An interview with Marina Karastergiou, activist in the coordination group of associations Ierissos, Chalkidiki
by Alexis J. Passadakis, Attac
Greece is supposed to become the largest producer of gold in Europe. At least that is the plan of the Hellas Gold company which is to 95% controlled by the Canadian company Eldorado Gold. On the northern Greek peninsula Chalkidi to the southeast of Thessaloniki a new 200m deep open cast mine is being planned. Work has started already. The mine is based in a mountainous region, dominated to 90% by forests, some of them primeval forests. The region is also a water reservoir for surrounding areas. Massive protests are building up against the mine. Local initiatives campaign against the widespread destruction of the landscape and especially against the dangers for people resulting from water poisoning through cyanide. This chemical is used to separate the gold from the scree. Apart from anti-austerity protests, no other issue brings so many people onto the streets of Greece as this foreseeable catastrophe for humans and nature.
How has your anti gold mining protest changed since the electoral victory of Syriza?
Firstly: We have decided to carry on. At end of March we had a demo with 10.000 people in Thessaloniki. Our aim is to permanently stop gold mining with cyanide. I am one of those thinking that we have to build very, very strong pressure on the government to be successful. We cannot allow ourselves to believe that we can rescue our health and our future by sitting on the couch. However, others are arguing that we have to give the new government more time, that we should not make life difficult for them. Many currently put their hopes into legal battles. My hope is that this patience will not last long. In any case there will be further demos in the mountains.
Has SYRIZA taken any concrete steps since coming into government?
Since January there are two SYRIZA: There is the SYRIZA which has been fighting alongside us for years – in our local initiatives and on the streets. And there is the new SYRIZA as a party of government. Off course SYRIZA is still on our side. But on the other hand SYRIZA as a governing party is bound up in different ways. In practice SYRIZA has withdrawn Hellas Gold’s licence for metal processing. But this doesn’t stop them creating facts on the ground. The destruction of the forests is speeding up drastically and is a real disaster. Hellas Gold also want to sue over the withdrawal of their licence. Then there is the treaty with the troika institutions from February 20th. In this the Greek government agreed not to take any “one sided measures” without consent from the creditors. Because of this a real licence withdrawal from Hellas Gold will be hardly possible.
But we will not let ourselves to be stopped just because SYRIZA is in government now and because we apparently have to help a minister now like some are saying. We know that SYRIZA would like to shut down the mine and that they are fighting on our side. But I think SYRIZA have to guard against losing the government again. The movements have to carry on pursuing their issues but at the same time have to take care to ensure that SYRIZA stays in government. We won’t have any options left should we get the right wing prime minister Samaras again. We have a goal and we will carry on pursuing it without doubt. We cannot make allowances for SYRIZA’s problems. We have our own problems. This open cast mine is the biggest problem in our region.
Has police reaction to your protests changed since January?
On April 5th we demonstrated in the mountains. And the police response was very hard: Tear gas. The counter demo of mining workers was shielded off by the police and we got all the repression. But this is not hard to understand. SYRIZA are in government in this state but not in power. SYRIZA neither have control over the police nor over the justice system, where the old governing parties have got their people everywhere. I also do not believe that the path through the justice system will in the final analysis help us stop the open cast mine.
What are your next steps?
In June we will go to Athens to do actions and demonstrations in front of the environment ministry. We are also kept busy by trials. Hundreds of us have court appearances pending because of earlier protest actions. We are also starting to inform people about the CETA trade agreement between the EU and Canada. The aggressive protection of investors including rights for companies to sue enshrined in this treaty make CETA a real problem for us as Hellas Gold is mainly Canadian owned.