The fires that tore omnivorously through scores of villages and olive groves here may now also be changing the Greek political landscape: The government of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, facing national elections next month, is under increasing criticism, not only over its handling of the fires but over whether it stoked Greeks’ fears about who might be to blame.
It is unclear whether the criticism will be enough to alter the outcome of the national elections, on Sept. 16. But a new national poll published here Tuesday showed the gap narrowing to less than one percent between Karamanlis’s New Democracy party and the socialist opposition party Pasok.
And the opposition leader, George Papandreou, is seizing on the anger, in an effort to sway the many undecided voters in a close race.
“Unfortunately the government has proven ineffective,” he said Tuesday. “It continues to act irresponsibly. It is busy fabricating conspiracy terror theories. The result: Greeks are being ridiculed abroad.”
Meanwhile the tourists keep coming despite the devastation.
Flames that at times rose 100 meters, or 330 feet, into the air, burning trees and shrubs surrounding Olympia, the ancient birthplace of the Olympic Games, forced tour operators to shut down scores of hotels and travel facilities in the area.
But by midweek, three days after fire-fighters saved the sprawling ancient site from destruction, tourists began trickling in again. Among them was a group of 45 Germans who were covering their nostrils with wet cloths or masks.
Olive harvest affected
The fires may have destroyed as many as five million olive trees, cutting production in the world’s third-largest olive oil supplier and threatening to reduce output for years, Bloomberg News reported, quoting an industry group.
As much as 5 percent of the harvest this year may be lost, according to Sevitel, an association of producers and processors.
Update (17/09/07): The government did end up back in power. What has changed this time around with voter behaviour is that more voters chose smaller parties on the so-called extreme right and left, apparently for a variety of reasons including the government’s poor handling of the fire crisis’s over the summer.