On Wednesday 3 April, at 9am, in the centre of Athens, outside the Syntagma Square metro and opposite parliament, a 77-year-old man named Dimitris Christoulas committed suicide.
He was seriously ill. He was finding it difficult to come to terms with life in Greece in 2012. He was tired, frustrated and felt helpless and depressed. He wanted to choose how he would go and make a statement with it so, as the commuters streamed out of the metro station to go to work in the morning, he shot himself in the head.
Greek politicians and TV channels are using his death to further their pre-election campaigns and increase ratings. By the end of the week, his will be just another sad story of the crisis.
I am stunned. And exceptionally sad. Greeks are blind. And scared. And conservative. And self-serving. And stubborn. And tired. But most of all, they are paralysed by an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. That no matter what they do, things won't change. That no matter who they vote for, the same kind of people will be in charge. That no matter what they say, no one will listen. So they lash out blindly, against Europe, Germany, Merkel, the banks, the incompetent and spectacularly corrupt Greek politicians, Sarkozy, the immigrants, the bailouts, the incessant taxation, each other.
Every day, another cab driver gives me his ridiculously unfeasible point of view. Another friend tells me they'll vote for what they consider to be the lesser of two evils (i.e. the same people who got us here in the first place). Another bill arrives that my parents struggle to pay. Because utilities have increased by 50%. And the emergency taxes were part of the utility bills (electricity bill for £3,000, anyone?) so if you didn't pay, you got your electricity cut off. And VAT is at 23%. And unemployment at 20% and rising. And salaries and pensions are being cut by up to 50%. And suicides are up by 45%. Numbers going up for a country going down.
I'm Greek, born and raised in Athens. I now live in the UK.
In the last two years, I have watched from a distance as my home country has sunk deeper and deeper into a financial crisis that it will struggle to get out of.
I've spent the last six weeks in Athens for work and the enormity of the country's problems hit me in the face. Crime is rising. Athens city centre is not considered safe at night. Immigrants get beaten up just for being immigrants. Average double-income families lose one income entirely and the remaining income gets cut by 25%. That works out to a total as low as 35% of their previous income. On which they now have to pay emergency tax. In a space of just a couple of months they struggle to pay rent, bills, their child's education. (Greece operates on an odd parallel education system of after-school tuition.) And these are the lucky ones that have at least one income left. Banks have stopped lending completely. Property is next to impossible to sell so people cannot liquidate any assets they may have in order to cover their mounting costs. In some cases, people wait outside supermarkets for the expired products to be thrown away and then rummage through the garbage bins. In extreme cases, parents are leaving their children at orphanages with notes pinned on them saying "Please look after my child, I can no longer feed her."
And no one can see any light at the end of the tunnel. The country's general feelings of frustration, disappointment and seething resentment have engulfed me.
And then, to my utter astonishment and disbelief, on Monday, 9 April, the Greek Parliament voted in favour of the political parties that came to power in the previous elections receiving STATE FUNDING OF €30 MILLION.
This is money that Greece does not have, you understand. This will be taken out of the money Greece will receive from the rest of Europe as bailout. This will be €30 million that could go to thirty million other causes rather than feeding the already bulging pockets of the idiots that have failed to lead Greece in a time of crisis and are heavily involved in getting the country here in the first place. On the same day, they signed an order giving the tax authorities the power to confiscate property of anyone owing over €300 in taxes. The hypocrisy is astounding. The two ruling parties have perpetrated white-collar crimes of magnificent proportions. Embezzlement. Bribery. Fraud. They have taken practically no cuts to their own wages. And yet, on 6 May, scared, tired, impoverished, resigned Greeks will vote them back in.
I want to scream.