Monday 11 March 2013

The road to El Dorado

The mountains and forests of northern Greece around the areas of Skouries and Olympias could hold more than £20 billion in gold just waiting to be mined, the Greek government tells us. In the forest near Ierissos bulldozers have already begun flattening hundreds of acres for an open pit gold mine and a processing plant, which Canada's Eldorado Gold Corporation hopes to open within two years. The government says that foreign investment will help improve the Greek economy and that the gold that will be mined will boost ailing Greek finances.

There is considerable local protest against the mine: local residents say that the profits would not stay in the country and will only leave Greece to deal with the clean-up in the future. 'This will be a business for 10, maybe 15 years, and then this company will just disappear, leaving all the pollution behind', local hotel owner Mr Adamidis says. Opinion of local people is that the new mining operation is nothing more than a symbol of the Greek government's willingness these days to accept any development, no matter the environmental cost. They fear that the mining operation will cause environmental damage including the destruction of plant and animal life, as well as water and land pollution. The quantities of arsenic that will penetrate the soil will be impossible to remove and consequently reforestation will not be viable once the mining is finished. Protesters point out that only 10 years ago, Greece's highest court ruled that the environmental damage that mining would cause would outweigh any economic gain.

Past mining operations in the area have been boom-and-bust enterprises, their fortunes swinging with the price of metals, leaving behind ugly piles of sandy gray tailings. Virtually everybody in the area has stories about the runoff from old mining operations which turned the sea yellow at times.

As much as anything, the anger over the mines is a reflection of the fundamental distrust Greek people feel towards their government: a firm belief that most officials are busy enriching themselves, their friends and families at the country's expense. Kathimerini reported that it is hard to blame villagers for their distrust, when so often companies have been allowed to ignore regulations. 'Perhaps in other countries, locals would feel more comfortable with the project because the process for awarding public contracts or environmental certificates is transparent and trustworthy', Kathimerini reported - this is not the case in Greece.

While making the deal with Eldorado, the government failed to make sure that Greece received a percentage of the earnings, a common practice in mining contracts.

Greek police used excessive violence and tear gas against anti-mining protesters

As the protests against the mining operations are escalating, Greek police are facing accusations of applying excessive violence and tear gas to break up the demonstrations.

Rania Ververidis, 62, said that she had been ordered out of her car and told to kneel. At that point, she said, a police officer had stomped on her ankle. She was still limping three weeks later.

Even more worrying are reports of what happened in the village of Ierissos on the 7th of March.  At least 6 squads of riot police arrived in the village, home of about 3000 people, and started shooting large quantities of teargas into the crowd of assembled residents. They then proceeded to shoot canisters of teargas into the yard of the local school which had to be evacuated.  The houses of local people were raided.

Greek television reported that 15 year old students were asked to report to the police station without their parents having been informed. One of the girls had the following to say: 'I was questioned by five riot police officers without the presence of my parents. I was treated like a terrorist. Can a 15 year old girl be a terrorist? We are not terrorists, we are just concerned about our country and our environment'. Another girl showed the document that had summoned her to go to the police station thus showing up the Deputy Minister of Education who had made a statement on television claiming that the girls had not been asked to report to the police station.

Politicians lying on state television about the government's actions; blatant intimidation of 15-year olds without their parents' knowledge; the release of teargas in small villages that have no history of resistance or activism; the release of teargas in school yards - bullying tactics of a government that is increasingly isolated and estranged from the people it is meant to represent.  An atmosphere of terror and intimidation is the state of Greece today. Where will all this end? No one yet seems to have an answer.

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