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Death and taxes in Italy

From Ben Wedeman, CNN
updated 6:53 AM EDT, Mon September 10, 2012
  • Giuseppe Campaniello set himself ablaze after not being able to pay a tax bill
  • Wives of these "economic suicides" have formed a group, the "white widows"
  • Suicide rates in European nations hard hit by the debt crisis are on the rise

Editor's note: This week, CNN International will be examining "The Future of Europe," a look at the debt crisis as the eurozone faces another week of critical meetings that may impact the future of the 17-nation monetary union. CNN will be speaking to the "Father of the Euro" Robert Mundell, European Commissioner for Internal Markets Michel Barnier, Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Torrevecchia Teatina, Italy (CNN) -- Six months ago, an Italian bricklayer behind on his taxes wrote a note to his wife of 27 years, then doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire outside a Bologna tax office. Giuseppe Campaniello died nine days later.

"He was a good person," said his widow, Tiziana. "He wasn't given a chance to redeem himself because that's what he wanted to do. If Giuseppe had had the chance, he would have paid his debt, not what they wanted him to pay because he wasn't earning 20,000 euros a month."

She has joined with other women whose husbands took their lives to form a group called the "Vedove Bianche" - the white widows - to show that in this long drawn out economic crisis, the cost cannot be calculated on a tax form.

Italy's "white widows" are the most recent example of the emotional toll the debt crisis and austerity measures are taking on Europe. In the first half of last year, suicide rates in Greece skyrocketed more than 40% year on year, according to Greek health ministry data. In the UK -- not a part of the eurozone, but whose economy is also struggling as it enters a double-dip recession -- researchers wrote last month in the British Journal of Medicine that the 2008-2010 recession may have led more than 1,000 people to commit suicide.

Austerity drives up suicide rate in debt-ridden Greece

Austerity impacts suicide rate in Greece
'Increase of suicides efforts in Greece'
Understanding 'debt suicide' in Greece

Now as Italy, the eurozone's third largest economy, faces market pressure to make cuts after its borrowing costs rose dangerously high, "austerity suicides" that spiked in Greece are now being seen here. For decades, it was common for Italians to avoid paying their full taxes, but with the financial crisis, tax collection has become more aggressive.

Mounting tax troubles, and financial hardship, have driven some to take their lives. Although statistics are hard to come by, one Italian small business association claims suicides related to economic hardship are twice what they were 10 years ago.

Rome businessman Mario Frasacco, 59, shot himself in the chest last April. The factory he ran, which produced aluminum fittings, is now padlocked and its 10 workers unemployed.

Family tragedy tells the story of Greece

Frasacco's daughter, Giorgia, worked with him and knew he was having financial difficulties, but hadn't the slightest hint he was contemplating suicide. "The day before he killed himself, I said goodbye to him as I always did before going home," she recalled. "I never read in his eyes any discomfort that would lead to this. After five months, I can't find a justification for what he did."

For the survivors of these economic suicides, there is anger that the government tried to maximize revenues and spending cuts, no matter the human cost. For Tiziana, she is left with questions of how to cope -- emotionally and financially -- in the aftermath of her husband's death.

"Who will hire me at 48-years-old, nearly 49? Who?" she asks. "Where can I go? Should I become a prostitute? Because that's where they're taking us. Or should I commit suicide and just get out of the way and be one less problem for the government?"

CNN's Kevin Voigt contributed to this report

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