Saturday, April 14, 2012


"Hopefully it will be the last death of an innocent citizen. I hope the rest (of the deaths) will be of political traitors.," Thus read a portion of the suicide note penned by the seventy seven year old retired pharmacist of Athens, Dimitris Christoulas. Moments later, he shot himself with a handgun, behind a tree, in Syntagma Square. Christoulas was not, as Greek Prime Minister Koryzis, or writer Penelope Delta had before him in 1941, taken his own life in order to protest the occupation and subjugation of his country to foreign aggression. Yet the fate of these individuals must not have been far from the deceased's mind, for in his suicide note, he likened Greece's current crisis to the deep poverty the country suffered during the World War II German occupation. "I have no other way to react apart from finding a dignified end before I start sifting through garbage for food," Christoulas confided, as he faced the prospect of his pension, one that he had worked towards all his life, being cut to a pittance, as a result of the austere financial measures imposed upon Greece by the International Monetary Fund. It is for this reason that the unfortunate Christoulas shouted: "So I don't leave any debts to my children."
The shocking suicide of Christoulas is not just about economics. A man possessed of left-leaning political persuasions, he witnessed the implosion and ultimate bankruptcy of a system he believed in, revealing to him at least, only the knowledge of the apparent venality, corruption and greed of an entire society. It was too much to bear and just before Easter, the appointed time when the Greek people ready themselves to celebrate the resurrection of the Theanthropos, in whom salvation is embodied, this poor, desperate man saw no salvation and no way out, ending his life before the eyes of commuters and passersby. Nothing could be a more poignant or stark expression of the emotional as well as financial cul-de-sac much of the Greek populace finds itself in.
"This was a symbolic suicide. If it hadn't happened here, in the square, in front of parliament, no one would notice," said one bystander, who heard the shots from across the square and his comments are particularly apt. The social impact of the Greek crisis is vast. Suicide rates have jumped. In one notable case last September, a Greek man in his 50s who was struggling with his debts attempted suicide in front of a bank branch in the northern city of Thessaloniki by setting himself on fire. More recently, in February, a married couple working at a state agency faced with closure as part of the country's budget cuts, threatened to jump off the second story of a building in downtown Athens before being talked down by police.
One would think that acts of this extremity would give Greek politicians pause for consideration. Certainly Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, in his message responding to Christoulas' suicide, wherein he described the incident as "tragic" and called on the state and citizens to "support those next to us in desperation," proves in the least that the suicide had some sort of emotional impact. Nonetheless, it is doubtful whether this horrific act will cause his colleagues to reconsider their role as parliamentarians as being one of representatives of the people rather than time-servers and venal nest-featherers. Proof of this ostensibly harsh view, can be provided in the form of the actions of two Greek politicians from the PASOK party, who revealingly and inexplicably poured the bile of biting cynicism over the corpse of the hapless Christoulas.
Former Defense Minister Panos Beglitis and master of discrete and considerate behaviour brutally commented on Skai TV: "We cannot arbitrarily connect the suicide with the economic situation of the country. Besides, we cannot know if he had debts or not, or if he 'ate' (spent) his money or if it was his children who did it." Hardly had the populace's outrage cooled, when his colleague, also from the PASOK party, Paris Koukoulopoulos and deputy Interior Minister, claimed, also on SKAI TV, which appears to get all the controversial scoops, that "No retired pharmacist would ever seek food in the garbage." Koukoulopoulos, not content with belittling the tragedy, went even further and made a horridly callous connection between the suicide and the pharmaceutical expenditure:"Had he a different approach, he could very well have helped us to find out how the public pharmaceutical expenditure rose from 4 billion euro in 2004 up to 9 billion euro within a few years."
Here in Australia, we understand that our politicians do not always tell the truth, though we expect them to do so. However, we do expect that they behave in a decent, compassionate and understanding manner towards the electorate at all times and when they fall short of this basic standard of expectation, they are castigated by the media and the public alike. Somewhere along the line, the Greek politicians, of all sides of the political spectrum, many of whom founded their parties or rose to prominence in the name of democracy and equality after the fall of the Junta, have come to believe that they have a God-given right to rule Greece, without reference to the wants and needs of the people whose interests they were elected to further. As a comfortable and complacent ruling class, many seem to think they are absolved of the need to observe the rules of basic human propriety. It is here more than anywhere else that we can witness if not the root, then at least the pernicious runners and rhizomes of the social catastrophe afflicting Greece today - many of its politicians have not, and do not care about their constituents, let alone the country as a whole.
Thankfully, the Greek people, who up until the present have not exhibited a coherent and organised manner of taking such chillingly indifferent and arrogant politicians to task save for violent rampages in the city centre which, apart from causing damage to private property are largely ineffectual and do not challenge the corrupt rule of politicians in any way, are finally finding ingenious ways of planting their aggrieved boots in said politicians' political groin region. In Kiato, beastly Beglitis' hometown, the good townsfolk, shocked that a son of theirs could behave in such a heinous fashion, pulled down the banners and posters displayed outside his office. For good measure, they also did the same to the rival New Democracy candidate in the region, warning both of them not to launch their campaigns for the upcoming election from their town. A small gesture, yet one that sends the message that the people are reaching the limits of their tolerance.
Ultimately, Christoulas' death is a tragedy, not only because his personal circumstances caused him to commit one of the most calamitous acts possible, but because save for those in like circumstances who sympathise, his tragic plea for attention to those who have the power to listen and act has fallen on ears stuffed with the cotton wool of indolence and self-satisfaction. Surely the populace with rampage in the streets for a while longer znd then a new suicide, or further austerity measure will divert their attention to yet another hurt, while Christoulas' family is left alone to mourn his loss. Ultimately, the tragedy lies in the fact that Greek society cannot mourn the man, only the symbol, and even that status is disputed.
When Greece eventually extricates itself painfully from the quagmire it has made for itself, it will not be able to ensure that it does not fall into it again, unless a full and exhaustive inquiry is made into the conduct of its politicians for the past twenty years and appropriate sanctions are meted out for wrong-doing. Further, a revised code of conduct and an independent body must be set up to monitor the behaviour of elected representatives, thus ensuring the integrity of a system that has been permitted to corrode into a rusty parody of the democracy it was supposed to be.
Is Greece capable of such an innovation? If one is to judge by the fact that Russian President Putin's request to visit Mount Athos during Easter this year was declined by the Greek government on the grounds that security staff and relevant officials would be unavailable during this time, then one is justified in raising the eyebrow of incredulity.
Nonetheless, the gentle reader can be reassured that the Greek political parties are not entirely bereft of boldness of endeavour. Already members of the Greek community in Australia are preparing to travel to Greece to vote in the upcoming elections. Their tickets of course, are being partially subsidized by the political parties for whom they are expected to vote. For it is logical that while the requisite funds do not exist to grant Greek pensioners dignity in their old age, funds do exist for the buying of votes.
Let us bury the departed Dimitris Christoulas with the dignity he was denied in the twilight of his life. And then let us consider persuading the unsmiling evzones guarding the tomb of the Unkown Soldier below parliament, to apply their bayonets to fundamental orifices of the hot air blowers above them, to beneficial effect. Καλή Ανάσταση.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 14 April 2012