The world into which the new president of France, François Hollande, stepped this week is a suicidal one. Searching for a vivid image of Euro-desolation, the news media have lit upon suicides. Two suicides last month have stood out.
A 55-year-old man on the Italian island of Sardinia, who ran a little construction business with his sons in a mountain town called Mamoiada in the interior, killed himself when the business went bust. He was known only by the initials GM, and the town’s mayor says he was an industrious man with a close-knit family. His death shocked everyone.
Earlier in April, an older, Greek man, 77-year-old Dimitris Chrystoulas, a retired pharmacist, staged a more dramatic end to his life. Like GM, he said he wished to die with dignity; also like the Sardinian, he shot himself. But he did so in the central Syntagma Square in Athens, near the parliament, leaving a note that prophesied that the “traitors” who have brought Greece to destitution and enslavement to the will of international finance would be hung upside down in the square where he met his end, much like the way Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini was executed in Milan.
This is the Europe that Hollande is now partly in charge of, a Europe in which it is sometimes preferable to die than to live. He presents himself as a reassuring figure. He says his central concerns will be greater equality, and the youth. He’s stressed that he’s “normal,” which has been widely recognized as code for not being Nicolas Sarkozy, not having a celebrity wife and not having an addiction to wealth. It is true that he is a relief from the hyper-opportunism of the retiring president, who seemed willing, in the past few weeks, to be anything to anyone in his desperation to claw back the lead from Hollande.
He’s also more substantially reassuring because he’s a mainstream, center-left politician who has, on his telling of the story, always eschewed extremism. Although his doctor-father voted National Front, he has spoken of the pain of disagreeing fundamentally with one whom he loved. Yes, he has tacked left (he’s no stranger to opportunism himself), but most commentators don’t take that too seriously.