educators choose suicide

This is a brief follow-up to my recent post about suicide in Greece.

Two Greek educators – an elementary school teacher and a university professor – committed suicide this week.

The elementary school teacher, Savvas Metoikidis, was very politically active, taking part in protests and demonstrations over the past few years.  Aged 44, he hanged himself in a storeroom on Saturday.  Saturday marked the 45th anniversary of the military junta’s coup d’ etat in Greece, and he chose this day to protest the current situation in Greece with suicide.  He died in the village of Stavroupoli, near here in the region of Xanthi, in Thrace.  A tribute to him says

Savvas was always in the front line of our struggles, at strikes, in the small and large daily battles inside and outside the schools, fighting for the right to education for our children, for free public education, for the teacher, the worker, the unemployed, the immigrant, for a different tomorrow.  Sensitive, socially aware, open to others, beside anyone in need, he never considered the personal cost in money, exhaustion, danger.  With fairness and truth, a traveler of the open horizon, always laughing, a person primarily of deeds and not words.  But his word was always his ‘sword.’  [my translation from here.]

He chose in the end to let his deeds speak for him.

The professor, Nikos Palyvos, PhD, a geologist and fellow WordPress blogger, was a lecturer at the University of Athens.  Although he had been technically hired to the position of lecturer there, austerity measures prevented his hiring from going through to payroll and he was held in limbo, unpaid, for two years, along with 800 other professors.  At the age of 38, he was no longer able to endure the privations of two years without income, and killed himself on Monday.

Dr. Palyvos specialized in the seismology of central Greece and the Peloponnese region.

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The Suicide Helplines in Greece are 1018 and 801 801 9999.  They are 24-hour, 7-day toll free numbers and a caller can remain anonymous.  The email is help@suicide-help.gr.

a little Greek crisis humor

Of course there is such a thing! What kind of a crisis would it be if we didn’t have songs crying about it, plays mocking it, modern dance dramatizing it, visual art bursting with pain over it, graffiti condemning it, and viral internet articles making fun of it?  It’s always good to see the silver lining in any situation, wouldn’t you agree?

My very free translation (because otherwise it might not make any sense to those not familiar with Greece) of the anonymous article.

17 Reasons I’m Enjoying the Greek Economic Crisis! 

1. When I ask my boss for a raise, instead of giving me a dirty look, he busts out laughing. Not to mention that he fired two annoying coworkers.

2. A lot of my friends emigrated for a better future, so I’ll have new options of places to visit abroad, and they’ll probably even send me something for the holidays.

3. Gasoline is too expensive to buy, so I don’t use my car very much.  It will last longer, my heart health is improving, and I look flush in front of my friends when I suggest taking the car on the highway. And when we go to the beach in the summer, they chip in for gasoline, whereas in the past they would pretend to forget.

4. The cafes are full of unemployed scientists with two masters degrees, so while I drink my ouzo I can talk not about soccer but about black holes, at least.

5. As far as girls are concerned, you can be 100% certain that they don’t just want you for your money.

6. The man selling bagels outside the nightclub does a brisker business than the lady selling flowers to throw at the act, inside the club.

7. The coffee I win playing backgammon with my buddies makes up 2% of my salary which means that if I win 50 games, I’ve made a month’s salary.

8. They did away with social welfare.  Good:  I couldn’t stand waiting in line.

9. The future of our country is uncertain – we all need a little adventure in our lives.

10. I can be depressed without people giving me a hard time. They always said “What’s your problem? You have a job, a car, what else do you want?”

11. You never have to wait behind someone with two carts full of food at the supermarket. Or if you do, you can ask him to invite you to the party.

12. Everyone who saved money so carefully for years has lost it all, so I can feel better about myself for spending every euro as soon as I got it; instead of “profligate” I’m now considered “wise” because at least I got some use out of it.

13. There are no more weddings to have to attend, because when you elope, they don’t charge you for the decor.

14. Everyone has become an environmentalist, and they explain that they are spending less to “protect the environment.”

15. I like it when they say we’ll go back to the drachma, because I’ll finally be able to spend all those drachmas that I’ve been keeping as souvenirs, which drove me nuts when I didn’t have a penny and I figured that I had around €60-70 in drachmas, but the bank no longer exchanges them.

16. When I tell people I work two days/week, they look at me with sympathy and tell me to be brave, whereas in the past they were thinking “what a lazy ass.”

17. I will have a good story of suffering and misery to tell future generations about our country’s history, like we had to listen to about the military dictatorship and the German occupation. Otherwise they’d think of me as a total wuss.

notes on suicide

All the links are to Greek sites, either because they are primary sources or because English-language media did not cover the stories.

By now, I suppose everyone knows about Dimitris Christoulas, the retired pharmacist who shot himself dead in the central square of Athens, in front of the Greek Parliament.  His suicide note blamed the government, which he compared to the collaborationist government during the German occupation of Greece during World War II, and his reluctance to scavenge in city trash bins for food, for his decision to end his life.

