Today the funeral of Dimitris Chrystoulas, the 77-year-old pensioner who shot himself in Syntagma Square on Wednesday in front of the Greek parliament, will take place in Athens. In a suicide note found at his apartment, the retired pharmacist reportedly wrote:
“I find no other solution than a dignified end before I start searching through the trash for food.”
Chystoulas was a committed leftist who had been active in anti-cuts protests and campaigns, but he had clearly lost faith in the ability of the Greek population to fight the savage EU/IMF inflicted reforms that he compared to the Nazi wartime occupation that he had experienced as a child.
His last words, before shooting himself in the head with a handgun in front of hundreds of commuters, were ‘ so I won’t have to leave any debts to my children.‘ The suicide of a 77-year-old man and community activist who had only recently been active in local anti-drug campaigns is a terrible tragedy and an indictment of the man-made disaster that is being inflicted on the Greek population.
Nor is it an isolated event. According to the Greek Ministry of Health, the national suicide rate rose by 40 percent in the first six months of 2011. Chrystoulas’ suicide was a product of this despair, but it was also intended to transmit a political message, to those who he and many other Greeks believed were primarily responsible for his country’s predicament.
To say that Greek politicians are not held in high esteem by the electorate would be something of an understatement. Notes have been pinned on the tree where Chrystoulas shot himself calling the government a murderer and urging the population to take up arms against it.
Yesterday about 200 striking dockers and meat-lorry workers protesting pension cuts clashed with police outside the Bank of Greece, after chanting:
“Hey, bin Laden, sorry I can’t fly an aeroplane, tell them to crash it into the brothel [the Greek parliament], so they know not to f**k with the workers.”
The savage monetarist punishment that is being inflicted on the Greek population is not only due to the Greek political class, however, and it is hardly unique to Greece. In Spain the unemployment rate stands at 25 percent and a staggering 5o percent amongst the young, and the population is only just beginning the downward trajectory that has produced such calamitous consequences in Greece.
Other countries are also receiving the same EU/IMF medicine. Last Tuesday a 78-year-old woman threw herself from the balcony of her Palermo flat after her pension was cut from 800 to 600 euros. On Monday a Rome picture framer hanged himself, after leaving a note which referred to ‘overwhelming economic problems.‘
The previous week a builder from Bologna facing tax evasion charges and a Moroccan worker in Verona who had not been paid for four months set fire to themselves in two separate incidents, and were rescued with severe burns.
If Europe is no place for the young, it is clearly no place for the old either. Yet there is no indication that the politicians who are so willing to reduce vast swathes of their populations to penury are prepared to change course and reject the brutalist economic logic that presents ‘austerity’ as inevitable and unavoidable.
On the contrary, across the continent, politicians are acting as willing instruments of a larcenous, corrupt and arrogant financial elite that is determined to make ordinary Europeans pay for the crisis that its own rapacious greed, malpractice and incompetence did so much to bring about, and drive down wages, pensions and living standards, regardless of the human and social cost.
The banks, hedge fund managers, technocrats and global financial institutions that are driving this process clearly have no qualms about the impact of an ‘austerity’ programme, that is likely to destroy the European project and may yet pave the way for fascism. But incredibly, even Europhile politicians and the EU itself appear to be oblivious or indifferent to its political and social consequences.
So the suicide of a pensioner who could not stand to spend his last years rooting through garbage to survive is indeed a symptomatic tragedy that casts a harsh light on our dark political present. Such a death should produce sadness and anger.
But if we are ever to get out of this nightmare of ‘austerity’ and avoid an even grimmer future, it is essential that we do not succumb to the despair that led him to offer up his own life as a kind of political sacrifice.
Because those who are responsible for the dire situation in which he and so many others found himself are unlikely to be change course as a result of such actions. For them, a pensioner who commits suicide is just one less burden on the taxpayer.
For the rest of us, the lonely death of Dimitris Chrystoulas should galvanize us, not to despair, but to anger, and to make that anger known to those who really deserve it.