Austerity suicide: Greek pensioner shoots himself in Athens
A cash-strapped Greek pensioner who said he feared having to “scrounge for food” shot himself dead in Athens’ main square in the latest in a series of suicides and attempted suicides triggered by European austerity measures..
4 April, 2012
The death of the 77-year-old retired pharmacist in the Greek capital's Constitution Square caused an outpouring of anger and grief and came after similar incidents in Italy.
The pensioner, named locally as Dimitris Christoulas, shot himself with a handgun a few hundred yards from the Greek parliament, which has been the focus of numerous violent protests against tough austerity measures in recent months.
Witnesses said he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger after yelling: “I have debts, I can’t stand this anymore.”
A passer-by told Greek television the man said: “I don’t want to leave my debts to my children.”
A suicide note found in his coat pocket blamed politicians and the country’s acute financial crisis for driving him to take his life, police said.
The government had “annihilated any hope for my survival and I could not get any justice. I cannot find any other form of struggle except a dignified end before I have to start scrounging for food from rubbish bins,” the note said.
Within hours of his death, an impromptu shrine with candles, flowers and handwritten notes sprung up in the tree-lined square in the heart of the city.
One note nailed to a tree said “Enough is enough”, another asked “Who will be the next victim?” while a third said “It was a murder, not a suicide.”
The elderly man killed himself as hundreds of commuters streamed out of a nearby metro exit during Athens’ morning rush hour.
Costas Lourantos, the president of the pharmacists’ union in the Attica region, said he met the man several years ago and remembered him as quiet and dignified.
“When dignified people like him are brought to this state, somebody must answer for it,” said Mr Lourantos. “There is a moral instigator to this crime – which is the government that has brought people to such despair.”
He said the pensioner had “sent out a message to the world” about the plight of Greece.
Greece’s fifth consecutive year of recession has been worsened by drastic cuts to public services, pensions and salaries and higher taxes, which were introduced in response to the demands of the International Monetary Fund and the European Union in exchange for financial bail-outs.
One in five Greeks are unemployed, depression is on the rise and there is a growing feeling of despair across the country.
The government said last year that suicides had increased 40 per cent over the previous two years.
The high-profile suicide came a day after 78-year-old Italian woman threw herself from the balcony of her third-floor apartment in protest against a cut in her monthly pension from 800 euros to 600 euros.
The pensioner, from the town of Gela in Sicily, was reportedly worried about how to make ends meet.
“The government is making us all poorer, apart from the wealthy, who they don’t touch, in contrast with us workers and small businessmen who are struggling with heavy debts,” said her son, Bruno Marsana.
Her death came a week after a 58-year-old businessman tried to commit suicide by setting himself alight while sitting in his car outside a tax office in Bologna in northern Italy.
He was apparently protesting against the rejection of his appeal against a claim for unpaid tax.
The fire left him in a critical state and he was rushed to hospital for treatment of extensive burns all over his body.
A day later a 27-year-old Moroccan immigrant set himself on fire in protest at not being paid for four months.
The construction worker doused himself in petrol outside the town hall of Verona, also in northern Italy. He too was treated in hospital for horrific burns.
His self-immolation was a “symptom of the utter exasperation felt by the weakest employees,” said Vincenzo Scudiere from the CGIL trade union, Italy’s largest.
The technocrat government of Mario Monti, the prime minister, is attempting to force through an ambitious package of spending cuts and reforms to balance the budget by 2013 and stem fears that Italy could go the way of Greece.