The government was quick to distance itself from the situation.  They cloaked his death in a thousand lightweight “oh how sads” while some even accused the pharmacist of being responsible for the crisis itself:  for example, the second to the Minister of the Interior, Paris Koukoulopoulos, said that instead of killing himself, he should have explained to the government how pharmaceutical expenditures more than doubled in five years (the government blames pharmacists and doctors for this).

Similarly, Panos Beglitis, currently just a parliamentarian but previously the Minister of Defense, appeared to suggest that the pharmacist was to blame for his poverty because he threw away his money, either on himself or his children, rather than accepting that a person with health problems (Mr. Christoulas had recently been diagnosed with cancer) might have a hard time making ends meet after the extremely harsh cuts to his pension; in fact, he used the Greek idiom “either he ate the money, or his children did.”

This phrase is extremely politicized in Greece, because the current Vice President of Greece, Thodoros Pangalos, claimed that “we all (Greeks) ate the money together,” meaning that all Greeks equally shared in the corruption and benefited personally from bankrupting the state.  Since Pangalos is a very rich landowner, and the grandson of the dictator of Greece, this particular line from this particular politician became an instant battle cry for the young Greeks who in fact neither had any part in nor benefited in any way from the political corruption that Pangalos appears to assign to them.

(Despite his wealth, Pangalos claimed that he “couldn’t afford” to pay the new special property tax (the tax: €7,500; his and his wife’s income: over €800,000) that has had a particularly harsh toll on pensioners.)

It has been often reported that in Greece, suicides have increased 40% in the past two years, due to the crisis.  The ‘typical’ suicide here is a 36 year old man who has lost his job.

Anyway, that’s all old news.  Up here where I live, in the quiet and unassuming region of Thrace, which is a mostly agricultural area producing cotton, sunflowers, tobacco, and olives, we seem to be a world away from the drama of Parliament and the square.  But here things are not so idyllic as one might think.  The crisis has hit Thrace particularly hard.  Our region’s unemployment is now 22.8%, the highest in Greece.  The number hides the many more people who were fired from black-market employment, who are underemployed (one of the newest massive social problems in Greece are the severely underemployed, people who are stuck in jobs making only a few euros/week, and ineligible for unemployment benefits much higher than their current salaries) or the young people who haven’t even been able to find a first job (unemployment for wannabe-workers under 25 is over 50%).

This past weekend was Easter weekend here in Greece (the Greek Church uses the Julian calendar).  Our region of Thrace lost three more people to suicide because of the crisis:  a woman in a village in the mountains of Xanthi, a young man in a village in Rodopi, and an older man in the city of Alexandroupoli.  All three of these suicides here this weekend were by hanging.

In our quiet agricultural area, suicide is becoming a social issue for the first time.

In response to the growing suicide problem I suppose, the Greek government has now decided to withhold pensions from mentally ill retirees.  When seeking medical help for suicidal thoughts results in losing the only income for an entire family – it is very common now in Greece that a single pensioner is supporting his children and grandchildren on his pension, due to the same widespread unemployment I just referred to – how on earth can anyone actually bring himself to seek help?  And once a pensioner does commit suicide, his family is left completely destitute.

The way it will work is as follows:  when a pensioner is committed to a mental health institution, as suicidal people often are for their own protection, his pension will be reduced by 50% to 80%.

Perhaps it makes sense to the politicians; after all, what would he need his pension for?  He has a roof over his head, so he wouldn’t need to pay his rent on the home he shares with his wife, children, and grandchildren, who may have no other income; the hospital is feeding him, so he wouldn’t need to be able to purchase food for his wife at home, or the other family members dependent on his pension for survival.  Sure, they’re taking care of his needs in the short term, but what happens when he leaves?  He’s been evicted from his home for nonpayment, he owes back payments on utilities, and his wife is starving to death.

Yes, the pension is meant only to support the retiree, not his entire family, but the reality of Greek life is different now:  many retirees support entire families because that’s what high unemployment means in reality.

The Greek government’s spectacular failure to recognize and appreciate the massive social change brought about by the crisis so far is unforgivable.  

According to recent statistics, the three prefectures of Greece with the highest suicide rate (a prefecture is like a state; there are 51 prefectures total) are Rethymno (on the island of Crete), Rodopi, and Zakynthos.  I live in Rodopi, so this hits close to home for me.

While I don’t wish suicide on anyone, I do understand it.  The psychological toll of the crisis can be extreme, especially when there is physical or mental illness and debt that must be paid.  Even just the upkeep of a home, free from debt, can be impossible when there is no income.  While suicide is far from an ‘easy way out,’ it’s certainly a fast way out, and it does reduce the hungry mouths by one.  When an entire people is told by its government on a regular basis, “there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” can there be any hope for struggling families?

