Dean Kalimniou takes a look at the suicide of a 77-year-old man at Syntagma Square; its implications on Greek society, politics and what it means to Greek Australians
"Hopefully it will be the last death of an innocent citizen. I hope the rest (of the deaths) will be of political traitors." Thus read a portion of the suicide note penned by the seventy seven year old retired pharmacist of Athens, Dimitris Christoulas. Moments later, he shot himself with a handgun, behind a tree, in Syntagma Square.
Christoulas was not, as Greek Prime Minister Koryzis, or writer Penelope Delta had before him in 1941, taken his own life in order to protest the occupation and subjugation of his country to foreign aggression. Yet the fate of these individuals must not have been far from the deceased's mind, for in his suicide note, he likened Greece's current crisis to the deep poverty the country suffered during the World War II German occupation.
"I have no other way to react apart from finding a dignified end before I start sifting through garbage for food," Christoulas confided, as he faced the prospect of his pension, one that he had worked towards all his life, being cut to a pittance, as a result of the austere financial measures imposed upon Greece by the International Monetary Fund. It is for this reason that the unfortunate Christoulas shouted: "So I don't leave any debts to my children."
The shocking suicide of Christoulas is not just about economics. A man possessed of left-leaning political persuasions, he witnessed the implosion and ultimate bankruptcy of a system he believed in, revealing to him at least, only the knowledge of the apparent venality, corruption and greed of an entire society. It was too much to bear and just before Easter, the appointed time when the Greek people ready themselves to celebrate the resurrection of the Theanthropos, in whom salvation is embodied, this poor, desperate man saw no salvation and no way out, ending his life before the eyes of commuters and passersby. Nothing could be a more poignant or stark expression of the emotional as well as financial cul-de-sac much of the Greek populace finds itself in.
"This was a symbolic suicide. If it hadn't happened here, in the square, in front of parliament, no one would notice," said one bystander, who heard the shots from across the square and his comments are particularly apt.
The social impact of the Greek crisis is vast. Suicide rates have jumped. In one notable case last September, a Greek man in his 50s who was struggling with his debts attempted suicide in front of a bank branch in the northern city of Thessaloniki by setting himself on fire. More recently, in February, a married couple working at a state agency faced with closure as part of the country's budget cuts, threatened to jump off the second story of a building in downtown Athens before being talked down by police.
One would think that acts of this extremity would give Greek politicians pause for consideration. Certainly Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, in his message responding to Christoulas' suicide, wherein he described the incident as "tragic" and called on the state and citizens to "support those next to us in desperation," proves in the least that the suicide had some sort of emotional impact.
Nonetheless, it is doubtful whether this horrific act will cause his colleagues to reconsider their role as parliamentarians as being one of representatives of the people rather than time-servers and venal nest-featherers. Proof of this ostensibly harsh view, can be provided in the form of the actions of two Greek politicians from the PASOK party, who revealingly and inexplicably poured the bile of biting cynicism over the corpse of the hapless Christoulas.
Former Defence Minister Panos Beglitis and master of discrete and considerate behaviour brutally commented on Skai TV: "We cannot arbitrarily connect the suicide with the economic situation of the country.Besides, we cannot know if he had debts or not, or if he 'ate' (spent) his money or if it was his children who did it." Hardly had the populace's outrage cooled, when his colleague, also from the PASOK party, Paris Koukoulopoulos and deputy Interior Minister, claimed, also on SKAI TV, which appears to get all the controversial scoops, that "No retired pharmacist would ever seek food in the garbage." Koukoulopoulos, not content with belittling the tragedy, went even further and made a horridly callous connection between the suicide and the pharmaceutical expenditure: "Had he a different approach, he could very well have helped us to find out how the public pharmaceutical expenditure rose from 4 billion euro in 2004 up to 9 billion euro within a few years."
Here in Australia, we understand that our politicians do not always tell the truth, though we expect them to do so. However, we do expect that they behave in a decent, compassionate and understanding manner towards the electorate at all times and when they fall short of this basic standard of expectation, they are castigated by the media and the public alike. Somewhere along the line, the Greek politicians, of all sides of the political spectrum, many of whom founded their parties or rose to prominence in the name of democracy and equality after the fall of the Junta, have come to believe that they have a God-given right to rule Greece, without reference to the wants and needs of the people whose interests they were elected to further.
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