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 declaring that financial troubles pushed him over the edge. A suicide note said he preferred to die than scavenge for food.
The highly public — and symbolic — nature of the suicide prompted an outpouring of sympathy from ordinary Greeks, who held a protest march and set up an impromptu shrine with notes condemning the crisis at the spot where he killed himself.
The conservative newspaper Eleftheros Typos called the victim a “martyr for Greece” and said his act was filled with “profound political symbolism” that could “shock Greek society and the political world and awaken their conscience” in the weeks before a parliamentary election that will determine Greece’s future.
Anger was directed as much at politicians as it was at the austerity medicine 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.
With the tragedy occurring barely a month before elections are expected in Greece, smaller parties opposed to harsh spending cuts included in the country’s second bailout were quick to point the finger at 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.