Last Saturday, a crowd of approximately 15,000 people from Thessaloniki and the Halkidiki peninsula flooded the commercial high street of Greece’s northern port city. They paraded placards with the faces of politicians who had helped sell four mining concessions to a series of Canadian and Australian companies over the past decade, and chanted, “We want forests, earth and water, not a tomb made of gold.” On Monday the protests spread to Athens and Komotini, and more anti-mining events are planned.
Why, at a time of desperately high unemployment (nominally 27 percent nationwide, but forecast by the Labour Institute to rise to 31 percent by the end of the year) is a foreign investor having such trouble establishing himself?
The tomb of gold the protesters refer to is a series of environmental calamities they fear will befall the area if Canada’s Eldorado Gold Corporation, the current holder of the concessions, proceeds with plans to extract and refine gold ore. Chief among those concerns is the poisoning of the water table from naturally occurring arsenic in some of the ore and from cyanide used in the leeching process. Many are concerned about the demise of air quality from dust produced by the pulverisation of millions of tonnes of the ore. Greece’s Geological Research Institute found low-content gold deposits across northern Greece in the 1980s, and many locals suspect that Eldorado will one day extend its operations uncontrollably, turfing up hundreds of thousands of hectares.