The suicide of a 77-year-old pensioner in central Syntagma Square on Wednesday, apparently fueled by financial and health problems, prompted a wave of reactions from politicians and the public.
The incident occurred shortly before 9 a.m. when the square was full of commuters using the nearby metro station. Witnesses told reporters that the man stood under a tree, pulled out a gun and shouted, “I don’t want to leave debts to my children,” before taking his life.
The 77-year-old, who was identified by the media as Dimitris Christoulas and is survived by his wife and daughter, reportedly had a serious health problem and was struggling to pay for medicines.
In a note found near the scene, the man said he could not face the idea “of searching through garbage bins for food and becoming a burden to my child.” The note also blamed “the occupation government of Tsolakoglou for taking away any chance for my survival.” The reference to Georgios Tsolakoglou, the first collaborationist prime minister during Germany’s occupation of Greece in the Second World War, is an apparent dig at Germany’s role in determining the austerity measures imposed on Greeks.
The suicide prompted statements from several politicians. Prime Minister Lucas Papademos said, “In these difficult times for our country we must all -- the state and its citizens -- support those next to us who are in despair.” The leader of conservative New Democracy, Antonis Samaras, said, “Death isn’t just to die; it’s also to live in despair.” The leader of socialist PASOK, Evangelos Venizelos, said the incident was “so shocking that any political comment would be mistargeted and cheap.”
Later Wednesday, some 2,000 people staged a peaceful protest and candlelit vigil in Syntagma Square.
The incident comes amid a sharp rise in suicides in recent years, with 149 reported so far this year. On the eastern Aegean island of Chios Wednesday, a 31-year-old man shot himself in the neck in what appeared to be a thwarted suicide attempt. He was hospitalized in serious condition. In the Cypriot port of Limassol, meanwhile, a 50-year-old father of three set fire to himself in his car, reportedly due to money worries.