A 77-year-old retired pharmacist shot himself in the head on Wednesday in Athens’ central Syntagma Square just outside the building where Greece’s Parliament meets. The man killed himself around 9 am outside the Syntagma metro station as dozens of commuters were crossing the square, where Greeks have been demonstrating to protest the repeated rounds of austerity measures passed by the government.
The man’s identity was not yet been revealed. Eyewitnesses said they heard him cry out that he did not want to leave his children in debt as he shot himself. An ambulance took him to a hospital but he was already dead.
Another Greek daily, Ethnos.gr, quoted a note that the man wrote in red ink about how the “occupation government” of Georgios Tsolakoglou had “annihilated every trace of my survival.” Tsolakoglou was a Greek military officer who was the first Prime Minister of the Greek collaborationist government when the Nazis occupied the country in 1941 – 1942; the man’s reference to him perhaps suggests the lingering enmity felt in Greece towards Germany. The man also wrote:
“I cannot find another way to react other than a decent end before I start looking in the garbage to survive and become a burden for my child. “
The Greek daily Kathimerini reports that people have been leaving notes and flowers on the tree near where the man shot himself. “Do not get used to death” (να μη συνηθίσουμε τον θάνατο), said one note.
While the suicide rate in Greece has been lower than the average in Europe, the years of economic crisis — in which many have lost jobs and seen their pensions and salaries cut by up to 40 percent– are certainly taking their toll. According to unofficial data, the suicide rate in Greece has increased by 25% in 2010; suicides had previously risen by 17% in 2009 from 2007. Agence France-Presse via Raw Story also says that, on Tuesday, a 38-year-old Albanian man took his own life by jumping off his balcony on the island of Crete; he had reportedly been facing financial hardship.
In Athens, 1 in 11 people have been standing in line at soup kitchens. Government spending on health has been reduced by 13 percent in the past two years and hospitals have seen their budgets cut by 40 percent. There is now a shortage of nurses and long waits for procedures including breast cancer surgery and heart bypass operations; some 30 percent of Greeks are now turning to free clinics that had before only offered medical care for immigrants.
As Greece enters its fifth year of recession, over a million are unemployed, nearly a quarter of the population, and more than half of those in their 20s have no jobs.
As another retiree, Stavros Efstathiou, told Kathimerini, ”frustration knows no bounds.”
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