, , , , , , ,

A man stood at the centre of a square and shot himself. This didn’t happen in a developing country. It wasn’t a poor, illiterate farmer crushed by the debts and the lack of social protection. It happened in Greece, yesterday. The man was a 77-year-old retired chemist from Athens. He decided to end his life in front of the Greek Parliament. His lasts words, according to an eye-witness, were “I’m leaving because I don’t want to pass on my debts”. He also left a note where he wrote that “The Tsolakoglou occupation government has nullified any chance of my survival which was based on a decent salary that for 35 years I alone (without state support) paid for”. The “Tsolakoglou occupation government” was the government during the occupation of Greek by the Nazi. He is said to have been a good and upstanding father to his only child.

The event was followed by blunt political statements, with the majority of the politicians declaring their “shock”. Of course, those who keep up with the news may have been saddened, but they are certainly not shocked. According to Police records, two people commit suicide every day. These statistics don’t include suicides that looked like accidents or were presented as accidents by the relatives for social reasons.

Today 2,000 people gathered at that same square, left flowers, honoured the deceased man and protested against the government. Violent clashes with the police followed. There is an overwhelming feeling of unfairness in Greece and the news made many people dub this action as a “homicide” rather than a “suicide”: a “homicide” caused by a system that abuses the vulnerable and the weak in an effort to improve financial charts that look irreversibly wrong. It also demonstrates the desperation of the Greek society that is left alone, defenceless with no mechanisms to support those in need because only four years ago, there was no great social demand. The public shaming that the country endured after the revelation of the debt (another “shock” for its political world) may be starting to turn into support and a realisation that not all Greeks have led a luxurious life, but just like in the case of children dying of malnutrition, support can only take you so far – especially if it is mixed with erroneous facts and partial truths.

With a collapsing social fabric, people are becoming desperate. Greece never depended on the welfare state: an unemployed person was almost fully supported by her family to make ends meet. To actually receive unemployment benefits, the person has to have worked for six months. Often there is no such proof, as people agree to work without being registered so they can make a bit more money. Greek families used to be able to support their children through university and during the first years of their professionals lives. Nowadays, though, it is becoming harder, as even the parents’ capacity to pay rent and foot the bills is shrinking. In other words, a society that had partially based its functioning on the efficient functioning of a parallel, unofficial system is starting to collapse due to the crumbling of this parallel system. This affects every aspect of the social life: medical bills, education, work, pensions, marriages and life itself. Within two years, suicide hotlines are receiving double the phone calls from people desperate enough to consider suicide.

The re-weaving of the Greek social fabric will not come with the imposition of more austerity measures or with the election of the new government. What is organic in a society cannot be changed overnight. It is a painfully slow process and it comes from the combination of social initiatives and public will. To make a family pay more taxes, the politicians need to offer a vision, a plan and a motivation. The vision is absent. The plan is vague (at least at this moment). There is also a complete lack of motivational gestures on behalf of the government. People are suddenly forced to change their budgets and way of lives without knowing when, how or if things will get better. With no social worker to care for them and no grandmother to chip in, depression is rising and with it, national anger, frustration and despair. Now, this suicide can turn into the symbol of the uprising of a people that was given money, but never given accountable governments, healthy political and civic education, true national goals and a vision.