold over the past century; 40% of Greece’s population lives there today. The rapid and profitable expansion of the urban area eventually reached natural boundaries – the sea in the south, and mountains and forests surrounding the other three sides.

Since then, many wildfires have happened in the broader region of Athens, especially its surrounding mountains, some of which have been either proven to be or are suspected of being arson – including those on 23 July. In many cases, new properties are then built on sites of burnt forested areas. The periods of ‘economic growth’, along with the dream of an aspirational Greek petit bourgeoisie who want to escape the urban sprawl of Athens, or build a summer holiday home, alongside the lax regulation and corruption of Greek governments, have driven the destructive development of Attica. Much of its coastline has been privatised, mainly by hotels, restaurants and beach bars, but in some cases even by private homes that were allowed to be built right on the coast. Many houses have been allowed in forested areas. The natural environment is totally neglected. The fire that hit the east of Attica in July, should not be considered something totally unexpected. At the same time, the fences that restricted the way to parts of privately-owned coast, blocked many people’s escape route. However, all these Athens and Attica development problems, although well-known among those living in Greece, are hushed up by all Greek governments, and that includes the current government of Syriza, which wants to avoid rupturing its ties with the ruling class.

What has been inspiring after the fire is the solidarity of ordinary people. Many groups of people and individuals, including socialist and communist organisations, anarchists, refugees, even prisoners, helped those affected by the fire, either by raising basic goods for them or by giving blood for the injured. Members of the dominant political parties, corrupted charities and companies, mass media, and celebrities who have never expressed any solidarity to the struggles of Greek people are also now rushing to help – but telling activists that now is not the right moment to talk about politics. The truth is that talking about the politics behind the tragedy is the only way to prevent anything similar from happening in the future. People should not accept that such fires are just a ‘natural’ disaster. Capitalism is synonymous with the wretched profit motive: by prioritising profits over human need and driving the unsound development of urban and rural areas, it creates the conditions for such disasters, which mostly affect the working class. The only way for people in Greece and everywhere around the globe, to live harmoniously with each other and nature, is to fight the ‘roots’ of such problems – capitalism.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 265 August/September 2018