There is just one railway line in Greece, yet there are three companies that are responsible for it: the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), the Railroad Equipment Manufacturing Organization (ERGOSE) and the Railway Regulatory Authority. And that is not to mention the Ministry of Transport.
Nevertheless, the avant-garde of the “robust student movement” chose the offices of Hellenic Train SA at which to stage a rally on Wednesday night to protest the deadly crash in central Greece in the early hours of the same day and to cause some mayhem. Anonymous “collectives,” unnamed “student associations” and sundry “citizens” in hoodies gathered at the offices of this private company to raise their voices and banners reading the rather worn slogan: “Our dead, their profits.”
Agreed. Everyone should be protesting “our dead.” Let’s even argue that they can protest “their profits” – if there are any to talk about. But how, exactly, can Hellenic Train be held responsible for this awful accident? Did it not issue the right number of tickets? Did it fail to clean the train cars adequately, sending them off the rails? Did it water down the coffee at the bar and make the stationmaster nod off?
And if the company that manages the actual trains is in any way to blame, then why didn’t those bright young things also stage a protest outside the offices of the company that owned the containers on the freight train? By their reasoning, the freight train is as much to blame as the passenger train for the head-on collision.
What’s more, Greece has seen more than its fair share of deadly road accidents that cost the lives of students and other young men and women. There was the bus crash at Tempe in 2003, for example, or the other at the notorious Maliakos Gulf curve on the old Athens-Lamia highway in 2004.
Even though those accidents happened at what was a much more “revolutionary” time and even though drivers on a road objectively have much more responsibility for what happens to their vehicle than a train driver, we didn’t see anyone protesting outside intercity bus companies or trucking firms.
There is no arguing that the right to protest is sacrosanct, even when the claims being made by the protesting parties may seem like complete nonsense.
But Wednesday night’s protest outside Hellenic Train on central Syngrou Avenue is a manifestation of the same deeply rooted flaws that allow the problems besetting this land to propagate and terrible mishaps and accidents to be repeated.
The first issue is the matter of being objective. In order to address a problem, you first have to define it correctly and succinctly; to determine who is at fault, how it can be fixed and who can fix it.
Protests can serve as an effective lever to exert pressure toward this end – that is, of course, to the extent that they are aimed at solving a problem rather than merely providing a platform where the usual rabble-rousers can flex their muscles.
We don’t know whether Hellenic Train is doing a good job of serving commuters, which is what it’s supposed to do. In terms of the accident, though, it is also a victim of the mismanagement of the railway network, which is the responsibility of a more than sufficient number of state agencies and organizations.
There is also the mystery of how those anonymous “collectives” and unnamed “student associations” were able to come to a conclusion so soon after the accident about its causes and find who is to blame. Maybe it’s the result of their collective wisdom…
Published in eKathimerini.com 4.3.2023