Home' Greymouth Star : January 14th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
8 - Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Ph: 03 769 7900
Greeks mull future in gold
ACanadian quest to mine for
gold in the lush forests of
northern Greece is testing
the government's resolve to
prove Europe's most ravaged
economy is open again for
e Skouries mine on Halkidiki peninsula
--- a landscape of pristine beaches and rolling
hills dotted with olive groves --- is among the
biggest investments in Greece since it sank
into a debt crisis four years ago.
But it has set Greece's desperate need for
nance to rebuild the economy against the
interests of its vital tourism industry, and
aroused anger on the peninsula --- site of the
famed Mount Athos monasteries --- over the
Vancouver-based Eld orado Gold Corp
took over the project in 2012, promising to
invest $1 billion over the next ve years as
part of a plan to mine eventually source up to
30% of its global gold production in Greece.
Yet preliminary work on the mine, which is
supposed to open in 2016, has set o months
of politicking and protests.
e row has overshadowed what was
supposed to be the agship project of the
government's foreign investment drive. It also
highlights Greeks' ambivalence about attempts
by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to kindle
industrial growth in an economy that has
traditionally relied on tourism and services.
Last year, intruders barged into the mine
with hunting ri es, set equipment on re and
doused security guards with fuel, threatening
to burn them alive.
Local protesters, who say they reject violence
and have the backing of some opposition
politicians in parliament, fear the mine will
destroy Halkidiki's tourist riches. Samaras,
however, has warned that foreign investments
would be protected at "any cost".
"Rightly or wrongly, God endowed the
region with ores, and we must rst decide
whether we (Greeks) want to exploit it or not,"
Petros Stratoudakis, chief executive of the
company developing the mine, Hellas Gold,
Eldorado owns 95% of Hellas Gold, which
also has other mining projects in Halkidiki,
with the rest held by Ellaktor, Greece's biggest
Halkidiki has a rich history. e Eastern
Orthodox monasteries nestled in the hills
of Mount Athos are an artistic treasure and
UNESCO World Heritage site.
But northern Greece has also long been
fertile territory for explorers. Macedonian
King Alexander the Great mined for gold
in the hilly forests to nance his conquests
into Asia 2300 years ago, according to local
Eldorado executives say gold mining could
become a signi cant money-spinner for
modern-day Greece, bringing in foreign
currency and helping to diversify an economy
that is struggling with 27% unemployment.
" e conditions that exist particularly in
north-east Greece are unique in my mind,"
Eldorado chief executive Paul Wright said in
an inter view. "I've been in the industry for 35
years and I've yet to see a situation where there
is such a mineral endowment that is being
recognised --- in many cases quanti ed --- but
Under its ve-year plan, Eldorado gives the
authorities a minimum three million euros
($4.89 million) a year, laid down in a new
royalty scheme. Local people make up 90% of
1600 workers the company and its contractors
employ now. At its peak, Eldorado says it
will employ over 2000 workers at its mines in
e Canadian company has the strong
backing of the conservative-led government of
Samaras, which has tried to drum up foreign
investment to inject life into the economy
since coming to power in June 2012.
"Growth means investments. ose who
drive investments away do not want growth.
When they occupy factories they do not want
growth," Samaras said last month. "When
they try to cancel legitimate investments and
keep ghting against them although they
have been fully approved --- as they did at
Skouries in Halkidiki --- they do not want
In Halkidiki's seaside village of Ouranoupoli
where aquamarine waters hug a strip of hotels,
sh tavernas and little shops selling wine, olive
oil and religious icons, the air hangs thick with
anger against the mine.
"No to goldmining" is scribbled on the walls
by the port, emblazoned on t-shirts worn by
waitresses at a beach taverna and scrawled on
the wooden pier where children jump into the
crystal clear waters.
e villagers --- who make a living catering
to mainly Balkan and Russian tourists who
ock to Halkidiki's sandy beaches --- are
afraid the mine will destroy their livelihood by
scaring away visitors and turn the area into an
"Who will come then here to swim and eat
our sh?" asked Chryssa Likaki, a 52-year-old
real estate agent as she sat one evening with
other residents at a waterfront cafe, a short
walk from where tourists take boat rides to see
She and other residents argue such a
"pharaonic project" will drain the region's water
basin and pollute the water supply, send out
3000 tonnes of dust per hour into the air and
destroy the local forest. ey also say cyanide
used in the production process poses a health
risk to the local community.
Company o cials counter that there will
be no dust cloud, Skouries needs only 0.09%
of Halkidiki's forest, the projects have all the
necessary environmental permits, the region
will not be drained dry and that cyanide will
be used in a nearby mining plant but not in
the quantities villagers fear.
But in a country where suspicion of authority
runs deep, the villagers say they see no reason
to believe the company's promises or that
o cials will hold them to it.
"Come on, we live in Greece," laughs Likaki.
"We don't trust the State."
In Ierissos, a village where banners proclaim,
"You can't buy water with all the gold in the
world" and, "Extracting gold with blood",
tensions have run so high that an abandoned
police station was set on re and burned down
in April last year.
Michalis eodorakopoulos, the general
manager of the company's Kassandra Mines
that includes the Skouries project, accuses
anti-mining groups of sowing fear among
villagers, a situation exacerbated by local
politics and jealousy that pits one village
against the other.
" ey have invested in fear, they have
invested in lies, in panic," he said. " e
situation in the area is a microcosm re ecting
the reality in Greece with petty political
e mine has become a cause celebre among
leftists and anti-austerity activists in Greece,
prompting marches and debates in Athens, an
eight-hour drive to the south.
Fans of the PAOK soccer team in the nearby
city of essaloniki held up anti-mining
banners during games when word spread that
Hellas Gold wanted to become a sponsor.
e main opposition party, Syriza, is among
those that oppose the project. e leftist party,
which is against Greece's international bailout
and austerity policies, says the project will
destroy more jobs than it creates and the deal
allowing Eldorado to take over the mine was a
"scandal" that fails to bene t the Greek state.
"It's like the Wild West up there. e
company's name shows what kind of
conditions underpin this investment," Dimitris
Papadimoulis, a senior Syriza lawmaker, told
Reuters. "Police, local authorities and state
power are used to protect private interests to
the detriment of public interest."
Samaras in turn has promised to end "this
impunity of some people who pretend they
want (economic) growth but only block every
"I travel across Europe and I hear other
prime ministers discussing e orts to attract
future investments in their region but we are
doing everything to push investments away,"
he said. "It's embarrassing."
Some of that embarrassment extends to
the rural heartland in Stratoni that houses
Eldorado's local o ce. ere, 38-year-old mine
worker Manolis Manthos says he is content to
have a job year-round that pays 1150 euros a
month net and does not understand the drama
around the project.
"One thing is certain --- the situation is out
of control," he said. --- Reuters
A banner that reads "Our villages support the gold investment" is seen hanging above the main road of a mountain village near
the mines in Halkidiki region, northern Greece.
A worker walks towards a tunnel at the Hellas Gold facilities in Skouries at Halkidiki region.
Links Archive January 13th 2014 January 15th 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page