Greece has always had one of the lowest suicide rates in Europe, but its economic crisis has triggered a disturbing increase in the number of people killing themselves. Are the deaths the result of personal desperation or are people making a political statement with the only thing they have left to sacrifice?
On July 16, a businessman and father of three hanged himself in his shop on the island of Crete. A 49-year-old man from Patras was found by his son. He had also hanged himself. On July 25, a 79-year-old man on the southern Peloponnese peninsula hanged himself with a cable tied to an olive tree. On August 3, a 31-year-old man shot himself to death at his home near Olympia. On August 5, a 15-year-old boy hanged himself in Pieria. And, on August 6, a 60-year-old former footballer self-immolated in Chalcis.
These are also reports from Greece, reports that, at first glance, seem to have nothing to do with the economy. They come together to form a grim statistic, raising questions of what is triggering the suicides and whether the high incidence is merely a coincidence.
Or do people see suicide as a way out of the crisis that has taken hold of their country and their lives? Are they bowing out before things get even worse? Germany and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are opposed to a new bailoutpackage for Athens. The country faces a shortfall of at least €40 billion ($49 billion). Greece could very well be officially bankrupt by the fall.
Greece, a country whose Orthodox Church does not condone suicide, has always had one of the lowest suicide rates in Europe. But now, there were 350 suicide attempts and 50 deaths in Athens in June alone. Most of the suicides were among members of the middle class and, in many cases, the act itself was carried out in public, almost as if it were a theatrical performance.
Desperate for Dignity
On April 4, shortly after 9 a.m., a 77-year-old pharmacist shot himself to death on Syntagma Square in downtown Athens. Dimitris Christoulas, a short man, stood against one of the large trees on the square, held a pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger.
“My father was a political person, a fighter,” says his daughter, Emmy Christoulas. Weeks after her father’s death, she is sitting in her living room in Chalandri, a northern suburb of Athens. She is a slim 42-year-old wearing oversized jeans, her short black hair streaked with gray.
Her father was politically active, a member of the “We Won’t Pay” movement. He repeatedly called for an international review of Greece’s national debt because he was convinced that it wasn’t the fault of the people. He had come to beleaguered downtown Athens every day last summer to take part in rallies and to lend a hand, usually in the Red Cross tent.
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