“I am ashamed to face my colleagues,” said the cleaner who was sentenced to 10 years in jail for forging an elementary school certificate to get a job at a publicly funded nursery in Volos, central Greece. The court ruling has provoked an uproar in the country. Many people have expressed their solidarity with the 53-year-old woman, the country’s Supreme Court prosecutor is re-examining the lower court’s decision, and the minister of justice visited the Thiva jail where she is being detained. It seems we’re in for a partial rectification of injustice.
Meanwhile, a judicial official who forged a law certificate was acquitted of charges a few months ago. She justified her act saying that she used to feel inferior in front of her colleagues.
About 2,000 civil servants had been recruited on the basis of bogus certificates and university degrees, according to a survey carried out by the previous government. The incumbent leftists did not hesitate to hire back those who had been removed.
Forgery is a strong habit. Many civil servants have been caught cheating in recent years, without suffering any consequences for their actions. This time, we seem to have witnessed an excessive show of strictness against a vulnerable member of society: a working mother with serious economic problems, a person without the necessary “connections.” But shouldn’t she be punished for this forgery? Did she not take the job away from a legitimate candidate with the formal qualifications? The legislation regarding crimes against state property (Law 1608/50) on the basis of which the woman was sentenced is obsolete and needs to be upgraded, experts says (and common sense dictates).
At this point we should pause for a moment and ask ourselves: Can we as a society really move forward if we keep stumbling over the obstacles of unfairness and impunity? Can we move forward without ensuring some basic degree of proportionality in the scaling of penalties? Can we move forward without ensuring that those favored by the system do not manage to fly under the radar?
Our sense of justice gets undermined. Cynical wrongdoing fills the void left by a dysfunctional rule of law and weak institutions that ought to run on the basis of meritocracy and independent evaluation. But there is worse. Double standards feed populism and demagoguery. In the end you get the raised red rubber cleaning gloves instead of the, more difficult, “I am ashamed” – the words that the woman had the courage and self-knowledge to utter.