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Crying Greek Pensioner: The Story Behind The Poignant Photo

A heartbreaking photograph of an elderly man collapsed on the ground openly crying in despair outside a Greek bank, his savings book and identity card strewn next to him, has captivated people around the world.

The image illustrates how ordinary Greeks are suffering during the country’s debt crisis and it quickly went viral. Now it has been revealed the crying pensioner was 77-year-old retiree Giorgos Chatzifotiadis. Mr Chatzifotiadis had queued up at three banks in Greece’s second city of Thessaloniki on Friday in the hope of withdrawing a pension on behalf of his wife — but all in vain.

When he went to a fourth bank and was told he could not withdraw his 120 euros ($180), it was all too much and he fell down in tears. Mr Chatzifotiadis said he broke down because he “cannot stand to see my country in this distress”. “That’s why I feel so beaten, more than for my own personal problems,” he said.

PHOTO: Giorgos Chatzifotiadis, 77, broke down after visiting four banks in an attempt to withdraw his wife's pension of 120 euros. (AFP: Sakis Mitrolidis)
PHOTO: Giorgos Chatzifotiadis, 77, broke down after visiting four banks in an attempt to withdraw his wife’s pension of 120 euros. (AFP: Sakis Mitrolidis)

Athens had imposed capital controls and shut all banks since Monday to stem a haemorrhage of cash, but on Wednesday, allowed some branches to reopen for three days so retirees who had no bank cards could withdraw their pensions — capped at 120 euros.  Recounting how he had gone from bank to bank in a futile attempt to collect his wife’s pension, Mr Chatzifotiadis said when he was told at the fourth “that I could not get the money, I just collapsed”.

Both he and his wife, like many Greeks in the north of the country, had spent several years in Germany where he “worked very hard” in a coal mine and later a foundry. And it is from Berlin, which has been blamed by many in Greece for its hardline stance in demanding the government impose more austerity measures for fresh international aid, that Mr Chatzifotiadis is receiving his wife’s pension.

“I see my fellow citizens begging for a few cents to buy bread,” he said.

“I see more and more suicides.

“I am a sensitive person. I cannot stand to see my country in this situation.

“Europe and Greece have made mistakes. We must find a solution.”

But Mr Chatzifotiadis felt he could do little to change the situation — and he was not even sure if he would be able to vote at Sunday’s referendum on whether to accept international creditors’ bailout conditions. Pointing out that the polling station is 80 kilometres away, Mr Chatzifotiadis said: “I have no money to go there, unless perhaps if my children would take me in their car.” European leaders have warned that a “No” vote would also mean no to the eurozone.

PHOTO: Mr Chatzifotiadis had queued up at three banks in Greece's second city of Thessaloniki on Friday in the hope of withdrawing a pension on behalf of his wife — but all in vain. (AFP: Sakis Mitrolidis)
PHOTO: Mr Chatzifotiadis had queued up at three banks in Greece’s second city of Thessaloniki on Friday in the hope of withdrawing a pension on behalf of his wife — but all in vain. (AFP: Sakis Mitrolidis)