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Dimitri Lascaris: Greece buries Dimitris Christoulas as many pledge to carry on the fight against austerity

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington.

In Athens on Saturday, hundreds of people gathered to bury the retired chemist Dimitris Christoulas, who committed suicide in a public square in protest of the austerity measures imposed on Greece. His daughter Emily spoke at the funeral. She said:

Father, you couldn’t put up with them killing freedom, democracy, dignity. You paid with your sacrifice. Now it’s our turn. Father, there are so many here today because, as the note of a young man—one of many left at his shrine—said, we are 11 million, and our name is Resistance.

As most people know by now, Dimitris walked into a square, took a gun, and shot himself. And he left behind a suicide note, which I’m sure most of you have read, but I don’t think we can hear this too often. It went like this:

“The Tsolakoglou government”—and here he’s referring to the Nazi puppet during World War II that was the prime minister of Greece—”has annihilated all traces for my survival, which was based on a very dignified pension that I alone paid for 35 years with no help from the state. And since my advanced age does not allow me a way of dynamically reacting (although if a fellow Greek were to grab a Kalashnikov, I would be right behind him), 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. I believe that young people with no future, will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma square, just like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945.”

Now joining us from Toronto to discuss this is Dimitri Lascaris. He’s a lawyer who practices in Toronto and London, Ontario. He’s a class-action lawyer. He’s previously been a securities lawyer in New York and Paris for a major Wall Street law firm. Thanks for joining us again, Dimitri.


JAY: So first of all talk about your reaction to this, to the funeral. What has this meant to you?

LASCARIS: I think my reaction has been similar to that of a lot of Greeks, and hopefully non-Greeks as well, a mixture of anger, real powerful anger at the Greek leadership and the European leadership, but also a profound sense of sadness that things have come to this. There are two things about this gentleman’s suicide which really hit home for me, and that is—and I’m sure that this is not true only of Greek society, it’s true of other cultures as well, but in Greek society there’s always been a very powerful ethos of the family, and it would be a very unusual situation if you would see an elderly member of the family reduced to this, even in very trying economic circumstances such as Greece is now confronted by. And the fact that this man felt that he was on the verge of being homeless, having to scrape through garbage in order to survive, notwithstanding sort of that powerful aspect of Greek culture, I think is really striking to those of us who grew up in that ethos of a family that sort of is the center of our universe.

But moreover, taking it to sort of the broader social context, Greece for the longest time had the lowest suicide rate in Europe. And the official figures—and I emphasize the official figures now—reveal that there has been a doubling of the suicide rate within a very short period of time. Of course, the people who are cramming austerity down the throats of the Greek people, the government in Athens, they have a powerful incentive to, I think, downplay the extent to which there’s been a deterioration in the quality of life in Greece, and so there certainly has to be a significant degree of doubt surrounding these official figures. But even if you take them at face value, a doubling of the suicide rate, then this is really, I think, a powerful indictment of the people who are currently running the country, and we owe it to Mr. Christoulas to take a very hard look at their record and who they are and what their agenda is.

JAY: The gentleman that committed suicide, he essentially calls for armed struggle. He’s—I guess he’s old-school. He may have been someone that was involved with the partisans. I’m not sure if he’s that old, but—.

LASCARIS: He was 77 years old. He undoubtedly knew a thing or two about the trials and tribulations that Greece experienced in the Second World War.

JAY: And he would have lived under the dictatorship of the generals.

LASCARIS: Yes, at a very young age, as my parents did. And they have some very stark memories of that period, including, you know, resistance fighters being marched off to the square in their village and punished capitally. And in some cases where the German government was not able to identify those who had committed acts of resistance, they just randomly chose villagers and had them executed publicly before the entire village, and everybody was forced to watch. So it was a very traumatic period for Greece, as it was for many other countries, undoubtedly. But for this gentleman to compare the current regime to the Tsolakoglou regime of the Second World War is, as I say, a very powerful indictment of the current regime.

And the people who make up that regime, interestingly, I think, have a point of view that isn’t representative of that of the Greek people, and they have very strong connections to the United States, interestingly. The top of the list, of course, is Lucas Papademos, the current prime minister. Papademos was educated at MIT. He spent about ten years there. Then he taught economics at Columbia University for a period of nine years. He served for a time at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Then he joined, subsequently, the ECB, rising to the level of deputy governor, where he served until 2010.

