Gold mine divides northern Greek community

Protesters warn they will ramp up action against quarrying in Halkidiki By Thanasis Tsinganas

Local groups in Halkidiki, northern Greece, are protesting against efforts by Hellenic Gold, a subsidiary of Canadian firm Eldorado Gold, to mine the Skouries quarry on Mount Kakkavos and have upped their game with threats of more action.

Protesters recently warned the company that unless all mining stops they are prepared to blockade work sites and roads, organize rallies and resist police intervention, along similar lines to protesters in Attica?s Keratea area, where action against a landfill led to several violent clashes with police in 2011.

?A complete cessation of mining is the only action we are prepared to accept from the state, otherwise there will be tension that could get out of hand,? one member of the committee protesting the gold mine, Lazaris Toskas, told Kathimerini.

One month after scuffles broke out between workers and protesters who had blockaded the road leading to the Skouries mine, it looks as if protesters are poised to ramp up their action, threatening a drawn-out period of tension that will affect the entire region.

Another factor that is causing authorities concern is that the issue has divided the local community.

On the one hand are groups of residents in Megali Panaghia, Ierissos and the so-called Mandemochoria cluster of hamlets, who argue that mining in Skouries destroys the natural environment, will deplete the region?s resources and downgrade the entire area. Their position is backed political parties such as the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), the Green Ecologists and the Alternative Ecologists. They are also backed by a number of extra-parliamentary leftist groups as well as anti-establishment factions operating outside Halkidiki that are protesting the operation of the gold mine.

On the other side, hundreds of miners, many of whom come from a long line of local gold workers, have sided with Hellenic Gold. They believe that the investment will provide a lifeline for the local economy and that the dangers cited by the protesters are unfounded.

Hellenic Gold, which has been active in the region for eight years, stands by its position that all environmental and other regulations are being strictly enforced, and wants to continue with mining without further delay.

Over the past few weeks, however, protesters have clashed with workers and with riot police dispatched to the area to ensure that the site stays open. They have also marched and held a number of rallies that turned violent in front of Ierissos Town Hall, as well as torching the car of Mayor Christos Pachtas who has voiced his support for the gold mine.

?We will not just block all mining; we will make sure that not a single hole is dug in the ground,? said Toskas.

According to the protester, the investment will create fewer jobs than those that will be lost as a result. He also accused Hellenic Gold of pitting locals against each other. ?We have nothing against the workers, but we do against those who incite them,? he said.

Toskas said that the protesters have planned more action for May 1 at the Skouria forest.

In the other camp, Angelos Deligovias, the president of the miners? association, argues that ?investments such as this are unlikely to be seen anywhere else in Greece. More than 1,500 people will be employed in the mine. If you are unemployed in this day and age, you know how important a job is. We live here, we have invested in the region and our children are here. The project will proceed and it will allow us to remain here,? he said.

According to Hellenic Gold CEO Petros Stratoudakis, the problem lies in the fact that Greece has yet to formulate a clear investment strategy. He also said that the mine has boosted the use of new technologies and the monitoring of environmental standards. ?The local community is involved and a part of the gains went to the local municipality,? he added.