A 77-year-old pensioner despondent over his financial situation committed suicide Wednesday morning in Athens with a pistol, shooting himself in the head in front of the Greek Parliament in Syntagma Square.
Dimitris Christoulas’ symbolic suicide bears similarities to 26-year-old street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self immolation in Tunisia in January 2011, which helped trigger the Arab Spring. The site next to a tree where the Greek ended his life has already drawn the attention of hundreds of his fellow Athenians. They’ve begun depositing flowers there and pinning condolence cards to the tree. One of them says “it was a murder, not a suicide” and another says “austerity kills,” according to The Associated Press.
Christoulas’ suicide note left little doubt as to the combination of factors that pushed him over the edge: financial distress, mercenary elected officials and treasonous elites. The retired pharmacist compared the current government of appointed Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, a trained economist, to the collaborationist regime of Georgios Tsolakoglou that worked with the Nazis during their occupation of the Hellenic Republic during World War II.
“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,” Christoulas wrote. “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.”
The Greek people have been forced to shoulder ruthless austerity measures in order to pay off debts amassed by bankers playing the international government bond market like riverboat gamblers and by ruthless politicians who used their share of the largesse to secure their high offices. The Greek 99% has responded with huge and protracted street riots.
Greek elected officials paved the path to their nation’s economic collapse by trading political favors for money and power, much as their American counterparts have done, and by allowing treasonous elites to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. They tolerated rampant corruption and used public services as political spoils.
Here in the U.S., control of the two main political machines has fallen into the hands of a similar generation of treasonous elites, who view leadership as a coronation instead of a responsibility. They routinely subordinate the greater good to their own interests and view their regulatory responsibilities as an opportunity to legally extort protection money from predatory industries like cable television, energy, health care, banking and for-profit colleges.
Christoulas died from a single shot to the head while standing next to a tree on one of the square’s grassy areas, according to reports. The Athens News, which covers the Hellenic nation in English, says he is survived by a wife and daughter.
“This event should make us understand that we have all been behind this, we have all pulled the trigger,” Yiorgos Karatzaferis, head of the populist Laos Party, said Wednesday in Parliament. “What did this man see from us, before deciding to take his own life? He saw shady goings-on, he saw none of those that stole from him and the Greek people go to jail.
“What else did he see? He saw no help coming his way, as he tried to deal with his loans and debts,” Karatzaferis said. “What did this man hear from us? He heard that no slack would be given to him, no room to move, while the political parties would get plenty of money. Money they did not deserve.”
Greek leaders pushed through austerity measures that will hamstring wage-earners in the Hellenic Republic for decades to come to secure a $171 billion bailout from the European Union that protects bondholders from a complete default. Much of that bailout money will come from taxes paid by the 99% in other European countries. It’s the second bailout in as many years for holders of Greek government debt.
Similar austerity measures are being pushed around the world to protect bondholders from the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression – a crisis precipitated by the poor regulation of out-of-control banks by corrupt political elites.
Greece is in a financial corner partly because of one of the innate hazards of the government bond market, which is that borrowing costs escalate as a nation gets into trouble. That leaves less and less to spend on the 99% that the borrowing is supposed to be about.
The global bond market had an estimated value of $82.2 trillion in 2009. Bonds are securities that borrowers sell to investors, which are paid from a stream of future revenue, such as taxes, corporate sales or bridge tolls. Bond investors receive a promise that they will be repaid more than they lend in exchange for the use of their money.
PressTV says suicides in Greece have risen dramatically in the last three years. They rose 22.5% to 622 in 2012, from 507 in 2009, according to the Greek Ministry of Citizen Protection.
The last round of austerity measures in Greece included 12% reductions in some government pension payouts. They followed public sector layoffs, a reduction in the minimum wage and tax hikes that had already sent Greeks reeling.
Unemployment was at 21% in December and job loss has forced some people to live on the streets and become panhandlers. The size of the Greek economy has contracted by 16% since 2008.
About 370,000 jobs were lost in Greece in the first nine months of 2011, according to a March 29 report from the European Commission. The country has a population of 11 million.
More than 250 people rallied with the Occupy Wall Street pro-democracy movement in support of Greeks like Christoulas on Feb. 18 in New York City’s Zuccotti Park . Stephane Christane, a 53-year-old administrator at Columbia University, was among them.
“The Greek economy has fallen apart,” said Christane (left), who was raised in Greece and lives in New York City. “This idea that we’re getting a bailout to prevent a default is ridiculous. The country is already insolvent. With the package they’re talking about it will still be insolvent in 2020. So, you have to wonder who is really being bailed out.”
“I was there at Christmas and I saw things that I have never seen there – homeless people, soup kitchens and people picking through the trash,” he said. “My father said these things haven’t happened in Greece since World War II.”