And perceptions of corruption in public officials may – inadvertently – encourage corruption in society at large. Earlier this year on the Greek island of Zakynthos, it was discovered that at least 600 people were suspected of falsely claiming to be blind in order to get disability payments. As The Christian Science Monitor reports, the discovery hit a nerve with many who felt country leadership and a general culture of corruption was to blame.
The scandal has only fueled Greeks’ cynicism towards a political and social system that has brought the country close to ruin.
“I feel very bitter towards our politicians,” says Nikolaos Plessas, sipping thick black coffee in his cafe in a village of pastel-coloured cottages on Zakynthos.
“They have a [darn] cheek to even run for election after what they’ve done. Hard-working people like me fund their extravagant lifestyles. I won’t be voting next month.”
The campaign being waged by the mayor on Zakynthos is a microcosm of the much bigger effort required by Greece’s politicians to curb fraud, corruption, tax evasion and other long-standing abuses in order to put the country’s economic house in order.
Many Greeks say that will require more than legislation – it requires an entire change of culture.
“The whole system is sick,” says Mr. Skiadopoulos, [a] businessman. “Everybody is corrupt in Greece – the lawyers, the doctors, the judicial system, police, customs – everybody. All of us are guilty, all of us are responsible for what has happened.
“We need to change our whole mentality. Our European partners need to come here and be aggressive in pushing us to change. If they still think we are the devil of Europe, then they must throw us out.”