Greek man blamed debt crisis for suicide

2012-04-04 22:24

Athens - A Greek retiree shot himself dead in the busiest public square in Athens during morning rush hour Wednesday, leaving a note police said linked his suicide with the country's acute financial woes.

Hours later, more than 1 500 anti-austerity protesters gathered in the square, responding to social media calls for peaceful demonstrations accusing Greek politicians of driving people to despair with harsh cutbacks implemented to secure vital international bailouts.

The 77-year-old retired pharmacist drew a handgun and shot himself in the head near a subway exit on central Syntagma Square which was crowded with commuters, police said. The square, opposite Greece's Parliament, is a focal point for public protests.

The incident jolted public opinion and quickly entered political debate, with the prime minister and the heads of both parties backing Greece's governing coalition expressing sorrow.

"A pharmacist ought to be able to live comfortably on his pension," said Vassilis Papadopoulos, a spokesperson for the "I won't pay" group. "So for him to reach the point of suicide out of economic hardship means a lot. It shows how the social fabric is unraveling."

Greece has relied on international rescue loans since May 2010. To secure them, Athens implemented harsh austerity measures, slashing pensions and salaries while repeatedly raising taxes. But the belt-tightening worsened the recession and led to thousands of job losses that left one in five Greeks unemployed.

"As a Greek, I am truly shocked," Dimitris Giannopoulos, an Athens doctor, said before the protest. "I am shocked because I see that [the government is] destroying my dignity... and the only thing they care about are bank accounts."

Police said a handwritten note was found on the retired pharmacist's body in which he attributed his decision to the debt crisis.

According to a text of the note published by local media, the man said the government had made it impossible for him to survive on the pension he had paid into for 35 years.

"I find no other solution than a dignified end before I start searching through the trash for food," read the note. Police did not confirm whether it was genuine.

Greece has seen an increase in suicides over the past two years of economic hardship, during which the country repeatedly teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

Police did not release the pharmacist's name and offered few other details.


By Wednesday evening, dozens of written messages had been pinned to the tree under which the man shot himself, some reading: "It was a murder, not a suicide," and "Austerity kills."

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."

Dozens of riot police stood guard.

Papadopoulos, the protest organiser, said the suicide shows Greeks can take no more austerity.

"This suicide is political in nature and heavy in symbolism. It's not like a suicide at home," Papadopoulos said in a telephone interview. "There was a political suicide note, and it happened in front of a clearly political site, Parliament, where the austerity measures are approved."

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."

Government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis described the incident as "a human tragedy," but said it should not become part of the political debate.

"I don't know the exact circumstances that led that man to his act," Kapsis said. "I believe we must all remain calm and show respect for the true events, which we do not yet fully know."

Evangelos Venizelos, leader of the Socialist party, said the suicide "is so overwhelming that it renders any political comment unbecoming and cheap."

"Let us reflect on the condition of the country and of our society in terms of solidarity and cohesion," said Venizelos, who served as finance minister for eight months before resigning to lead the Socialists.

Conservative party head Antonis Samaras said the tragedy highlighted the urgency of getting Greece out of the crisis.

"Unfortunately, this is not the first [suicide]," he said. "They have reached record levels."

  • Phillip van Niekerk - 2012-04-04 23:51

    In SA you will see this type of thing soon, happening with us Whities too. We are financially drained, out Numbered and out of Jobs. May God be with us till the end.

      cosmos.ndebele - 2012-04-05 00:59

      Well do whatever u want to do to yrself!!

      Siya - 2012-04-05 10:09

      You're an idiot dude. Why is it always about race?

  • duncanshona - 2012-04-05 03:38

    Tragically governments believe that by robbing the poor to give to the rich (financiers) is the only way out of the debt crisis, however this paves the way for the personal crisis of the masses. Taking money from the poor, or other vulnerable people dependant on a pension only results in less money circulating in the local economy, more jobs are lost and the cycle goes on and on. Poverty leads to despair. Local communities must take action because the situation is not going to improve using the financial politics that the leaders have adopted. My suggestion is to first create a sense of community, to have somewhere that people can go for company, and access to resources. To have a type of soup kitchen where everybody contributes, even if it is just to keep the cooks company. The community can organise itself into self sufficiency. Read the story Stone Soup, one person may be able to afford to give a pinch of salt, another a parsnip, a potato, a carrot etc. it is not just the government that has abandoned them, they have abandoned the sense of community that has kept many species alive through dark times. Come together and share your stories, your resources, your skills and save lives in doing so. :-)

  • Muhammad - 2012-04-05 05:13

    \ Avoid debt, its a worry by night and a disgrace by day\ Umar bin Khattab

      TrueHeart - 2012-04-05 06:14

      Avoid debt? Lame advice to anyone who trusted their financial advisors with their retirement funds, and lost 90% of it in the global meltdown years back! If you don't think that has happened to millions of people globally, then you are uninformed. Suicide is a very desperate and ultimately a terminal reaction to hopelessness. If you don't acknowledge this, then perhaps only your Creator will be able to clue you in when you progress to the next plateau of existence. Bless you in any event.

  • brionyl.french - 2012-04-05 05:44

    Why did he make it a public spectacle? Why didnt he do such a thing at home and not infront of children? What a sick freak!!! As for Phillips comment i tend to agree with you... Watching qualified people being told sorry your not black enough or disabled enough is disgusting!!! Every job should be based on Qualification and experience not skin colour!!! not loooks... If things arent addressed the working class carrying this country will do something and then ANC will be running dust and sand grains cos thats all that will be left oh and loafers living off grants for 10 million babies

      TrueHeart - 2012-04-05 06:43

      Why make a public spectacle, Frenchie? It is not obvious to you? For impact that accentuates the magnitude of his plight! And his final effort to impact people of power, to have them take their blinders off. (Like when televised globally from Parlianent a couple of months ago, a Greek Minister broke down in tears and could no longer continue hide her torment in being compelled to speak party line.) You call that helpless/hopeless blessed yet unfortunate soul a "sick freak"? He was a retired pharmacist! A well-educated entrepreneur! Probably a loving husband, father, & grandfather! How calous of you. Please rethink yourself. Please renavigate your direction, for your own sake. Best wishes, and hopefully you will never find yourself in such a situation as he did!

      monique.feilingrawjee - 2012-04-05 11:34

      did you read the article???? Public Spectacle??? He had to make his voice heard... its a shame he had to go to such drastic measures for it to be heard.... but nowadays, the politicians will take the last slice of bread out of your mouth, to enrich themselves...

      Demetrius.Syriopoulos - 2012-05-01 19:22

      Frenchie, if only you knew the truth of the Hellenic Tragedy

  • Assis - 2012-04-05 05:55

    With the Greeks it's simply that the income is not enough for the expenses...and after having boom years of government spending by increasing debt the chickens have came home to roost. The citizens will have to face the reality of this.

      Demetrius.Syriopoulos - 2012-05-01 19:25

      Assis, wait pa, it is coming your way too.

  • TrueHeart - 2012-04-05 05:56

    Why don't ultra-low interest rate bailouts in the billions go directly to citizens instead of to banks? Certainly that would go farther to stimulating the economy, and to offering desperate people hope!

      Demetrius.Syriopoulos - 2012-05-01 19:27

      TrueHeart, do you know that of the 400 Billion that Hellaw is in debt due to loas, only about 15% of that has ever arrived in Hellas. the rest has been promisorry notes and promises of some form investment and also weapons that an EU member state needs to defend the EU borders all on her own.

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