The first democracy was born during the 6th century in Athens, Greece, now almost 1,500 years later this democracy is dying. Greece is currently struggling to maintain the traditions it helped found as well as the democratic standards held by its contemporaries. The state and its democratic government are currently at risk of being swallowed by a rampant and long-lasting economic crisis which is only exacerbated by the continual influx of refugees. This is in addition to political institutions historically mired in corruption inherent to the framework of the system itself.
According to the GAN Business Anti-Corruption Portal, corruption has been and continues to be present within the Greek judicial system, law enforcement, legislature, and a majority of the other facets of their government. This Greek corruption takes the forms of active and passive bribery (through money and influence), money laundering, and abuse of powers. The rampant corruption, while damaging the state’s democratic system, has in turn negatively affected their ability to attend to the other growing issues within the state and the region. The actions of the Greek politicians and their decisions when crafting the new democracy out of years of authoritarianism opened avenues for abuse and manipulation. Unhindered by capable systems of checks and accountability, Greek politicians, especially before 2014, were able to abuse their power for personal financial gain.
While early Greek leaders, after the state’s return to a democratic system during the 1970s, attempted to modernize the state, the deficit they created in the process remains a burden for Greece. A series of ineffective political leaders, with high perceptions of corruption, followed and sought to rectify the economic issues with assistance from the European Union and related financial institutions. Unfortunately, these leaders failed, largely due to poor diplomatic skills and a failure to handle the inherent issues of corruption and resource mismanagement which were creating and extending the economic crisis.
Domestically, the Greek political institutions were set up in such a way that facilitated political corruption through ineffective anti-corruption measures. Additionally, Greece’s attempts to pass legislation in order to change the current system or to even improve the quality of their law-making and bureaucracy have been unsuccessful. According to the National Integrity System Assessment 2012 report by Transparency International, Greece lacks a system of audits, political codes of conduct, government accountability, public awareness, governmental transparency, and strong enforcement of the law. Additionally, the historical broadcasting system, developed in the 1980’s, was controlled by either the state or wealthy sponsors, approved by the state, which has led to long-lasting effects on public awareness and the public’s trust in both news media and the government as a whole. This is all evidence of intrinsic issues within the political institutions of Greece which has allowed for democratic backsliding and the decay of the Greek government.
Syriza, the “radical left” political party currently in control of Greece’s government, since 2014, is attempting to contain the expanding national debt through processes entangled with corruption. The ruling party is facing criticism for favoring international corporate partnerships that result in deals that are unfavorable for the Greek people. While Syriza is not considered guilty of embezzlement at this time, unlike many of the previous ruling parties, they have still been shown to appoint sympathetic supporters to government positions and have continued to allow for tax evasion by wealthy Greek oligarchs. Perception of governmental corruption in Greece is still high, especially as the government has cracked down on citizens and attempted to shift blame towards the populace.
The issue of political corruption in Greece has directly led to the larger issue of democratic backsliding. The slow erosion of the Greek democracy can be primarily attributed to the political culture in Greece which has allowed for the build-up and the continuation of corrupt practices and the grievous mismanagement of government funds. Additionally, the political culture was bolstered by, and potentially in tandem with, a system of government that has permitted and even assisted in the perpetuation of the practices of corrupt politicians and wealthy businessmen. Even Syriza, a group largely seen as less corrupt than previous regimes, is believed by experts to refrain from embezzlement only due to a lack of understanding regarding the system and intricacies of the act. This directly relates to the work of Ellen Lust and David Waldner in their analysis Unwelcome Change: Understanding, Evaluating, and Extending Theories of Democratic Backsliding for the USAID where they outline their six theory families. Lust and Waldner’s theories connect democratic backsliding to its potential causes and specifically discuss political culture and political institutions and their potential effects on the erosion of democracy.
The current political system, formed out of years of dictatorship and authoritarian rule, still favors those in power over the people. In the words of Pavlos Eleftheriadis in his article for the Telegraph entitled Greece is a victim of its own cronyism and corruption, Greece possesses a system that puts it at odds with the rest of Europe and the larger democratic world due to the fact that it is “a highly personal and informal model of government that suits an absolutist ruler but which is incompatible with the professional state that is dominated by the rule of law.” The political corruption, built into Greece’s political system, has created many of the state’s current problems and has led to democratic backsliding and the failure of the current democratic system.
As the ancient world left behind the Greek Pantheon, so too is the modern world leaving Greece behind. The old gods are dead, and the birthplace of democracy is dying.