Notes of Despair
The smell of wrath in Syntagma Square is still thick- for the last two years this place in the center of Athens seem like the barrel of a gun named social despair, pointing straight to the heart of the Parliament, on the other side of the road.
It’s the place where all the demonstrations end up- usually with riots. You might say that it’s a beautiful part of Greece’s capital- when you turn your back to the Parliament you can see the front columns of the Parthenon.
On Wednesday morning a man was standing in the shadow of a big tree, in the middle of the square. No one paid attention to him, until he took a pistol out of a bag. He put the barrel in his head. Someone heard his cry: ‘We should not leave our debts to our children”. Then he pulled the trigger. One shot, which shocked everyone.
This man was a 77 year old retired pharmacist- one of the thousand pensioners who live nowadays beyond the limits of poverty, after rounds of painful austerity measures. His name: Dimitris.
The shock was even bigger when his suicide note was posted in the blogs: “I don’t want to be a burden for my child. I see no other option for a dignified end before having to look for food in the garbage cans.”
In the next few hours hundred of citizens gathered in Syntagma Square to light a candle and leave a flower in the place where the desperate pensioner ended his own life. Most of the notes the protesters nailed to the tree were full of anger: “enough is enough” “who of us will be the next victim?”, “the state murdered him-it was not a suicide.”
“Yes, it was not just a suicide. Actually, it was a conscious political action.” said Dimitris’ daughter, blaming the state for her father’s situation.
Just a few hours ago, in Italy, a 78-year-old woman jumped to her death. Her name: Duncia. She did not leave a note-instead, she had just received one: her monthly pension payments had been reduced. Duncia’s son accused the state of killing his mother with these cuts.
Unfortunately, it was not the only case in Italy. The next day, a 59-year-old Rome-based construction firm owner shot himself dead because his company had failed. And last week, a picture frame maker hanged himself because of economic difficulties and two men set themselves on fire due to financial woes. Both survived, one with severe burns. Some media and opposition parties blamed on Governments reforms for this wave of economy-related suicides.
In Greece, the situation seems even worse. A few days ago, a 57 year old man ended his life throwing the car he drove to the sea, in the port of Pireaus. Two other men killed themselves recently in Chalkida, a city near Athens, and two more young men committed suicide last week in another country town.
Official statistics are as shocking as Dimitris note: The rate of increase in suicides in Greece was the highest in Europe in 2011-aproximately 45% rise, comparing to 2010. Attempted suicides have also increased. More than 450 Greeks ended their lives, while 600 other committed suicide. The vast majority called upon the financial crisis. Although the country’s suicide level is still among the lowest in Europe in absolute terms, these figures are still frightening. Before the burst of the financial crisis, Greece had the lowest suicide rate in Europe at 2.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. It now has almost double that number.
Financial difficulties, together with sudden political and social changes, are named as important factors for high suicide rates- that may explain why eastern European countries and ex Soviet Republics (Hungary, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan) are in the top of the list. In some other cases, such as Japan and South Korea, it’s rather the high competitiveness in the society and the pressure for success that lead so many people to the decision to put an end to their lives. (1)
An economy-related suicide is no longer topic for the headline news. Unless it is a wave of stuff self-killings, such as in France Telecom. Or a public suicide, in the middle of a square. Just in frond of the Parliament.
In Greece, the whole society seems to be in depression. The financial crisis is the worst since World War Two. 2012 is the fifth in a row year of recession. Every series of austerity measures seem much harder than the previous. Wages and salaries are crashed, shops are closing, one out of five is unemployed, more and more taxes are imposed, working rights disappear, violence is rising, hope is fading away.
The question is where this mass depression may lead. More and more Greeks believe that their country paid extremely high price for the bailout. Instead of boosting the economy, two years of rough austerity exhausted everyone, mainly the middle class. The notorious competitiveness is late, recovery is still doubtful-troika’s bitter pill seem inefficient… How can you talk about “fiscal adjustment” to a person that, in the end of his life, considers himself as a burden for his children? There are more than a million jobless- who of them give a damn for the “recapitalization of the banks”? Some say that IMF and EU’s plan to rescue Greece was wrong from the very beginning – more and more European officials admit it: “We need Development policies, no more austerity measures” .
Some other say that Greece is not an exemption, but rather a start- other countries, sooner or later, may follow. If so, troika’s “white collars”, before their next mission, apart from searching for figures should start asking people- Dimitris’ daughter and Duncia’s son might be a good start.