When the Greek debt crisis began more than three years ago, those writing and broadcasting about it needed victims and villains for their narratives.
At first, those roles were blurred. In late 2009, Greeks had elected the center-left party, PASOK, to change a rotting system of clientelism and corruption that had bankrupted the country. Yet PASOK and the conservative party, New Democracy, were part of the problem. They had alternately governed Greece for the last 40 years. Most Greeks had voted for them over the years, and so both the political class and its voters shared the responsibility for their country’s dire straits.
The first international media reports on the debt crisis aired the country’s dirty laundry: massive tax evasion, a jobs-for-votes system that bloated the public sector with employees who did not work, and corruption so widespread that doctors at state hospitals asked their patients for bribes to perform routine surgeries. Greeks had long been ashamed of these practices, which were so ingrained in the country’s culture that they seemed impossible to challenge. And as long as times were good, few wanted to rock the boat. After PASOK revealed that the previous New Democracy government had hidden the country’s huge debt, George Papandreou’s center-left government was cast as the reformer. A prominent PASOK deputy, Theodoros Pangalos, proclaimed that all Greeks had to share the blame for past sins to save Greece and the eurozone.