The philosopher Aristotle once decried the sacrifice of the public good for personal advantage. More than two millennia later, Greeks are still struggling for a more a virtuous society where politicians and business people are free from corruption.
Data collected from leading international non-government organizations confirms that the country's image in the minds of its own citizens is one of bribery, unaccountability and unethical corporate-government connections.
On Wednesday, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the international organization for Western democracies and market economies, raised serious questions about Greece's efforts to fight government corruption.
A major report put out by the OECD's Working Group on Bribery noted some progress in Greece's efforts to combat money laundering, but otherwise criticized recent efforts to roll back graft.
Citing current cases of Greeks implicated in foreign bribery, the report noted that, despite knowing of the allegations for almost two years, Greek authorities failed to open a domestic investigation until after an on-site visit by the OECD working group in January.
The OECD "recommends that Greece take all necessary measures to ensure that foreign bribery cases are seriously investigated and prosecuted as appropriate. ... The working group is also concerned about Greece's limited ability to detect foreign bribery. Awareness of Greece's foreign bribery laws among the private sector, especially accountants and auditors, is low and needs to be raised."
If anything, the report shows that political and economic problems extend beyond the current financial crisis, and may need far more dedicated efforts in the long term.
Greece ranks 80th on Transparency International's 2011 Global Corruption Perceptions Index, a measurement compiled from what experts, businesses and institutions surveyed within a country think of its public sector. That's not terrible at first sight, especially since there are 183 countries in the survey.
But it is among the worst ratings in Europe. Only ex-Communist republics in Eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia rank worse. Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Moldova, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine are ranked lower on Transparency's list; Bulgaria is the only one of those that has membership in the EU.
In another Transparency International list, the 2010 European Corruption Barometer, 87.9 percent of Greek respondents said they viewed politicians or political parties in their nation as corrupt or extremely corrupt, the highest percentage among 21 European countries surveyed.
And if one looks at more recent data from the World Economic Forum's Global Competitive Report 2011-2012, an exhaustive and comprehensive overview of the challenges and advantages of doing business across 142 countries in the world, Greece appears to be in an even more troubling position. The WEF survey is distinguished by directing questions to a country's own business executives and entrepreneurs.
When asked to compare their country to others in the world on "corporate ethics" -- the moral behavior of companies with officials and other enterprises -- the answers of Greek respondents ranked them 125th out of 142. The only other respondents from Continental Europe that had a more pessimistic view were in Ukraine, Bosnia and Serbia.
When asked how common they thought it was for companies to pay bribes for business operations, winning contracts, and fighting court battles, respondents ranked Greece 98th out of 142. Only Moldova, Russia and Ukraine ranked worse in Europe.
And when told to give an evaluation of the ethical standards of politicians in the country, answers from Greek businessmen placed it 123rd. In this case, it performed slightly better than a few other EU members: Italy, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Whatever the case, it appears that even if the Greek state is able to escape from its current financial quagmire, it still faces an uphill battle to improve business conditions and public perceptions.
Experts estimate that Greek citizens spent nearly $2 billion last year on bribes. In April, German electronics and engineering giant Siemens settled in court cases with the Greek state over the practices of its subsidiaries in the country, ultimately agreeing to pay some 270 million euros, almost $360 million.
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