A 77-year-old Greek man has committed suicide in central Athens by the nation’s parliament, shooting himself with a handgun in apparent financial desperation.
Eyewitness reports say that the man shouted “So I won’t leave debts for my children” before turning the gun on himself. Others claimed he said nothing.
The incident occurred around 9 am (local time), just outside a metro station, when the square was filled with people and commuters. The man took his life behind a big tree, which concealed him from most eyes.
Greek media identify the man as Dimitris Christoulas. This is yet to be confirmed by the police.
The pensioner appears to have been a retired pharmacist who owned a drugstore in Athens, which he sold in 1994, Costas Lourantos, the head of the Attica Pharmacist’s Association told Skai radio.
A suicide note has been been found on the old man, saying “The Tsolakoglou government has annihilated all traces for my survival. And since I cannot find justice, I cannot find another means to react besides putting a decent end [to my life], before I start searching the garbage for food and become a burden for my child."
Georgios Tsolakoglou headed the Greek collaborationist government during the German occupation of Greece in the Second World War.
The note has been widely regarded as drawing a parallel between Lucas Papademos’ current collaborationist government and Tsolakoglou’s regime because of the economic crisis in the country.
In his note, the deceased forecasts the Greek government a fate similar to Benito Mussolini’s if they continue robbing young people of their future. The Italian dictator’s body hung in Milan for public view several days after his execution in April 1945.
“Young people without a future will one day take up arms and hang the traitors upside down in Syntagma Square, as the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945,” the message reportedly reads.
“Syntagma” is a Greek word for “constitution”. Syntagma Square, where the elderly man committed suicide, lies in front of the Greek Parliament.
In the wake of the tragedy, the Greek community issued calls for a "Syntagma afternoon." Over 2,000 people signed up to an event announced via Facebook: “Everyone at Syntagma. Let's not get used to death.”
In the evening, hundreds of protesters made their way across the street from the square to outside Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, chanting: "This was not a suicide, it was a state-perpetrated murder" and "Blood flows and seeks revenge.”
A couple of scuffles broke out between the protesters and riot police, who used pepper spray to repel youths throwing bottles of water at them.
Greece Prime Minister Loucas Papademos issued a statement as protesters gathered at the site of the suicide.
"It is tragic for one of our fellow citizens to end his life," he said. "In these difficult hours for our society we must all – the state and the citizens – support the people among us who are desperate."
Throughout the day, people have been bringing flowers to the tree under which the desperate old man took his own life. Numerous messages have been left on the tree: "Austerity kills," "Enough is enough," "Not a suicide; a murder” or “Who’s gonna be next?”
Full text of the suicide note:
"The Tsolakoglou government has annihilated all traces for my survival, which was based on a very dignified pension that I alone paid for 35 years with no help from the state. And since my advanced age does not allow me a way of dynamically reacting (although if a fellow Greek were to grab a Kalashnikov, I would be right behind him), I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance. I believe that young people with no future, will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma Square, just like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945" (Source: The Athens News)
The number of suicides has dramatically increased in the country since the beginning of the economic crisis, shows data released by the Greek Health Ministry.
Prior to the economic downturn Greece had the lowest suicide rate in Europe at 2.8 for every 100,000 inhabitants. Now, this figure has almost doubled, with police reporting over 600 suicide cases in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Attempted suicides are also on the up.
Just on Tuesday, a 38-year-old Albanian man killed himself on the island of Crete. He had been unemployed for some time. The financial hardship made him jump off his second-floor balcony, reported local news.
The private sector is proving to be no safe haven either, as in the last few months several businessmen have fatally shot themselves.
To secure loan payments to foreign investors, Greece has been forced to drastically cut state spending by slashing public salaries and pensions by almost 40 per cent, while the unemployment rate has hit 21 per cent.
But so far the Greek government has failed to pull the country out of its three-year economic downturn and continues to rack up austerity measures to qualify for EU bailout packages.
Greece is not the only country to see a spike in the suicide rate caused by the government’s effort to battle crippled finances.
In neighboring Italy, a 78-year-old woman threw herself out of her third-floor apartment on Tuesday after her monthly pension was cut from 800 to 600 euro. Since the 25 per cent cut, the pensioner from Sicily had reportedly been struggling 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, as quoted by The Daily Telegraph.
On Monday, a picture frame-maker hanged himself in Rome. His suicide note told of "overwhelming economic problems." Previously, two men in northern Italy set themselves on fire in two separate incidents, citing financial woes as well. Both survived, sustaining severe burns.
Italy, like Greece, is struggling with a recession and mounting unemployment by increasingly severe austerity measures. This includes drastic spending cuts, tax hikes and pension reform. Rome is also trying to pass an unpopular labor decree, which will make it easier for companies to sack employees.