May 26, 2013
Greek suicide a potent symbol before election
A Greek pensioner's suicide outside parliament has quickly become a symbol of the pain of austerity and has been seized upon by opponents of the budget cuts imposed by Greece's international lenders.
The 77-year-old retired pharmacist, Dimitris Christoulas, shot himself in the head on Wednesday after saying that financial troubles had pushed him over the edge. A suicide note said he preferred to die rather than scavenge for food.
The highly public - and symbolic - suicide prompted an outpouring of sympathy from Greeks, who set up an impromptu shrine on the spot where the pensioner died
On Thursday, hundreds of Greeks - including students, teachers, members of leftist groups, and the "Indignants" who held daily sit-ins for months last year - staged a second day of protests at the shrine, leaving flowers and candles.
Late in the day, minor clashes broke out between a small group of demonstrators and police, who fired tear gas. A peaceful demonstration was also held in the city of Thessaloniki.
The newspaper Eleftheros Typos called Christoulas a "martyr for Greece". His act was imbued with a "profound political symbolism" that could "shock Greek society and the political world" before an upcoming parliamentary election that will determine the country's future.
Anger over the suicide was directed as much at politicians as at the harsh austerity prescribed by foreign lenders in return for aid to lift the country out of its worst economic crisis since World War Two.
"It's horrible. We shouldn't have reached this point. The politicians in parliament who brought us here should be punished for this," said Anastassia Karanika, a 60-year-old pensioner.
So far this week, police reported that at least four people have tried to kill themselves because of financial troubles.
In one case, a 35-year-old cafe owner in central Greece was hospitalised on Tuesday after drinking pesticide because he feared his business would be seized by his bank.
With the election expected on May 6, smaller parties opposed to harsh spending cuts included in the country's second bailout were quick to blame bigger parties backing the rescue.
"Those who should have committed suicide - who should have committed suicide a long time ago - are the politicians who knowingly decided to bring this country and its people to this state of affairs," said Panos Kammenos, a conservative lawmaker who recently set up the Independent Greeks anti-austerity party.