Wednesday the 4th of April saw an elderly pensioner undertake an act which has been hailed by the Greek population as being a profound political symbol and giving a face to the economic woes that have crippled the Greek economy. Demitirs Christoulas, a 77 year old retired pharmacist, headed to Syntagma Square and took his own life in a desperate attempt to escape the financial difficulties that were plaguing his continued existence.
His suicide note stated that he would rather take his own life than have to endure the incapacitating effects of his financial plight, which would have seen him having to scrounge for food. Mr. Christoulas’s actions come after further cuts by the Greek government to state pensions, which are further encouraging the financial plight of the masses.
The actions of Mr. Christoulas have served as a catalyst for uniting the population of Athens; as many as two thousand people jointed together as a mark of respect and set up an impromptu shrine at the location of the pensioner’s suicide to offer their condolences. It was also an acknowledgement of the effects that the collapsed economy is having upon the population, the worst financial crisis to hit the Greek economy since World War II.
Although the gathering initially started out peacefully, it was not long before clashes between the police and a certain number of individuals ensued. However, it has been reported by some sources that Mr Christoulas was suffering from cancer and his actions were a direct result of his inability to fund his treatment. Reports suggest that a rising number of cancer patients in Greece are unable to purchase the drugs necessary to combat the disease as government cuts have resulted in a shortage of medication, as well as being a financially unfeasible purchase. According to police reports, at least 4 other individuals have attempted to take their own lives as a means of escaping their economic difficulties – although it is suspected that the number is much higher than this.
The country is to hold elections on the 6th of May, and it is believed that the outcomes will no doubt reflect the discontent that the population feels towards the growing number of austerity measures that they have had to continuously endure. There are evident differences between the smaller and larger political parties within Greece, with the former continuously placing blame upon the larger parties for the financial difficulties that have unraveled in Greece. Independent Greeks, New Democracy, and socialists PASOK are all faring well in the opinion polls as citizens are able to relate to their opposition of austerity measures. This increasing support could see them take over the Greek government and alter the trajectory of the economy. This, however, could have implications with regards to forging a pro-bailout coalition in order to receive money which will enable the Greek economy to stay afloat. Cynics are quick to condemn the smaller parties for riding on the back of this economic discontent in order to gain national prominence.
The Greek economy continues to spiral out of control and tear away at the social fabric in Greece, as unemployment has sharply risen to 21%, depression and suicide is steadily on the rise, and a 25% increase in unemployment. In order to receive bail-out funding, austerity measures are imperative, but it appears that citizens are the ones having to endure the consequences and are facing increasing hardship. A continuation of budget cuts will hopefully ensure a growth in the Greek economy, but at the detriment of the citizenry, for it is becoming harder to sustain an adequate living while wages and pensions are constantly under the threat of being cut. The issues that are facing the population now are bread and butter issues, something which the government needs to start addressing in order to prevent further catastrophe.