Greece: Public suicide sparks fresh protests against murderous cuts

Issue 
Dimitris Christoulas's suicide letter.

“The Tsolakoglou Occupation government has literally crushed my prospects for survival, so far based on a decent pension, which I alone (without supplementation from the State) financed over 35 years.”

That was how the suicide note left by 77-year-old retired pharmacist Dimitris Christoulas began. It likened the current government to the collaborationist regime during the German occupation in World War II, led by Georgios Tsolakoglou. He was arrested and tried for his role.

The letter continued: “Seeing that my age doesn’t allow me to react dynamically (while of course I wouldn’t rule out that if a Greek man grabbed a Kalashnikov, I would be the next to follow), I can’t see another solution but a dignified end to my life before I start scavenging rubbish bins for food.

“I believe that young people with no future will one day take up arms and hang the national traitors upside down in Syntagma [Constitution] Square, as the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945 (Piazza Porretto in Milan).”

Christoulas shot himself in the head in the morning of April 4, outside the metro station at Syntagma Square in Athens. He is one of many driven to suicide since 2010 as a consequence of the savage austerity accompanying the agreements imposed on Greece by the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank and European Union (EU).

Crimes

What made this suicide stand out was the symbolic setting of his death (right across from Parliament House), as well as the eloquent suicide note.

The suicide note also highlighted the immensity of the injustice done to ordinary people in Greece.

Under Greece’s social security system, citizens don’t get old age pension unless they have worked for it. It is outrageous that people who have worked for decades to earn a pension are now brutally robbed of it due to the extreme austerity measures.

Government representatives made shockingly arrogant and cynical statements about the pensioner’s suicide. Defence minister Panos Beglitis wondered whether the dead man had debts or whether his money was fooled away by his children or himself.

The government tried to downplay the event's significance. The mass media were also very slow to reveal details about the suicide and the full contents of the note.

It is commonly said that Christoulas’s death was more akin to murder than suicide.

Even an ex-MP from the ruling PASOK party, Vaso Papandreou, denounced the party’s policies on April 1. She said that crimes were committed — as opposed to just mistakes being made — in the two years of the George Papandreou government.

The crimes are continuing under the Papademos government. The unelected and unconstitutional government, together with the EU and the IMF keeps imposing never-ending unprecedented austerity measures.

Devastation

Since the first Memorandum agreement signed with the troika in May 2010, pensions and wages have been savagely cut (many by 40%) to the point where people are finding it impossible to support themselves.

Other factors compounding the problem include the extreme degradation of social and health services, as well as high unemployment (officially 21%). As a result, people in Greece (and pensioners are no exception) can hardly get help from family members or welfare services.

This is part of a vicious circle connected with the rapid dismantling of the Greek economy. Consumption has decreased dramatically.

Recent anti-worker laws have led to a rapid rise in individual and enterprise agreements, work intensification and sackings. People not only lose their jobs as businesses close, but also highly lucrative enterprises sack workers with a view to raising profits further.

All this adds to the devastation of the country and people’s lives.

After the new agreements between the Greek government and the troika, wages and pensions are to be further slashed. The stated aim is to lower them to below 200 euros monthly.

There is a plan for 150,000 sackings in the public service by 2015. The sackings will be made easier by the newly-introduced individual agreements.

After their rapid spread in the private sector, such agreements are now being implemented in the public service. For some tax office employees, for example, the individual agreements are short-term contracts to be renewed on specified productivity conditions.

Other related plans are employee evaluation exams, as well as impossible performance goals for public servants.

All in all, there is a total dismantling of workers’ and welfare rights won in the 20th century.

To make matters worse, the ever-rising taxation imposed on ordinary people (at the same time as taxes for high-income tiers are decreasing) is absurdly unrealistic. The tax rises include the goods and services tax, income and property taxes, as well as the recently-introduced poll taxes.

The most vicious poll tax is attached to house ownership and is planned to spread to land property too. Recently, there was talk of imposing a new tax on home occupancy.

All these taxes are becoming unpayable, given the rising cost of living and diminishing incomes.

