Mourners lit candles at the spot where a Greek pensioner shot himself Wednesday.
Thousands of Greeks gathered in front of parliament Wednesday night and Thursday to pay their respects to Dimitris Christoulas, a debt-ridden pensioner who committed suicide over the government’s austerity measures. Our Observer in Athens tells us why Christoulas is being heralded as a hero.
Christoulas, 77, shot himself in the head in Syntagma Square, near Greece’s parliament, on Wednesday morning. The former pharmacist left a note explaining “the government has annihilated all possibility" of his survival. His pension, he wrote, had been drastically cut, and he didn’t want to find himself “fishing through garbage cans for sustenance.” He added, “I believe that young people with no future will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country.”
Thousands of people gathered for a vigil at the spot where Christoulas took his life Wednesday evening, leaving flowers and notes.
People gathered around the spot where Christoulas killed himself, then moved in front of Greece's parliament, just across the street. Video published on YouTube byKimadenprilono of Greece's "I Won't Pay" movement.
Later in the night, protesters clashed with the police, throwing petrol bombs and rocks. The police counter-attacked with tear gas.
Protesters clashed with police in front of parliament Wednesday night. Video published on YouTube by Zafhaitidis.
On Thursday, people continued to flock to Syntagma Square, piling up more flowers and taping notes to a tree near the spot Christoulas died.
Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos released a statement saying: “In these difficult hours for our society we must all – the state and the citizens – support the people among us who are desperate.”
To meet the terms of a eurozone financial bailout, drastic austerity measures have been imposed on Greek citizens. Pensions have been cut, taxes raised, and thousands of civil sector jobs have been scrapped. There have also been steep reductions in pay and unemployment benefits.
As the country sank further into economic crisis in 2010 and 2011, phone calls to Athens suicide hotlines doubled.

“This was an altruistic sacrifice, and not at all a desperate, selfish suicide”

Neos Sklavos lives in Athens. This is not his real name – the pseudonym, which he chose as his Twitter name, means “new slave” in Greek, in reference to the dire economic situation of his countrymen. He is unemployed.
I decided to go to the vigil because I understand what Dimitris Christoulas did to be a political act, an altruistic sacrifice, and not at all a desperate, selfish suicide. For me, and many others, he is a hero. The suicide note he left behind shows that he wanted to motivate us to continue our struggle against the government’s undemocratic policies. We were not there to mourn him, but to honour him.
People posted notes on a tree near where he died with slogans such as “Who is next?”, “People should take up weapons”, “Freedom or death!”, and many more angry and desperate words. Thousands also gathered in front of parliament shouting things like, “This wasn’t a suicide, this was a political murder!” Slogans like these are now popping up all over social media networks, too.
His story resonates with all of us here in Greece. Except for the very rich, we are all suffering from austerity [measures], young and old. Nearly everyone I know who was gainfully employed before the crisis is now unemployed. After just six months, they no longer get unemployment benefits and are left with nothing. Most people turn to their relatives, meaning that even those who are employed are suffering from a huge reduction in income because they have to support others.
If their relatives cannot help, then the unemployed become homeless. Myself, before the crisis, I was in the middle class. But if this crisis drags on for even one more year, I will become homeless, too. I may have to leave Greece and try to look for work elsewhere.
The following photos of the vigil were taken by our Observer. Among the notes taped to the tree, one can read: "The next blood to flow will come from those who created this situation"; "He was murdered by the junta of creditors"; and "We don't forget, we don't forgive."