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Greek voters demand justice for Tempi train crash

April 4, 2024

More than a year has passed since 57 people lost their lives in the biggest train crash in Greek history. The public blames the government for failing to investigate the causes adequately.

Flowers and the picture of a woman at the site of the crash
Most of those who were killed in the crash were young peopleImage: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP

Almost all of the victims were young. They were mainly students, on their way from the Greek capital Athens to Thessaloniki in northern Greece, when their train collided with an oncoming freight train. Another 85 passengers were seriously injured. The exact causes of the Tempi train collision of February 28, 2023 have yet to be clarified, and almost 80% of the Greek population doubts that there will ever be justice for the victims and their families. Many believe that the government is to blame for the failures in the investigation, and that there has been a cover-up.

Two derailed trains, emergency vehicles
It was the worst train crash in Greek historyImage: SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP

On the anniversary of the crash last weeek, the government effortlessly survived a vote of no confidence after the opposition put forward a motion criticizing its handling of the fatal train accident. With 158 out of 300 MPs, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' New Democracy (ND) party already has an absolute majority in parliament. The government was also able to gain the vote of one far-right lawmaker. However, it was unable to convince Greece's citizens. On the contrary: many criticized the ND politicians' speeches during the three-day heated debate in parliament, especially that by former Transport Minister Kostas Achileas Karamanlis. Responsible for railroad safety when the accident happened, he resigned at the time. However, he was re-elected to parliament shortly afterwards.

Newspaper report leads to no confidence motion

It was a report in To Vima that led to the vote of no confidence. The weekly newspaper had claimed that the audio recording leaked to the media in the first few hours after the head-on collision between the two trains had been manipulated. In it, the station master can be heard telling a train driver that he can go ahead. But the words seem to have sent two trains onto the same track at the same time.

The government and the prime minister have repeatedly referred to this recording, thus blaming railroad staff, and "human error" for the accident.

All other possible causes have been played down. These include the ailing railway network, the failure to repair defective signals, the fact that EU funds earmarked for rail safety were withheld, and the appointment of an unqualified 60-year-old supporter of the ruling party to the post of stationmaster. Though the opposition did succeed in pushing through a parliamentary committee to investigate the causes of the crash, the government was able to prevent important witnesses from being heard thanks to its parliamentary majority.

Calls for justice in Greece after train crash

'Everyone must be punished for this crime'

Disappointed by what they consider a farce, the relatives of the victims of the crash have now turned to the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) and the European Parliament for justice. They say that they no longer trust the Greek government. Maria Karystianou, who lost her daughter in the accident, says that there has been a whole cover-up: "The whole audio file affair makes it all the more obvious that the whole truth must come to light. That everyone, from the very top to the very bottom, must be punished for this crime."

The relatives have also posted an online petition on the internet that has gained widespread support: 1.5 million Greeks (almost 15% of the population) are now calling for the immunity of ministers and former ministers to be lifted.

Opposition says Mitsotakis clan is protecting Karmanlis clan

According to the Greek constitution, only parliament can waive a minister's immunity. ND seems clearly determined to protect Kostas Achileas Karamanlis, who is a nephew of the party founder Konstantinos Karamanlis and also a cousin of former Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis. The opposition has accused the "Mitsotakis clan" is protecting the "Karamanlis clan."

The Greek prime minister addresses a full parliament
The New Democracy party has an absolute majority in parliamentImage: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

For his part, Prime Minister Mitsotakis has dismissed the report about the manipulated audio recording as "misleading." In his speech before the vote of no confidence, he argued that the full transcripts had been available to the judicial authorities from the start. "You are saying that my concern and thought was to tamper with these dialogues," he said. "Aren't you ashamed to say so?" accusing the opposition of exploiting the tragedy for political gain.

Mitsotakis also attacked the owner of To Vima: "It is legitimate for business people and publishers to want to influence politics. Let them get into the arena themselves and not by proxy,” he said, referring, without mentioning him by name, to the media mogul and shipowner Evangelos Marinakis. His outlets have always supported ND and the prime minister personally, so the latter now feels let down.

Just before Mitsotakis' speech in parliament, two of his top aides — former Minister of State Stavros Papastavrou and former Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Bratakos —resigned after reportedly spending a night at Marinakis' house. They had apparently tried to smooth the waters between the prime minister and the mogul, but to no avail.

Now, the Greek public still wants answers. In a survey conducted by the Greek polling institute Metron Analysis polling institute, almost nine of 10 respondents said that in their view neither the judiciary nor the political establishment had ensured justice. There is a general feeling that there gas been too much impunity and there have been too many cover-up attempts.

Ten months after the last parliamentary elections in Greece, public confidence in the Mitsotakis government is waning. Although the conservative New Democracy party was re-elected in June 2023 with 41% of the vote, a large majority of citizens is convinced that something is going wrong in the country. People are not only dissatisfied because of their low purchasing power — according to Eurostat, Greeks have the second lowest in the EU — and the poor state of the economy, they also distrust politicians and the judiciary. The lack of an investigation into the Tempi train crash confirms this.

This article was translated from German.


A woman (Kaki Bali) with shoulder-length brown hair and blue eyes stands in front of a bookcase and smiles into the camera
Kaki Bali DW correspondent in Athens