The government has started deducting tax debts directly from bank accounts. Close surveillance of people’s financial dealings by the Taxation Department is also planned.

In January, the preparation of a new bill was announced. The bill is intended to allow tax debts to be offset against assets, including real estate property. There have also been government threats of house seizures in the cases of people refusing to pay the residential poll tax.

On April 9, the government threatened asset seizures for debts exceeding 300 euros. Experience has shown they go ahead with their threats.

There are more indications the government, together with its domestic and European friends, has set its sights on people’s real estate property.

The troika is demanding the abolition of any protection measure for people with bank debts of up to 200,000 euros. This would mean immediate house auctions and seizures of about 200,000 homes.

On top of this, German government representatives have been pushing for a considerable cut in Greece’s house prices.

Words can hardly describe the ever-increasing, ever-spreading misery and insecurity suffered by people in Greece since the country was handed over to the troika.

The suicide rate has risen sharply (by 40% in 2011 compared to 2010) and there is a 1500% rise in prostitution in Athens. Things are getting worse and the upward trend is continuing.

It is interesting to see where the money stolen from pensioners and working people in Greece goes.

Theft

The PSI (“Positive Spread Investing”) cut Greece’s debt by 105 billion euros at the expense of ordinary people’s and pension funds’ investments. Banks had ensured they would not suffer any losses.

Subsequently, the Greek government agreed to a new loan of 174 billion euros — to support the Greek banks (48 billion euros), the national central banks of the eurozone and the European Central Bank (35 billion euros).

Another 30 billion euros will go to private creditors.

So it’s not really the lazy people of Greece who are living parasitically on other people’s money after all.

In the midst of this barbarism, the system’s advocates, with the help of the mass media, have stepped up their racist propaganda in a bid to distract people from the real problems.

This climate has emboldened the extreme right. The neo-Nazi Chrisi Avgi (“Golden Dawn”) group, as well as neo-fascist LAOS (Popular Orthodox Alert) members, have been physically assaulting migrants and left-wing people with impunity.

At the same time as Chrisi Avgi is gaining more mainstream acceptance, the left is being slandered with ludicrous and worrying statements. Even the country’s economic crisis is blamed on the political action of the left.

Response

After Christoulas’s suicide, hundreds of people went to Syntagma Square in a political act of honouring the dead man. Some brought flowers to the tree where he killed himself. On the tree they pinned messages such as “Austerity kills”, “Enough is enough” and “Who’s gonna be next?”

The gatherings in Syntagma Square were followed by demonstrations in the evening. The response by police reached new heights of brutality.

They used their standard cancer-causing chemicals against the protesters, as well as inside metro stations to prevent people from joining the protests.

Riot police viciously attacked peaceful demonstrators. Journalists and photographers covering the protests received special attention. Eight were injured by riot police in two days.

Among the injured was Marios Lolos, president of the Greek Photo-Reporters Union. He was in a critical condition and underwent surgery for traumatic brain injury caused by a police baton. The event has been described as attempted murder.

Lolos said he will seek political revenge. He intends to take legal action against citizen protection minister Michalis Chrisochoidis and the head of Greek police.

In a radio interview, his partner said the police knew the photojournalist well. She added he received threats constantly and had been attacked by police before.

Police have seriously injured protesters and journalists in the past. On June 15 last year, another journalist, Manolis Kypraios, was clearly targeted by police during a protest. He lost his hearing after a police officer threw a stun grenade at him.

Police violence is intensifying. It seems like the government has taken a leaf out of the neo-Nazis' book.

As the government adopts more and more anti-people policies, it gradually does away with all remnants of democracy.

It is stepping up repression in fear of the people’s power. It is up to us to work out the right way to use this power they are so scared of.

Read more coverage of the crisis in Greece.

Series of photos of anti-austerity protests and brutal police repression in Greece. The photos are by Marios Lolos, president of the Greek Photo-Reporters Union, who was put in a critical condition and underwent surgery for traumatic brain injury caused by police brutality. Music by the Manic Street Preachers.



Reading Green Left online is free but producing it isn't ...

Green Left aims to make all content available online, without paywalls, but we depend on your support to survive.