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Communities rise up against toxic gold mining

Thousands of people are rising up in their communities in Greece and Romania against toxic plans by gold mining companies who are working in cahoots with their governments to destroy their environment.

At Halkidiki in northern Greece, the Eldorado Gold company is mining the ancient forest of Skouries, using thousands of tons of toxic chemicals. Tests show wells in some villages are now undrinkable, with dangerous levels of arsenic.

Beekeepers trying to get to their hives are facing armed security guards. Four local people have been jailed for a protest at the mine itself and dozens of others face prosecution. In fact the area has been turned into an armed camp.

The European Court of Justice ruled that the Greek government illegally invested state funds in the scheme, but nobody is rushing to do anything about it. European governments and their bankers are only interested in the Greek state repaying bail-out loans.

The Athens government has slandered opponents of the mining as “terrorists” and compared them to the fascist Golden Dawn party. But there is nothing fascist about their citizens' statement:

Resistance Becomes a Duty: We, who issue this call, are residents of Halkidiki and citizens of Greece in solidarity with Halkidiki. For three years now we have taken to the streets to protest against what is happening in Skouries. We are not merely demonstrating for our rights but for life itself, for our own and our children’s future.

We stand in solidarity to everyone who fights for life, equality, freedom, and dignity. The criminalization and repression of the struggles of social movements who support basic freedoms is the only reaction left to a panicky system of power. It is our duty to raise our voice and protect those who resist the arbitrariness of power. We believe that united we have the power.

A similar battle is being waged in the Apuseni mountains in Transylvania, Romania, where the Save Rosia Montana campaign has held a mining company at bay for nine years.  

Rosia Montana has huge gold and silver deposits, which have always been mined, but the new plan is brutal. It will create Europe's biggest open-cast mine, on 1,364 acres of mountain land, extracting 300 tons of gold and 1500 tons of silver in just 17 years, using a total of 240,000 tons of cyanide. The legacy will be:

Every Romanian cultural and academic institution has denounced the proposals and the courts have rejected 20 applications by mining interests. Thousands of people across the country have marched against the plan.

Now the government is trying to pass a special "law in the national interest", overruling the courts. The campaign has an alternative economic vision for the area based on traditional farming, eco-tourism, heritage and community-owned gold mining.  Like the community in Halkidiki, they have issued their own citizens' statement:

We, the inhabitants of the Apuseni our right to decide our own fate independently. Based on this legitimate demand, we proclaim the following: The land, the forests, the pastures, the water and the air of the Apuseni Mountains belong to those who live here, as inherited from our ancestors. We have the right and the obligation to give these, in a good state, to our own offspring, so that they can also enjoy them. The inhabitants of the Apuseni are the only ones entitled to decide the best way to valorise the wealth that good God and nature endowed us with, for the benefit of our community and of Romania!"

European states interpret the “national interest” as free rein for corporations, but people increasingly have their own vision for a future that transcends profit-driven short-term growth. But to make that our actual future, we are going to have to deal with the corporate state, organising and fighting for a real democracy for communities and countries.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
31 October 2013

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