In Skouries, There’s No Life Left for Us (*)

Kostas Argyris, "Figures", 1996 Kostas Argyris, "Figures", 1996
Stavroula Poulimeni

Mount Kakavos in Skouries, which continues to be ravaged by the destructive works of "Hellas Gold", has turned into a vast expanse with no sign of life, looking, if anything, like the Sahara Desert.

The word “destruction” seems too weak to capture what has really happened and the depth of the imminent consequences on the lives of the area’s residents, who have been fighting for years to save their land against environmentally devastating laws, judicial power, and police repression.

As far as work at the enrichment factory goes, just a few meters from the company’s open pit, which should have stopped after the new government took power, it continues intensively, and subcontractors’ trucks go in and out of the factory unimpeded. For months now, the Ministry of Productive Development, under Minister P. Lafazanis (who revoked the permits for the enrichment factory), has had no impact whatsoever on the company’s overall function – the company has divided its “investment” into smaller work-units and can dig and build without any legal obstacles. The fact that the permits granted by previous governments were for parts of the total investment de facto allows the company – as long as the current government does not intervene – to complete the enrichment factory, construct the Karatza dam to accumulate toxic waste, and open excavation of a large amphitheater of surface mining.

Despite the fact that the factory was built illegally all the work around it continues normally by subcontracted workers. These are not the 5,000 company workers the Prime Minister mentioned, in a “slip of the tongue”, in his interview to "StoKokkino" Radio.

The fact that the work is done by subcontractors and not company workers was verified on July 30, by the local Municipality of Aristotelis. However, “the company has yet to respond to the municipality’s request to present data on the exact number of workers.”

The mayor of Aristotelis, G. Zoumpas, stressed that the residents of Chalkidiki are greatly worried as the Ministry’s actions have so far proven inefficient, and demand that all the work in Skouries stop immediately, and until the company’s plan has been reexamined in its entirety.

Everyone in the area, but also the people in the Ministry, know that "Hellas Gold"’s investment plan is completely unfeasible and destructive. The company violates the state’s environmental regulations as well as the legal use of thousands of acres of land. For this reason, in April, the Ministry of Productive Development, Environment and Energy (YPAPEN) encouraged further studies of the company’s investment plan, specifically the aspects that concern metallurgy. These studies identified a series of problems and omissions, endangering the safety of workers, the health of the area’s residents, as well as the environment. So far, the company has issued no response, violating the relevant deadline.

Two days ago, Alexis Tsipras’ reference to Skouries angered the area’s residents, but the daily crushing of their expectations that mining would finally stop causes them sadness. The local SYRIZA branch of the town of Ierissos issued a harsh statement, noting that “the Chalkidiki movement has been receiving nothing but promises for five months”. The Prime Minister responded that the government is not impartial but is clearly in favor of the residents’ struggle, and he personally committed to a clear timeline to resolve the issue, securing justice for the residents.

Yet today, in our communication with the YPAPEN Ministry, we received no additional information on this timeline, nor on the Ministry’s intentions regarding the company, since, as they informed us, everything is “under examination and is being processed.”

After five months, and even though all the relevant information regarding the company’s legal violations are in the hands current and former government officials, the Skouries enterprise has not been shut down, regardless of SYRIZA’s electoral commitments and of statements by Alexis Tsipras himself during his visits to the area before the elections. Given that Skouries are not included in the negotiations with the country’s creditors, why is the most environmentally and socially destructive “success story” in Europe – one that has been resisted strongly by thousands of residents, some of whom are awaiting trial - not being stopped?

What will be left of Mount Kakavos when the government finally “processes” the evidence, something that should have been completed months ago?

Let us not forget that Alexis Tsipras, in his personal statement to SYRIZA’s Central Committee, stressed that justice for the Skouries struggle should not mean that the company’s workers would be left without jobs. “The Left cannot be vindictive,” he said.

But can the Left accept any kind of work regardless of consequences? If so, the Left government must not oppose the plans of any multinational or local company that destroys the environment, or is involved in corruption, because these companies employ people too. In this case the Left must essentially accept that it has lost one of its reasons of existence, the fight against oppression and the despoiling of land, in favour of the extreme neoliberal model of “development,” which is underway in Skouries, and which, apart from the environment, is also destroying all the other productive activities and social relations.

Instead of promises that never materialize, the government should have suspended all work at the mountain, and should already be developing another model of production in the area to gradually restore the enormous environmental damage and create jobs for the real number of company workers, who thereby wouldn’t be thrown out in the street ...

* "In Skouries, There’s No Life Left for Us": The title paraphrases a 1960s song by leftist poet Tasos Leivaditis and composer Mikis Theodorakis, who wished to support the residents of Drapetsona, a refugee neighborhood in Piraeus, in their struggle against the state, which was trying to demolish their small, one-story houses to construct apartment buildings instead (Note of the translator).

Stavroula Poulimeni is a journalist

First published in Greek on, 31.7.2015.

Translated by Cynthia Helen Malakasis
  • Translated by: N/A
  • The original text was first published on: Written for AnalyzeGreece!