How the media de-politicized the suicide on Syntagma

  • April 6, 2012

People & Protest

Trampling on a dead man’s grave, the international media are refusing to see how a 77-year-old’s act of despair is a direct consequence of political decisions.

On Wednesday morning, the 77-year old Dimitris Christoulas committed suicide on Syntagma square in Athens, in front of the parliament. In his suicide note he is perfectly clear about the reasons for his act of despair. The government, he wrote, has “literally nullified my ability to survive on a decent pension, for which I had already paid (without government aid) for 35 years.”

The website of the prominent Dutch newspaper NRC, however, chose to portray the reasons for his suicide rather differently than he himself did. In a way that was a bit more comfortable for an audience that has been bombarded with the necessity and inevitability of ‘austerity measures’ in Greece.

According to Hans Klis, author of the article on the NRC site, “the 77-year old man wrote [in his suicide note] that the financial problems in the country were the motive for this act.” That is a lie, or at the very least a serious distortion of the last words of Christoulas. The text of his suicide note can be easily found online, and we may assume that a journalist from a well-respected newspaper has read the note before he wrote about the events. So why this choice?

Christoulas describes a clear choice of policy by the government, which chose to radically cut pensions. In that same sentence he calls the government the “Tsolakoglou occupation government.” Tsolakoglou was the first prime minister of the collaborating government during the Nazi-occupation. For anyone who knows the current mood in Greece, that is a clear reference to the current government that collaborates with the “Troika” (the IMF, the EU and the ECB) in the interest of the international financial powers, and follows its commands.

He continues his letter by implying that the “decent individual response” would be the taking up of arms against the government. Since he is at an age at which he does not feel capable to be the first to take up arms he saw “no solution other than a dignified end, before resorting to going through garbage in order to cover my nutritional needs.”

Not a word about this in the reputable Dutch newspaper. According to Hans Klis the reasons for his suicide were the apparently objective, technocratic and abstract ‘financial problems in the country.’ This implies what he later makes more explicit (“the severe austerity measures that are necessary to get the country back on track economically”): the austerity measures – the demolition of social benefits, the extreme cuts in wages and pensions, and much more – are the inevitable consequences of “the financial problems in the country”, the only possible option to solve the financial problems. Other options are not even thinkable in the intellectual world of journalists such as this one. Further taxing the rich, getting out of the eurozone or giving the finger to the banks that demand money from Greece are unmentionable options, and shall remain covered in silence.

At this point I should discuss the other options, refer to the many economists who say that the austerity measures that are being forced on Greece by the Troika will only worsen the crisis, and mention who caused the crisis and who is profiting from the ‘austerity measures.’ The political context, in other words, which was kept out of the article mentioned above (and many others internationally). By leaving that out, these journalists are justifying (while trampling over a dead man’s grave) the destruction of Greek society, are playing the intellectual watchdog of the financial elite, and are refusing to make clear how this act of despair (and many other comparable acts of despair; see for instance here, here and here) is a direct consequence of political decisions.

But in all honesty: I can’t. I am boiling with rage about the lack of respect by the journalistic elites for the last breath of a man driven to despair. At the moment I do not care whether they do it on purpose or because they are caught in their own elitist world. But I realize that this attitude is representative of the elite. Defending their own interests in an arrogant manner over the backs of the population (with regard to the intellectual class, in contrast to the economic ruling class, we can discuss whether these are their real or perceived interests, but that is not relevant here).

Below the surface, though, the anger is growing. From Athens to New York, from Barcelona to Santiago, and yes, also in the Netherlands, people are fed up. Often out of sight from or ignored by the writing elites, germs of resistance are popping up everywhere. Neighborhood assemblies, small demonstrations, mass demonstrations, meetings, blockades and mass strikes. The elite will, in an attempt to dismantle the picks with which we slowly but surely pick away at their sources of power, do everything to ridicule or criminalize every form of resistance. Know that we are building for a radically different future. Even if it will take our entire lives, we will continue to pound on the rocks underneath your statues until you are at the same level as the rest of us.

That you are lying about the last words of a victim of the policies that you make and implement (the economic and political ruling class) or defend (the intellectuals) feeds our anger. It is an anger that knows no national borders. Sitting behind my laptop in Amsterdam I feel in my heart the pain of the people in Greece who are driven to such acts. But I also realize that Greece is just the most radical example, and that around me I see more and more despair in people’s lives, which are filled with increasing insecurity and uncertainty, living in this ‘modern flexibilized economy.’ In the end, the elite that we are facing as a people is one and the same, and is ingrained in the structures of a capitalist society.

You might think that we are an individualized generation (and population), but more and more people are realizing the importance of collective resistance. From the striking cleaners in the Netherlands to the revolutionaries in Egypt, from the indignados in Spain to Occupy Wall Street. We as a people will have to continue building forms of collective resistance, so that other people driven to despair do not await the same tragic faith of Mr Christoulas, but can feel hope again that we together can overthrow these cruel elites in the near future.

The last words, which have a broader applicability, are for and by Dimitris Christoulas: “One day, I believe, the youth with no future will take up arms and hang the national traitors at syntagma square, just like the Italians did with Mussolini in 1945 (at Milan’s Piazzale Loreto).”

Jelle Bruinsma

Jelle Bruinsma is a PhD researcher in History at the European University Institute, and an editor for ROAR Magazine.

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