Greek Suicide Seen as an Act of Fortitude as Much as One of Despair

Pensioner Dimitris Christoulas wanted to 'send a political message' about the inequities of Greece's crushing debt crisis

A picture of the man who has come to embody the inequities of Greece's financial crisis has begun to emerge, with friends and neighbors shedding light on the life of the elderly pensioner who killed himself in Athens on Wednesday.

Named as Dimitris Christoulas by the Greek media, the retired pharmacist was described as decent, law-abiding, meticulous and dignified.

The 77-year-old had written in his one-page, three-paragraph suicide note that it would be better to have a "decent end" than be forced to scavenge in the "rubbish to feed myself".

"With his suicide he wanted to send a political message," Antonis Skarmoutsos, a friend and neighbor was quoted as saying in the mass-selling Ta Nea newspaper. "He was deeply politicized but also enraged."

Until 1994 Christoulas was a local chemist in the central Athens neighborhood of Ambelokipoi. A committed leftist, he was active in citizens' groups such as "I won't pay", which started as a one-off protest against toll fees but quickly turned into an anti-austerity movement.

Neighbors say the pensioner had placed a protest banner on the balcony of the first-floor flat where he had lived alone.

Only days before his death, Christoulas had insisted on paying his share of the "communal expenses" contributed by residents in the building, although payment was not due for several weeks. This was part of the meticulousness that appears to have defined a man who for 35 years had contributed to his pension fund without, as he also made clear in his note, any "state support".

But like so many of Greece's older generation, the retired pharmacist had instead found himself paying for his debt-stricken country's monumental crisis, saying in his note that his pension had been cut to the point where it had "nullified any chance of my survival".

The anger that prompted Christoulas to take his own life in Syntagma Square in view of the Greek parliament is shared by much of the middle-class and low-income Greeks who have carried a disproportionate burden of the stringent tax increases, and pay and pension cuts meted out in the name of putting Greece on an economically sustainable path.

Long divorced, Christoulas who was frequently spotted walking the streets of his neighborhood decked out in tracksuit and trainers, was also, like many of his generation, greatly troubled by the way Greece was headed. It upset him that the younger generation had accepted the austerity measures with such apathy.

"He was deeply troubled by it all, the inertia of young people and the situation as it had emerged over the last two years," said Skarmoutsos. "He would go down to Syntagma to attend protests."

The retired pharmacist overnight has become a symbol of resistance for those who perceive austerity politics as unfair and ultimately self-defeating. For many Greeks trapped in a fifth year of grinding recession, Dimitris Christoulas's death has not just been seen as an act of despair but one of fortitude in a world with little light at the end of the tunnel.

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