Κυριακή 5 Ιανουαρίου 2014

"Η Eldorado από μακριά"

Article by FGuðmunds
Δημοσιεύτηκε στο: http://grugg.is/2014/01/03/glerperlur-og-eldvatn-fyrir-grisk-thorp/
Μετάφραση στα αγγλικά: Finnur Guðmunds 

Canada has an image of natural beauty, almost endless wilderness and peacefulness. Unlike their relatives south of the Canadian border, Canada has not been much on the lips of people criticising warfare or endless mega-corporations that exploit distress and instability of distant countries to covet their resources and markets. However, the reputation of Canadian mining companies is to some extent surprising to those who study it in more detail; Canadians are leaders when it comes to the "expansion" of mining projects around the world, and more often than not, they operate in areas that are vulnerable; either politically, such as Tibet, economically, such as Guatemala, or regarding environmental issues, such as Brazil has become. Over the past few years, Greece has managed to fall under any of these categories and is therefore especially vulnerable to American corporate aggression; corporations who imagine that the economic difficulties that Greece has experienced has made sure that the Greek government and the public can neither afford nor have the capacity to reject golden promises of jobs and " development of infrastructure " in exchange for tax concessions and licenses for excessive environmental damage. In most cases, they have the right idea; just like in Iceland "foreign investment" is supposed to be the knight on a white horse which will awaken the economy and ensure its future...no questions asked.

But one area has provided resistance. Halkidiki, a fork-shaped peninsula north of Greece is known for their ancient Greek mines, but has now built up a thriving tourist industry after becoming a popular resort among both domestic and foreign tourists in the sixties and seventies of the last century. Broad forests flow through the hills of Halkidiki and the area is renowned for its natural beauty. It is in the middle of these hills, namely in Mt. Kakkavos, that the Canadian mining company Eldorado Gold has come across tougher resistance than they are accustomed to. Since early 2011, residents of Ierissos, a village of about 3300 inhabitants, have provided resistance to the three future projects of Eldorado Gold in Halkidiki, especially the project that touches M. Panagia most; the opening of the Skouries open-pit goldcopper ore mine in Mt. Kakkavos. Demonstrations have been held in large numbers in the tree-strewn hills by local people, but also in Thessaloniki, Halkidiki's closest big city, in support of the fight. It is clear that the opposition is not only concerned about the nature of this particular project and its specific effects, but it seems the residents of Ierissos and neighbouring towns are trying their best to stem the aggression and corruption that has stuck to the Greek constitutions for a long while; since long before the time of the crisis and the Greek economic collapse .

At least that is what you come to understand from the answers from “Save Skouries”, an association that has been formed against Eldorado Gold's plans. According to them, opponents of the quarry constitute a group that's far from being homogenous and represents the actual population of Halkidiki; not only Ierissos, though the village has become the center of events, but many other villages according to Save Skouries. And the reasons for opposing the plans are varied: "Other villages who oppose the mine are Ouranoupolis, Ammouliani, Nea Roda, Magali Panagia, Ormilia, Moudania, Agios Nikolaos, Gomati. This is a response to a situation that threatens our lives and homes. Never before in Halkidiki have so many different people come together for a common goal." Marina says that many people now take part in the campaign that would a few years ago never have expected to join protests in their lifetime. "Many people would not believe that the police could serve special interests and the government to sell the land from under their feet."

The awakening of the Halkidiki population has not been a gentle stroll in the woods. In March 2012 protestors clashed for the first time with Greek riot police, which is not known for any loving embraces. Police closed paths through the forest and drove the protesters away with teargas and intimidations. Several minor events have occurred in relations to demonstrations since then, but in February 2013 there were done extensive damages to machinery at the Skouries construction site which led to ever intensifying conflict. Police responded by invading Ierissos on March 7, sheltered by tear gas fired seemingly at random around the village, including into elementary school grounds. Officers raided houses and carried out searches, but locals say that their purpose was unclear. A month later, the police returned to arrest two people for the February acts of vandalism and for being "leaders" of extremist groups. They were only recently released from custody and their case is pending.

When I asked Louise Burgess, Eldorado Gold's communications manager, if the company condoned the actions of the police, the response was wary, as one can expect, "Eldorado condemns any form of police over-reaction and would encourage any individual or group making such claims to file a 
formal complaint with the relevant judiciary authorities." Actually, quite a few complaints have been submitted, including for the tear gas canister that landed in the school yard, but Marina says that no investigation has been conducted regarding the behavior of the police, either that day or any other.

Burgess defends her company and notes that of the 25 elected members who serve on the district council of Halkidiki, 20 of them voted with the implementation plan that included the Skouries mine in 2010. At that time, the project was actually still in the hands of Hellas Gold, which was a national mining company Eldorado Gold acquired along with all of its projects in 2011 with the acquisition of the European Goldfields conglomerate that Hellas Gold was part of. However, it is undisputed that support for the project seems great on the administrative level, as Burgess notes. The Supreme Court of Greece has for example recently confirmed the environmental impact assessment (EIA) that had been questioned by Eldorado's opponents, and Greek governments of recent years have paved the streets for corporations significantly; even up to the extent that the European Commission condemned the Greek state for having sold mining rights in Halkidiki for a price that was far below the actual market value, in a financial scheme that would make Icelandic businessmen stand in awe.

The largest debate is surrounding the environmental impact of the mine. Eldorado Gold has sworn to protect the environment and to minimize environmental impact, but opponents say the mine company and the Greek state are initially guided by a faulty EIA. "Independent scientists from Greek universities have pointed out that the project will have a hugely detrimental effect on the environment and society," says Marina. "Furthermore, there are studies that demonstrate that the jobs lost in the region will be more than Eldorado expects to create, and only for a period of time. Imagine, for example, the impact on the tourist industry if people lose interest in visiting an area that has suffered heavy environmental stress."

The problem of course is the same as all over the globe; companies like Eldorado Gold thrive on short-term interests, whether or not jobs are created, while the public is waking up to the sensibility of focusing on sustainability in the long term. Louise Burgess notes that Eldorado believes that responsible mining can provide opportunities for residents and the government in the long term, but at the same time, its undisputable that mines cannot operate forever and it is possible to ask who really profits if sustainable employment in the sector and vital agricultural areas are lost in the process. People themselves have already felt the impact, "The truth is that this has divided the community and the balance is colored by hostility. Young miners are particularly fanatical and behave like mercenaries of the company," says Marina, arguing that the company has taken advantage of impoverishment and the economic crisis and tried to recruit individuals within the villages that demonstrate opposition, attempting to quell resistance from within. However, she remains defiant: "I want to reiterate that for us this is a struggle for our lives and we will continue until victory is ours. We will not give up, despite all the difficulties."