By David P. Ball | Rabble.ca
Greek villagers brought their region’s fierce battle against Vancouver-based Eldorado Gold to the firm’s headquarters Friday, marking the end of the activists’ cross-Canada tour opposing open-pit gold mining in their homeland.
Over the past year, a growing conflict in Greece’s Halkidiki region — birthplace of the philosopher Aristotle — has seen thousands of residents blockade roads, raid mine sites, and skirmish with police they say are corrupt and beholden to the company. Another demonstration brought 20,000 protesters to the streets of Thessaloniki.
“Our will will not be curbed,” said Maria Kadoglou, a resident of Ierissos village, Greece. “We will keep on fighting until Eldorado Gold goes away.”
“Eldorado has been trying for a very long time to conceal from the Canadian public and its own investors that fact that there is huge resistance to its operations in Greece. When demonstrations got so big that they could no longer deny it any more … they have been saying the people protesting are anarchists, radical leftists, that we are flying in protesters from other parts of Greece; this is totally false. This is a genuine local resistance movement.”
But with Eldorado buying up much of the mining sector in a region of 16 small villages — Ierissos being the largest with only 4,000 people — and boasting about its impending $1.32 billion projects in the area, the battle over water pollution, deforestation and the area’s tourism- and agriculture-based economy is certain to escalate, activists say.
“We have two streams that give us all the water we need,” said Tolis Papageorgiou, a retired civil engineer and architect also living in Ierissos. “All of this area is a very big and precious forest, and a very old one — there are trees that are hundreds of years old.”
“They know they can’t do anything. We’ll stop them in the next two or three months. They don’t learn the lesson; it’s a pity for them. It’s time to leave us alone.”
With Canada boosting its long-time support for its own mining companies abroad, protests against the industry — and its ensuing environmental and community impacts — have become commonplace on almost every continent. Last week, hundreds of angry local residents stormed and blockaded Centerra’s mine in Kyrgyzstan.
But opposition to Canadian industry is nothing new in Greece. Signs reproaching both Eldorado and Canada itself — “Canada and Eldorado Go Home” — are common in the region, a reminder of seven years of demonstrations that eventually evicted Canada’s TVX Gold in 2002.
“For 16 years we have fought against the mines,” Papageorgiou told rabble.ca. “Our villages are small, but we have many jobs with tourism, agriculture and fishing. All of those jobs would be lost because of mines and metallurgy… It will destroy everything.”
In an emailed statement to rabble.ca, the firm’s CEO, Paul Wright, said the company obtained all required permits to run its projects in Halkidiki region, including an environmental assessment and what he called “exhaustive” public consultations.
“Eldorado Gold respects the right of individuals to voice their opinions in a safe, legal and responsible manner,” Wright said. “The Company fully condemns any activities that put the safety of its employees, contractors and assets at risk.”
“In Halkidiki, as in all our mining operations throughout the world we operate to the highest environmental standards complying with all local, national and international laws and regulations.”
But the regulations themselves are also in question, with Papageorgiou alleging that the Greek government was bribed to ensure the success of foreign mines in Halkidiki. He also countered arguments that the mines are needed to boost Greece’s collapsed economy, saying that the company has contributed nothing to the government.
The Halkidiki activists have been on a speaking tour for the past week in Canada, including an event in Ottawa that attracted high-level company leadership in the audience. They have expressed outrage that the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) continues to hold Eldorado stock.
The villagers’ tour was organized by the Greek Canadian Committee for Ethical Mining, the Council of Canadians, and the Pan-Thracian Society of Ontario.
Advocacy group MiningWatch Canada issued a statement targeting specific criticism over the Greek projects towards Canada’s embassy in Athens, as well as foreign-industry funders Export Development Canada, and the CPP for “attempting to cover for destructive and conflictive mining projects using ‘corporate social responsibility’ initiatives,” the group stated.
But despite a general lack of awareness about Canadian mining in Greece, the battle over resource extraction in that fiscally devastated country is heating up.
On October 21, 2012, police clashed with thousands of locals on the rural roads near its operations — including a dramatic 2,500-person blockade and struggle with authorities. Kadoglou said that police have violently attacked peaceful opponents on numerous occasions; the company says that it was protesters who were violent.
“The government and the mining company have been trying to impose them on people through police repression and brutality,” she said. “In the past year since Eldorado took over the project, we have seen extreme repression, extreme brutality, and police tearing down people’s doors in the middle of the night.”
“Our will will not be curbed. We will keep on fighting until Eldorado Gold goes away.”
Photo: Greek activists outside Eldorado’s Vancouver headquarters May 31 / David P. Ball.