| ATHENS, April 5
ATHENS, April 5 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
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.
Smaller parties like the Independent Greeks have been riding
high in opinion polls at the expense of the two main co-ruling
parties, the conservative New Democracy and socialist PASOK,
backing the bailout.
The two big parties are together expected to take less than
40 percent of the vote. Losing more voters to the smaller
parties could put them at risk of not having enough seats in
parliament to forge a pro-bailout coalition again.
That in turn would have profound implications for Greece's
finances, given continued aid from European partners and the
International Montary Fund is contingent on Greece's new
government pushing through reforms demanded as part of the
New Democracy and PASOK, which have ruled Greece for
decades, expressed their sorrow for the tragedy. Political
opponents attacked them for joining in the mourning.
"Shame on them. The accomplices responsible for the
suffering and despair of the Greek people ... should at least
keep quiet in the face of the hideous results of the capitalist
crisis and their policies, instead of pretending to be saviours
and sensitive," the KKE Communist party said.
Resentment is growing in Greece over repeated rounds of wage
and pension cuts that have compounded the pain from a slump
which has seen the economy shrink by a fifth since 2008.
Unemployment has surged to a record 21 percent - twice the
euro zone average - with one out of two young people without a
job. The number of suicides has surged, and many Greeks feel
ordinary people like the retired pharmacist are being forced to
pay for a crisis that was not of their making.
"When dignified people like him are brought to this state,
somebody must answer for it," said Costas Lourantos, head of the
pharmacists' union in the broader Attica region.