The Suicide Helplines in Greece are 1018 and 801 801 9999.  They are 24-hour, 7-day toll free numbers and a caller can remain anonymous.  The email is help@suicide-help.gr.  

how to hold an election

PASOK is the party in power in Greece – the ones with the most members of Parliament, the ones with the Prime Minister and the President.  We are probably going to have national elections (the equivalent to this in the US would be presidential and congressional elections at the same time) in late April or early May (probably because it’s not the official election date, but the politicians have said that they will hold early elections).

George Papandreou, who was the Prime Minister of Greece (he runs PASOK party; they were the party with the most votes; therefore he became Prime Minister) fell out of favor in Europe late last year after he suggested that the people of Greece vote on whether to default or not.  He didn’t have the authority to call for an actual referendum, because prime ministers can’t do that, but suggesting it was enough to get him removed from office and for an unelected banking expert named Loukas Papademos to take over as Prime Minister.

After George left the position of prime minister, he was still the president of the party PASOK.  However, in the run-up to possible national elections in a few weeks, it is time for a new leader of PASOK to emerge, one who can run for prime minister against the other parties.

And that brings us to today:  the PASOK Primaries.  Just like in the US, where a Republican can vote in the Republican Primary, here in Greece PASOK voters can vote in the PASOK primary.

These are the terms:

- you have to pay to vote

- there is only one person on the ballot

Zito i dimokratia!  (Long live democracy!)

a new form of contraception in Greece

I wouldn’t have written about this topic, except that I saw it on the TV news this morning so I guess it’s fair game… and anyway, I know that I’m not alone.

We are among the new Greek childless.  A growing group of Greeks in their 30s who are choosing not to have children, because, as I heard on the news this morning, having a child would be catastrophic for their family.  There is no ‘welfare’ to speak of here, so having children is very risky.  What happens to the child if you can’t feed it, clothe it, and house it?

With 29% of Greeks between the ages 25 and 34 unemployed, the cost of supporting a basically healthy pregnancy is out of reach for many.  That’s not even taking into consideration the cost of things the baby would need after its birth, like clothing, or want, like a car seat or toys.

I’ve heard many Americans say “every child is a blessing.”  In Greece, where almost 30% of children already live in poverty, having a baby can be considered irresponsible, if not actually cruel, for many married couples.   The Greek economic crisis has become the new form of contraception in Greece.

From a February 8, 2012 article in the English-language newspaper Athens News:

 In Greece, the percentage of children up to 17 years old living in poverty was 28.7 percent, in the 18-64 age group the poverty rate was 27.7 percent and in the 65-plus age group the poverty rate was 26.7 percent.

However, what the article doesn’t mention, but I think is very important to note:  that statistic reflects the situation in 2010 – before the Greek economic crisis hit most Greeks.  Right now, what is the percentage of children living in poverty?

In 2010, we didn’t hear about children fainting from hunger in their classrooms.  In 2011, we heard about them.  In 2012, they’re not even newsworthy anymore.  So to say that 28.7% of Greek children are living in poverty in 2012 is clearly wishful thinking.  The percentage should be far higher.

How do you contemplate a pregnancy in a situation like that?  Even those who can afford it now can’t be sure they can afford it nine months from now.

Many people like to say that all babies need is love.  I’ve never had one, but don’t they also need food, warmth in the winter, clothing, something to stimulate their brain development, and medical care?  And then there are the babies that might need some kind of special care or special diet for whatever reason.

So I think it makes a lot of sense that Greek families like us are turning away from the idea of having children.

But is this a good long term solution?  On the list of countries by fertility rate, Greece ranked at 1.37 children per woman (i.e., per couple) before the crisis.  That’s clearly below the “replacement rate,” where a man and woman have two children to replace themselves.  (Technically the replacement rate is actually considered to be 2.1, to account for the people who die before they reach reproductive age.)    The United States eeks out a replacement rate at 2.06 children per woman.  It will probably surprise no one that 33 out of the bottom 41 countries are located in Europe.  (The overall world average is 2.55 children per woman, by the way.)

Greece has struggled with the so-called Demographic Problem for years.  Greek women tend to have children later in life, and to have fewer of them.  The sibling experience is becoming rare.   The population is aging – in a country with a traditionally long lifespan – and pensions have been cut dramatically due to the crisis.  Only about 40% of Greeks are employed based on the statistics that came out yesterday, due to severe unemployment across the country – many Greeks of productive age are reliant on their retired parents’ pension to survive.

One of the many times that they cut the education budget, the explanation was given:  “Greeks aren’t having very many children, so there’s no need to have so many schools and teachers.”  That’s the official government line on it:  you’re not having children, so we’re not going to invest in education.  

Already the media has dubbed Greeks in the 20-30 age group as the “Lost Generation.”   What should we call the whole generation of theoretical Greeks who will likely never be conceived at all, because of the crisis?

You can pick your talking points with the Greek crisis:  unemployment, hunger, lack of competitiveness, breakdown in social institutions, whatever you like.  But how to talk about this black hole that is pulling Greece and the Greeks into inexistence?

We can talk about it all we want… but when S and I talk about the future, having our own children isn’t part of that future.

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