- 1,000 mourners gather in the spot where ‘martyr’ died
- Dimitris Christoulas, 77, a retired pharmacist, shot himself yards from the Greek parliament
- He said state pension had been slashed in suicide note
PUBLISHED: 11:42 EST, 5 April 2012 | UPDATED: 18:35 EST, 5 April 2012
He lived, said neighbours, an ‘everyday’ life.
But in death Dimitris Christoulas has become an extraordinary symbol of how Greeks are struggling to cope as their country falls apart under the burden of austerity measures.
On Wednesday morning, the 77-year-old former pharmacist walked into Greece’s Syntagma Square, just yards from the nation’s parliament.
As thousands of commuters swarmed to work, the pensioner shot himself, deciding to end his life rather than face his final years on the breadline.
His death has shocked Greece, even though the nation has already seen suicide rates increase by around 20 per cent in the past two years.
Yesterday, police clashed with demonstrators for a second day at the site where Mr Christoulas killed himself in downtown Athens.
Several dozen youths dressed in hoods and crash helmets smashed paving stones with hammers and threw the rubble at riot police, chanting ‘Killers! Killers!’ as police responded with tear gas and flash grenades.
By yesterday, the spot where Mr Christoulas took his life had become a shrine to the man who is fast becoming a totem for ordinary Greeks trying to exist day-by-day in a country teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Last night, about 1,000 mourners once again gathered at the corner of Syntagma Square where he died, with the spot adorned by flowers and candles.
Scores of hand-written notes were also pinned to the tree next to where he fell, bearing messages such as ‘His blood is on your hands, traitors’ and ‘A government of murderers’.
Witnesses to the death said the pharmacist declared ‘I don’t want to leave my debts to my children’ before producing a gun and shooting himself in the head at 9am.
In the days before his death he had deliberately paid service charges on his apartment several weeks in advance to ensure he left no money owing. In Greece they speak of him becoming the country’s very own Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit and veg seller who started the Arab Spring by setting fire to himself.
Others called him a ‘martyr’.
The public suicide quickly resonated in a country where successive rounds of salary and pension cuts have created a mood of national despondency, and one in five adults is unemployed – twice the European average.
The Greek government is facing almost daily protests against its stringent austerity plans, put in place after the financial crisis put the country in danger of not being able to pay off its huge debts and being ejected from the euro.
Following Mr Christoulas’s death, a defiant handwritten one-page suicide note was found on his body, in which he said his pension, which he had contributed to without state help for 35 years, had been slashed.
The divorced father-of-one, who had lived alone in a flat, declared ‘I cannot find any other form of struggle except a dignified end’ which was preferable to scavenging through ‘rubbish to feed myself’.
The suicide note also blamed ‘the occupation government of Tsolakoglou’ for forcing him to end his life. Georgios Tsolakoglou was Greece’s first collaborationist prime minister during Germany’s occupation of his country in the Second World War. The reference appears to be a veiled criticism of Germany’s role in enforcing Greece’s current austerity measures.
‘My father’s note leaves no room for misinterpretation. His whole life was spent as a leftist fighter, a selfless visionary,’ said his only daughter, Emy Christoula, 43. ‘This final act was a conscious political act, entirely consistent with what he believed and did in his life.’
She added that, for some, ‘committing suicide is not an escape but a cry of awakening’. One friend, Anthony Skarmoutsos, said: ‘He wanted his suicide to send a political message. He was deeply politicised, but also very angry.’
Another, bookshop owner Elias Tsironis, 50, said Mr Christoulas would spend many an evening at the store discussing politics and the deepening recession, adding: ‘What he did was very courageous. Often it is from the people you least expect that something starts, like a spark.’
Ilias Sirakos, owner of a shop frequented by Mr Christoulas, said: ‘A few days ago, he told a friend that he could not understand this apathy and asked how people could sit around without protesting. He is a hero. It takes guts to do something like that.’
Neighbours suggested Mr Christoulas had been suffering from serious health problems and was struggling to afford medication.
Greek prime minister Lucas Papademos issued a statement saying: ‘In these difficult hours for our society we must all – the state and the citizens – support the people among us who are desperate.’
■ Fears are mounting that the eurozone’s economic crisis could flare up again, despite the most recent bailout of Greece.
Spain – the fourth biggest economy in the eurozone – was back in the firing line yesterday, reeling from mass protests, record unemployment and anaemic growth. Unemployment in Spain is the highest in Europe, at 23.6 per cent, while youth unemployment is 50.5 per cent.
The national debt looks set to hit nearly 80 per cent of GDP this year – the highest level since at least 1990.
Portugal and Ireland also remain on the economic danger list, while Italy is also battling to get its crippling debt burden – 120 per cent of GDP – back under control.
Italy’s deficit fell to 3.8 per cent in 2011, from 4.5 per cent in 2010, but the economy has averaged an abysmal 0.75 per cent annual growth rate over the past 15 years.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2125686/Greece-prepares-fresh-wave-anti-austerity-protests-pensioners-suicide-financial-crisis.html#ixzz1r5eqM3KQ