Greece: Corruption, Police State and Struggle in Skouries

In the Skouries region of Chalkidiki, Northern Greece, Canadian company Eldorado Gold obtained mining rights for the Kakkavos Mountain gold through its Greek subsidiary, Hellenic Gold, after a controversial transfer process in 2004. Local residents have been opposed to the company owing the mining rights during the last decade. Ierissos city feels like a police state, and many suspicious events are taking place.

The surrounding forest, which will be destroyed as per 0.4% (according to the company's research), is one of the rarest European primordial forests; moreover there is likely to be significant danger to the health of nearby residents. The company's environmental impact report is deficient [el], according to Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Megali Panagia village, view from Kakkavos Mountain. Photo by author Andreas Kakaris


Financial scandal

The mining rights purchase was orchestrated with the assistance of Greek politicians, some of whom have recently been involved in corruption scandals. Among them are Christos Pachtas [el], the former Deputy Minister of National Economy and now the Mayor of Aristotelis Municipality, and George Papakonstantinou, the former Minister of Finance and Minister of Environment. Greek media magnate George Bobolas also played a key role through his construction company, AKTOR.

Journalist Fotis Kollias summarizes the history of the scandal on his blog in 2011 [el]:

Μια εταιρεία με κυριότερο περιουσιακό στοιχείο τα μεταλλεία Κασσάνδρας, που τα είχε αγοράσει μόλις 11 εκατ. ευρώ παραμονές των εκλογών του 2004 επί Κ. Σημίτη, αποτιμήθηκε 1,8 δισ. ευρώ. [..] Παραχωρήθηκαν έναντι πινακίου φακής στην «Ελληνικός Χρυσός», η οποία μάλιστα απαλλάχθηκε από την υποχρέωση καταβολής φόρου μεταβίβασης

With Kassandra Mines as its main asset, purchased for 11 million euros on the eve of the 2004 national elections under PM Costas Simitis, the company [AKTOR] was valued at 1.8 billion euros. […] Kassandra Mines were bestowed for a mess of pottage to Hellenic Gold, which was even relieved of transfer tax payment

Even the European Union was embroiled in the controversy. As reported by Mr. Toskas, member of the Struggle Committees Against the Mines, in a documentary by Greek journalist Giorgos Avgeropoulos [el]:

Και όταν η Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση ζήτησε να επιστρέψει η «Ελληνικός Χρυσός» 15,5 εκατομμύρια ευρώ στο ελληνικό δημόσιο, ο τότε Υπουργός Περιβάλλοντος, ο κύριος Παπακωνσταντίνου, προσέφυγε στο Ευρωπαϊκό Δικαστήριο, για να μην πληρώσουν οι ιδιώτες τα 15,5 εκατομμύρια στο κράτος

When the European Union asked Hellenic Gold to return 15.5 million euros to the Greek state, Mr. Papakonstantinou, then the Minister of Environment, appealed to the European Court, so that the private entities involved wouldn't have to pay the 15.5 million to the state

Recently, Hellenic Gold has increased mining activity due to a price hike for the precious mineral, and the resistance by local residents has grown even stronger. The case has grown big nationally and public opinion sides with locals. The same is true in the Greek twittersphere under the hashtag #skouries.

Here are some examples [el]:

@leonidas108: Οι Σκουριές είναι κλασική περίπτωση έμμεσης και παράνομης χρηματοδότησης πολιτικών κομμάτων και προσώπων #skouries

@leonidas108: Skouries is the classical case of indirect and illegal funding of political parties and figures #skouries

@ypopto_mousi: Μην εξοργίζεστε. Η λάσπη και τα “ρεπορταζ” για τις #skouries είναι μέρος αμυντικής στρατηγικής.Τώρα ακολουθούν την ατζέντα δεν την φτιάχνουν.

@ypopto_mousi: Don't become exasperated. Mudslinging and the “reports” on #skouries are part of a defensive strategy. Now, they follow the agenda, they don't make it.

@kkostaskk: Από αυτό το εργοτάξιο ζουν 1200 οικογένειες στη Χαλκιδική. Από αυτό το εργοτάξιο πεθαίνουν όλες οι οικογένειες στη Χαλκιδική. #skouries

@kkostaskk: 1200 families in Chalkidiki live because of the [work in the] mining site. All families in Chalkidiki die because of the mining site. #skouries

@MalliarMargar: Για να καταλάβουμε τι γίνεται,γύρω από τις σκουριές αν πεις ότι είσαι οικολόγος θεωρείται κάτι ανάλογο του παιδεραστή #skouries #propaganda

@MalliarMargar: In order to understand what's going on, if someone declares himself an ecologist while on Skouries area, he is considered something like a pedophile #skouries #propaganda

Arson at the mines

Tensions culminated on Saturday, February 17, when a group of 40 masked people attacked the Skouries gold mine site with molotov cocktails, damaging machinery, containers and vehicles. According to the police, the culprits had left the scene by the time they arrived.

