ATHENS – As crowds gathered under the tree in Syntagma Square where retired pharmacist Dimitris Christoulas, 77, killed himself because he said his pension had been cut by a heartless government to the point where he couldn’t buy medicine and was about to scrounge through the garbage for food while politicians and the rich were throwing caviar away at their free lunches in luxury restaurants, they said he was a martyr whose suicide would change Greece.
They’re wrong. Nothing will change in Greece and the same day those who believe it would were putting up messages saying he was the victim of a government that cares only about bank accounts and money, politicians were putting out phony messages of condolences and going about the business of planning more of the austerity that killed Christoulas and countless others who offed themselves at home instead of in the square where two years of protests, riots and strikes have done nothing to stop pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and the coming firing of 150,000 public workers – who should have been let go two years ago so that none of this nonsense would have occurred because the bloated public sector and the politicians who created it are what’s killing Greece and its people.
The signs they put up were accurate: “His blood is on your hands, you traitors,” and, “It wasn’t suicide, it was murder.” Christoulas, who was reportedly a quiet and educated man who was divorced and lived alone, was one of those countless faceless people who’ve seen their pay and benefits cut, lost their jobs and hope, or have lost all their benefits and who paid into their pension funds for years only to see the social contract they signed with the state violated at the same time the banks the government is repaying is insisting people pay back their loans in full because they can’t break their contracts. Only the government can.
For those who have been living on Mars, Greece is not a democracy but a plutocratic oligarchy run by rich elitists and politicians who’ve never done an honest day’s work and don’t have to because they can plunder the state at will. Witness #1: former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos who has been charged with taking about a gazillion dollars in bribes as part of a submarine deal with a German manufacturer is not only free on bail but suing the government to increase his pension. If you’ve ever walked by his mansion under the Acropolis on the pedestrian walkway you’ll know where the money went, but unless he’s made a scapegoat he’ll see the inside of a prison the same day hell freezes over or there’s an honest soccer game in Greece.
There were reportedly 149 other suicides this year – none of them politicians – before Christoulas carried out what seemed to be a meticulously plotted public political suicide to make the point that Greece is under house arrest by Germany and the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) which is putting up $325 billion in bad loans, but that’s what you get when you borrow that much money from Tony Soprano. You do what he says and that includes turning over your SUV when he sees you gambling his money in a poker game instead of ponying up the vigarish.
That Greek politicians, who go to the finest schools and eat the finest food and don’t care if there’s a Metro strike because they have free limousines in which to make free mobile phone calls or can do so from their free offices or in the free 5-Star hotels in which they stay while taking free trips and eating free food in a life that is second only to a Major League Baseball player, are out of touch was immediately apparent when New Democracy leader Antonis “Mr. Bean Counter” Samaras said, “Death isn’t just to die, it’s also to live in despair.” How would he know? Christoulas’ sad death, as noble as his intentions were, will be headlines for a few days and after Greeks elect the next government that will cheat them his act will just be dust in the wind and politicians will keep doing anything they want because they know they’ll be elected anyway, no matter how many people kill themselves. New Democracy and PASOK, as they always have, will prevail even if they are slipping in the polls because Greeks are conditioned to vote for them and because the opposition is scattered, despite some growing support for anti-bailout parties.
The new leader of the PASOK Anti-Socialist party, Evangelos Venizelos, who, as Finance Minister taxed the poor and doubled the income and property taxes of everyone except tax evaders who owe Greece more than $72 billion and, like indicted politicians, are walking around while Christoulas is going underground, said the incident was “so shocking that any political comment would be mistargeted and cheap.” Thereby making a mistargeted and cheap political comment so Samaras wouldn’t be the only one on the evening news as they jockey for position ahead of coming elections to replace the shaky hybrid government of interim Prime Minister Lucas Papademos. He’s a former ECB Vice-President who they tried to sabotage by putting amendments into legislation to undermine the reforms they said publicly they support.
Samaras, in another clue he doesn’t get what political suicide is about, campaigned the next day and said he wants to revive Greece – too late to revive Christoulas, of course – by cutting taxes if he wins, but said at the same time (only politicians can talk out of both sides of their mouths at the same time they have both feet in them) he will follow the Troika’s orders and not lower taxes. So he wants to both cut and raise taxes at the same time, more of the kind of infuriating hypocrisy that makes you want to kill yourself, figuratively of course, because even if people set themselves on fire outside the Parliament no government official nor politician would spit on them to put it out. Politicians don’t shoot themselves in the head because they wouldn’t hit anything.
Christoulas reportedly told friends that the protest movements had failed, including the Indigants he joined last year to occupy Syntagma Square in fruitless demonstrations that ended, as most do, with police coming in swinging batons and firing teargas and stun grenades like Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic Convention, clearing them out. He said the only way to get attention to the plight of pensioners and working people was “to blow my brains out,” in the spot where he had joined others to rail against a government that doesn’t care. It still doesn’t, and before too long the notes on the tree will be taken down, the grass will grow over the spot where he spilled his blood and Greeks will get another government that doesn’t care if everyone in the country kills themselves. The real suicide is putting these people in power and giving them all the ammunition they need.