“I don’t want to leave debts to my children.” These were Dimitris Christoulas’s last words before shooting himself in the head. Dimitris Christoulas, a 77-year-old retired pharmacist and pensioner, ended his life at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning in the middle of Athens’s central square, only yards away from the Greek Parliament. His suicide note said that due to cuts to his pension he would prefer to die rather than scavenge for food, "The government has annihilated all traces for my survival ... I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don't find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance."
The highly public, symbolic nature of Christoulas’s suicide is reminiscent of Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation, which sparked the Tunisian Revolution and by extension the larger Arab Spring. Indeed Greeks have begun mass protests. As in the case of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia, Christoulas has quickly become a martyr for a movement. While Christoulas has caught the nation’s imagination, he was not the first to take a stand. When Apostolos Polyzonis's bank refused to see him last September, the 55-year-old businessman used his last 10 euros to buy a gas can and set himself aflame outside his bank in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second biggest city.
As of Friday, Athens has been marked by three consecutive days of protests sparked by Christoulas’s suicide. Eleftheros Typos, a conservative newspaper, called Christoulas, “a martyr for Greece” that could “shock Greek society and the political world and awaken their conscience.” With Greek parliamentary elections only weeks away, Christoulas death has the potential of determining Greece’s future and by extension the future of the euro.
A shrine created under the tree where Christoulas died has become a message board for the feelings of Greeks about their government’s austerity plans. The notes complain of crippling austerity measures that have slashed government services and pensions while still failing to lower the unemployment rate, which continues to hover around 21%. Austerity has simply failed Greece.
Antonis Samaras, a Greek economist and leader of New Democracy, Greece's major conservative party, recently wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal, “It took 30 years of frivolous public spending to bring the country to a debt-to-GDP ratio of 120%. Two years of severe austerity brought debt to 168%.” The pushers of the “recovery” plan for Greece have been Hayekian zealots. From Brussels to the IMF, no one has seen the value in policies that will grow the Greek economy.
While unemployment has skyrocketed, Greeks have by-and-large accepted that this was just what was needed to stay in the euro zone. This approach has pushed Greece to total social collapse, evident by Dimitris Christoulas’s suicide. Dimitris Christoulas’s death seems like the beginning of the end to the ruling coalition that has fought tooth-in-nail to stay in the euro zone. Christoulas’s suicide will likely put an end to the imperative among Greeks to stay in the euro zone. The question is will this spread to other euro zone countries when they are faced with either deep austerity or leaving the currency. Christoulas’s suicide shows budget cutters throughout the West, including in the U.S., must remain constantly aware of the end game of their cuts.