The following videos, leaked by security guards to the media, show what happened.

The videos were edited by the news portal

Greek mainstream media reported that unknown people doused security guards in petrol, but this hasn't been confirmed. On the contrary, Polygyros Hospital, where the guards were transferred, said they had only seen abrasions and superficial wounds. But the company didn't only suffer these damages. Its sharemarket value plunged the very same day, as cited by @northaura via the following chart:

Eldorado Gold (principal inv. company at #skouries gold-mine, N. #Greece) down 6% today = 400mil $ #rbnews

The day after the arson attack, police detained 27 people who were later released. The detentions continued in the following days as well; several local residents were detained singly or in pairs and were subjected to a DNA test. As @freenet eloquently says:

Στις Σκουριές τις τελευταίες μέρες εξελίσσεται εκτεταμένη επιχείρηση συλλογής και φακελώματος DNA κατοίκων #skouries

In Skouries, an extensive operation of residents’ DNA collection and profiling has been taking place during the last days  #skouries

These police tactics have earned intense criticism by citizens and legal experts as a flagrant violation of human rights. Taking DNA samples is not legal without charges. According to the Hellenic Mining Watch blog, which plays a key role in activism and updates on the case, the situation is spinning out of control [el].

@IrateGreek summarizes some typical reports:

#Greece Detainees “disappear” in Halkidiki ie are taken to police in Polygyros & friends/relatives/lawyers can't get info #rbnews #Skouries

Also by @Inflamatory_:

Police cars reportedly outside the cafe where a meeting is held by citizens/groups against gold mining in #skouries @antigoldgreece#rbnews

While @potmos reports that [el]:

Δικηγόροι ενημερώνουν τον κόσμο για τα δικαιώματά τους στο Συντονιστικό στην Ιερισσό. Περιπολίες και προσαγωγές στο χωριό. #skouries #rbnews

Lawyers inform citizens of their rights at Ierissos coordination point. Patrols and detentions in the village. #skouries #rbnews

In an interview in Thessaloniki [el] on Friday, February 22, seven lawyers talked of the “constitutional aberration” in Skouries, referring to the incidents of the previous week.

Independent online news


Proto Thema newspaper headline: “The Gold Nuclei”, Sunday 24.2.2013. Headline insinuates ties with radical anarchist organization “Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei

While all this happened in Chalkidiki, numerous mainstream Greek media followed a special defensive line in favor of the company. This came as no surprise since Hellenic Gold spends big money on media advertising for positive publicity on its investment. A chief example is a publication by popular newspaper Proto Thema (First Issue), which correlates the actions in Chalkidiki with terrorism.

The residents didn't give up. On Sunday, a peaceful demonstration against the gold mines took place in Megali Panagia, one of the closest villages near Kakkavos Mountain, organized by thousands of local residents, groups, and parties supporting the villagers’ struggle.

The demonstration had the form of a press conference open to anyone interested and succeeded in attendance and dissemination of residents’ message to the public. Unprecedented, though, were the measures taken by Greek Police, sending hundreds of police officers for fear of violent incidents. Police officers kept their distance from the protesters and were reportedly checking license plates. The speakers described the events, the unprecedented security measures and also the course of their litigation with the company. The last to speak were two women who were among the 40 detained [to date], one of whom described her shocking experience [el]:

Η αστυνομία μπαίνει στα σπίτια μας με επιθετική διάθεση και χωρίς κανένα σεβασμό. Προχτές μπήκε ο εισαγγελέας για την προσαγωγή μου με αποτέλεσμα να σοκαριστεί το παιδί μου.

Police entered our houses aggresively and with no respect. The day before yesterday, the prosecutor came in for my detention; as a result my child was scared.

Thousands of residents in a demonstration at Megali Panagia village, 24.2.2013. Photo by author Andreas Kakaris

Citizen journalists were also at the demonstration, which they covered by all means possible, multilingually and with objectivity, taking the place of the traditional media who were conspicuous by their absence. As Professor of Political Economy Nikos Smyrnaios remarked in a his research on coverage of the case on Twitter [el]:

communities formed in Twitter are able to operate autonomously across the news spectrum, from the production of primary news update till fact-checking and news dissemination without any journalist's participation.

All speeches appear in the following video, edited and uploaded by iosifsk on his Youtube channel:

Tension continues to reign in the area. Given the severity of the situation, we will return to the case, should more news emerge.

Spanish group Todos somos griegos (We are all Greeks) made a Storify collection of Greek and other multilingual tweets about the recent events in Skouries. Global Voices author Asteris Masouras also made a Storify collection of these troubled two days’ tweets and contributed to the creation of this article.


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