Sunday September 21, 2014 Search
Weather | Athens
27o C
19o C
News
Business
Comment
Life
Sports
Community
Survival Guide
Greek Edition
All that glitters

By Nick Malkoutzis

In elections gone by, Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki would have been occupied by party stands and perhaps fervent supporters cheering on a political leader with just a few days to go to polling day. Last Thursday, though, only a clutch of Halkidiki residents were in the square. They had a message to convey, not a political one, though.

They were there to inform passers-by about why they are opposed to gold mining in their area. The presence of the so-called “anti-gold” movement in the heart of Thessaloniki rather than the flag-waving, banner-holding party faithful tells two important stories. One is of the momentous political transition that Greece is going through, one that has eroded people’s confidence in the parties they blindly followed for decades. But the other is of Greece’s ambiguous relationship with investment -- particularly if it comes from abroad -- and economic development.

It’s this second category that explains the actions of the Halkidiki residents. For some weeks, residents of Ierissos and surrounding villages have been protesting the mining of gold in Skouries. Locals fear the activity will damage the environment, thereby undermining their quality of life and their children’s future while potentially preventing them gaining income from tourism, the other dominant industry in the area. They are also concerned that the company will use sodium cyanide to extract the gold, polluting the air and drinking water, and creating a situation where a major environmental accident could threaten the local community, as happened in Romania in 2000.

Canadian firm Eldorado, which last year took on the concession to dig for gold at the Olympias and Skouries mines, says that it will invest more than 1 billion euros and create more than 1,500 jobs, many of which will be for local people. It insists the mining will be safe.

An investment of this size and the opening up of such a high number of employment positions in the midst of the current economic misery seems a very attractive proposition. It is, therefore, easy to view those who oppose it as reactionaries or plain old troublemakers. Certainly, when protesters overturned cars and invaded a municipal council meeting in March, the opposition to the mining appeared to take on the air of the familiar clashes between police and self-styled anarchists in Athens. But these scenes were also reminiscent of the stand-off between locals and authorities in Keratea, southeast of Athens, last year, when the villagers’ resistance led to plans for the construction of a waste management center stalling.

Just as was the case in Keratea, so in Halkidiki there is little doubt that some of those protesting are doing so because they derive satisfaction from confronting the police. There are also those who see confrontations between citizens and business interests as a good opportunity to build up political capital. But this is far from the whole story. Just as in Keratea, so in Skouries, there is a community that is genuinely worried about what is happening on its doorstep. Perhaps in another country, locals would feel more comfortable with the project because the process for awarding public contracts or environmental certificates is transparent and trustworthy. Maybe in another country there would have been a period of genuine public consultation and authorities would make an effort to inform each and every resident. In Greece, this doesn’t happen and trust is undermined.

While the skepticism and mistrust that often greets these types of projects has some roots in the country’s atherosclerotic politics, particularly on the left of the spectrum, much of the negativity derives from the state’s unwillingness to establish good business practices. For too many years, a select few have benefited from the murky way that public sector contracts have been handed out and the impunity enjoyed by companies that have violated all kinds of regulations. While the wealth and influence of this minority has grown, people’s confidence has withered.

The reaction in Keratea had less to do with thrill-seeking “hooded youths” picking fights with police than with a community that had not been consulted about a potentially unwelcome development in its back yard and the suspicion that the project had been designed to serve the interests of the contractor rather than locals or taxpayers in general. The last four decades -- during which PASOK and New Democracy have governed Greece and used public money to favor their supporters and friends in business -- have led to every scheme tendered by the government being treated with suspicion. It is a social affliction brought on by years of graft, not just a knee-jerk reaction triggered by petty politics.

Suspicion and lack of trust are compounded by the fact that businesses are often allowed to flout environmental, labor, tax and many other kind of regulations while facing little, if any, punishment. For instance, who could blame the people of Ierissos for looking to Oinofyta –where, unperturbed for years, local firms dumped hexavalent chromium in the Asopos River, prompting a rise in the number of cancer cases -- for an example of what can happen when the state fails to fulfil its role and businesses are allowed to act with impunity.

In Halkidiki, there is one more cause for concern. The Hellenic Gold mining firm, a subsidiary of Eldorado, has allegedly been closing access to public roads around the mines and installing CCTV cameras in trees in the area to beef up security. Several members of a private security team allegedly used by the mining company were reportedly arrested a couple of weeks ago after being accused of harassing locals. None of this is going to help convince people that what is happening behind the wire fence is going to benefit them.

Protesters -- who are backed by some political groups such as the Ecologist Greens as well as leftist organizations -- responded by holding a gathering in the forest next to the Skouries mine on May Day. It appears a calm response to a situation that threatens to get out of hand and suggests there may be grounds for reconciling the concerns and interests of the two sides.

Events in Halkidiki show how much damage has been done thanks to the way Greece has handled major investments in the past. The Skouries standoff is a byproduct of this but it also provides an opportunity to address the issue and bring some transparency and accountability to the process. Without such an effort, Greece is destined to dig itself into a deeper hole rather than dig for gold.

[Kathimerini English Edition]

ekathimerini.com , Friday May 4, 2012 (13:08)  
Universities threatened by transfers
Capital changes
High stakes after the Scottish vote
Breathing room
Results of probe into 20 Lagarde list names due soon
Members of the Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE) and tax inspectors involved in an investigation into the so-called Lagarde list of Greeks with Swiss bank accounts expect to be able to announce ...
Police refute reports of Jihadi training
Greece is not a training ground for Jihadis, the Greek police said in a statement released late on Friday in response to reports in the local media claiming that radical Islamists have been ...
Inside News
Demand for diesel boosts total fuel sales
After five years (2009-13) of decline, the fuel market returned to positive territory in June, albeit at the marginal rate of 0.3 percent year-on-year, according to official data, capitalizi...
Foreign investors not overly concerned about political risk
Foreign investors have begun to weigh political developments in Greece as the election of a new president gets closer without the possibility of an early general election having being ruled ...
Inside Business
SOCCER
Triumph for PAOK, historic result for Asteras in Europa League
Greek teams produced a patchy record on the opening night of the Europa League group stage on Thursday, as PAOK thrashed Dynamo Minsk, Asteras Tripolis snatched a draw at Besiktas and Panath...
SOCCER
Financial crisis forces Greek second division postponement
Greece's second soccer division Football League announced on Wednesday the postponement of the start of the season due to financial difficulties being faced by most clubs. "The board of dire...
Inside Sports
SPONSORED LINK: FinanzNachrichten.de
SPONSORED LINK: BestPrice.gr
 RECENT NEWS
1. Demand for diesel boosts total fuel sales
2. Foreign investors not overly concerned about political risk
3. IMF unhappy over social security debt collection
4. Agenda
5. Results of probe into 20 Lagarde list names due soon
6. Police refute reports of Jihadi training
more news
Today
This Week
1. Agenda
2. IMF unhappy over social security debt collection
3. Foreign investors not overly concerned about political risk
4. Demand for diesel boosts total fuel sales
5. ‘Greece can meet its needs on its own’
6. Record sum of new debts to the state in August
Today
This Week
1. Greece on standby
2. Greece at bottom of social justice scale among EU28
3. Central Athens traffic restrictions back in force on Monday
4. ‘Greece can meet its needs on its own’
5. Lost in the fog
6. Record sum of new debts to the state in August
   Find us ...
  ... on
Twitter
     ... on Facebook   
About us  |  Subscriptions  |  Advertising  |  Contact us  |  Athens Plus  |  RSS  |   
Copyright © 2014, H KAΘHMEPINH All Rights Reserved.