And notably, Lucas Papademos since 1998 has been a member of the Trilateral Commission, which is sort of an international policy think tank that was founded in the 1970s by such U.S. luminaries as David Rockefeller and Alan Greenspan, who has now been, at least in the view of many of us, discredited. And as Noam Chomsky has pointed out on several occasions, this organization, the Trilateral Commission, has at times expressed concern with the extent of democracy in the world. In another words, there’s been suggestion by that outfit at times that there’s been too much democracy.

So this is the background from which Papademos comes. And one other notable aspect of his background is that while he was deputy—when he was governor of the Bank of Greece, he played a very instrumental role in the adoption of the euro by Greece and the abandonment of the drachma, which in the ’90s was its national currency. So he has unquestionably a vested interest in seeing Greece continue to participate in the euro, because were it to withdraw and were his government to acknowledge what is now plain to the entire world, that the euro has been an unmitigated catastrophe for Greece, that would be quite an embarrassment to him and to the objective to which he devoted so much—.

JAY: What did you make of the comparison between Papademos and the Nazi puppet?

LASCARIS: Well, undoubtedly, in the view of [incompr.] can’t say for sure, but I suspect that Mr. Christoulas, like many other Greeks, yours truly included, views Mr. Papademos as having been installed in power by the European elite, and principally by the government in Berlin. And his objective, what they wanted, was someone who was going to keep Greece in the euro at all costs, not for the benefit Greeks, but for the benefit of European banks. They feared the consequences of the withdrawal of the country from the euro. And they wanted, of course, in my view, to make an example of Greece by imposing upon it, in exchange for the tidbits they had thrown their way, a very brutal austerity. And Mr. Papademos appears to have been only too willing to oblige the government in Berlin. And so Mr. Christoulas and, I think, a very large portion of the Greek population view him as being in effect a puppet of Angela Merkel and others in Brussels.

JAY: When is there an election where Papademos has to actually test all of this?

LASCARIS: Well, it was supposed to be in February. That was delayed. It is now scheduled to occur in May. And I’m speculating here, admittedly, but I have serious doubts about whether those elections will go forward. And I suspect that if the powers that be in Brussels and Berlin feel that they’re going the wrong way, some pretext will be concocted in order for further delays to be endured by the Greek people. The way things are heading presently, I don’t think the powers that be in Brussels and Berlin can have a great deal of confidence in the outcome, that it’ll be one that they like.

JAY: And what—the suicide had sparked immediate reaction. But do you think it’s going to be one of these triggering events, as the suicide in Tunisia was?

LASCARIS: It has that potential, but you have to understand, of course, that there have been many potential triggering events in Greece, and this is just one that I think is going to add to an already explosive mix.

And this rogue’s gallery of the Greek leaders has not helped themselves by their reaction to the suicide of Mr. Christoulas. You know, I’d just like to share with you a few of the comments that they made. Papademos was quoted in the press as saying, in these difficult times for our country, we must all, the state and its citizens, support those next to us who are in despair. That was his pearl of wisdom. Samaras, the New Democracy leader, said, death isn’t just to die; it’s also to live in despair without hope. Venizelos said that, quote, this is so shocking that any political comment would be mistargeted and cheap. And Karatzaferis came as close to anybody, interestingly, to assuming some responsibility, though he didn’t do it directly by any stretch of imagination. He said, this is not just a person that killed himself; this event should make us understand that we have all been behind this, we have all pulled the trigger. Well, I would hope by “we” he means the Greek political leadership, because it’s quite a stretch to suggest that the people in general have the responsibility for the current state of affairs.

What I find most troubling is that recently Papademos, after promising that, you know, they had reached the limits of austerity and they had done what needed to be done, is now saying—you know, and this was only within the last few weeks—that the government is going to have to find €16 billion of additional savings between now and 2014. You know, for an economy the size of Greece this is an extraordinary amount of money, and finding those savings will literally amount to, you know, extracting blood from a stone.

JAY: And, of course, and they’ll be going on their privatization binge as banks and European elite pick the bones of the Greek economy.

LASCARIS: That’s precisely the case. And when all of the dust has settled, you know, it may well be that Greece descends into a situation of complete and utter social chaos, because there are limits to people’s patience, and the death of Mr. Christoulas has certainly pushed those limits.

JAY: Well, we’ll see at the funeral. The note said, “our name is Resistance”. So we will be following that. Thanks for joining us, Dmitri.

LASCARIS: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer that focuses on human rights and environmental law. He is the former justice critic of the Green Party of Canada and is a former board member of the Real News Network. You can follow him @dimitrilascaris and find more of his work at