Feb 26th, 2013
Last Sunday, 50 masked people armed with Molotov cocktails stormed a gold mine in northern Greece. After torching bulldozers, trucks, and portacabins belonging to Canadian mining company El Dorado and its Greek subsidiary Hellenic Gold, the group used tree trunks to block police and firefighters from reaching the site. If all that destruction of machinery and reliance on the bountiful gifts of Mother Nature for protection sounds like the work of an incensed rattan basket of ecocampaigners, that’s because it was. In fact, it was just one of many recent moments of drama unfolding around the opening of a gold-mining site in Skouries, one of the oldest forests in Greece.
In 2003 Hellenic Gold, followed by El Dorado, obtained the rights to mine the $12 billions’ (£7.8 billions’) worth of gold and copper snoozing beneath the mountain area. The deal saw the Greek state receive just €11 millions’ (£9.5 millions’) worth of compensation for the mines, and, in addition to losing the government some money they could have probably done with, pissed off all the local residents. Besides a part of the ancient forest being uprooted, residents are also worried about the mine’s effect on tourism, agriculture, and fishing. They’re all pillars of the local economy, and they’re all at risk of being devastated by the pollution a mine tends to churn out.
Last October, in the largest protest yet against the proposed mine, riot police attacked demonstrators, broke the windows of parked cars, dragged old women to the ground, attacked a left-wing politician who was protesting outside the police department, and threw tear gas at the crowds, the canisters of which ended up burning down part of the forest. Unsurprisingly, these tactics did little to appease the demonstrators.
Since then, areas of the forest have been cordoned off with barbed wire, checkpoints are everywhere, and private security guards wearing full-face masks patrol the area harassing locals, demanding to see their identification. That last bit is illegal under Greek law, but minor issues like what’s legal and what’s not don’t seem to faze El Dorado.