Ierissos. This town of just over 3 thousand inhabitants is the county seat of the Aristotelis municipality in North-Eastern Halkidiki, and the seat of opposition to the Eldorado Gold-Mining project. On May 25th 2013 I attended their 2nd concert of solidarity, entitled “Concert for a Gold-Mining project that will never happen“. With over 10,000 guests in attendance, this anti-mining movement in Northern Greece has taken on herculean dimensions. To the left are pictures of my trip. And below are some reflections on my experience…
Dubbed a “Gaulish village” in April of 2013 by the Greek minister of Public Order and Social Protection, Nikos Dendias, visiting Ierissos was not quite like stepping into another historical time period or nation, but more like stepping into a mirage of a society. Ierissos was a figment of my imagination, come to life.
As reflected in the oddly enchanting imagery of a small town bustling with residents, all clad in the same brightly colored Morse code distress signal (S.O.S.) - imploring the salvation of their region -, this dream society is one in which each and every citizen is politically and socially active.
United together against a discernibly just cause – the protection of their land, their liberty and their livelihood – school children march in national holiday parades while wearing face masks to protest the authority’s use of tear gas near an in-session school; women and men group together to stake their claim on a mountain that has always belonged to the people, and go on marches and hikes up this very slope to protest at the site of the planned mine; and grandmothers guard the 24-hour town-watch barricade on one of several hours-long shifts – even in the dead of night – in order to verify the comings and goings of this town, located in the heavily touristic region near the Mount Athos peninsula. This barricade was installed in order to protect villagers against police violence, after an incidence where doors of homes were broken down and residents with young children were arrested – unannounced and with brute force - at 3 o’clock in the morning.
This “Gaulish village”, also called a “modern-day wild west”, is not, however, a thing of French comic strips nor of John Wayne films. It is not a light-hearted portrayal of tenacious viking-like tribes fighting tooth and nail to maintain freedom from Roman occupation. And it is not a cowboy and Indian movie. This village, Ierissos, (as well as neighboring towns such as Ouranoupolis, Nea Roda, Megali Panagia and Arnea), is very real. And the people engaged in the battle for their livelihoods are not characters from a movie, they are very real too.
On the road to Ierissos, I saw the virgin forest of Skouries where “the light of Greece opened my eyes“, and my heart sang a sad song as I ran my fingers through the leaves of trees that were soon to be leveled. I saw the construction of an open-pit, a grim blemish on the skin of the earth, a pock-mark marking imminent pollution, a burden to be carried by ours and future generations. I saw the deep blue sea of the Mount Athos gulf, now calm, but soon to be brewing when chemical-polluted ground and surface water flows into its depths. And finally, I saw and met real-life heros and I stood before them in awe at their heroic determination and steadfast will.
The citizens of North-Eastern Halkidiki have a tremendous fight before them. They are fighting against a gold industry which now surrounds a country brought to its knees, like vultures waiting to pick at untapped resources as they would at the carcass of its prey. They are fighting against a multi-national corporation whose greed for profit leads them to use any means necessary to get their way. They are fighting against a government who has long ago turned their back on the needs of the people, looking only at how to save their own skin. They are fighting against fellow citizens of a crisis-plagued country with skyrocketing unemployment – from 9.5 to 27.3% in four short years – citizens who are desperate for the job opportunities that mining will create, even if it be only temporary (the mine is projected to operate for just 25 years) and at the detriment of sustainable jobs such as in tourism, farming and livestock.
But even against these huge obstacles, the citizens of North-Eastern Halkidiki don’t back down. And despite some attempts to paint them as unruly outlaws, I see them as nothing short of modern-day, real-life heros. Citizens of a beautiful mirage of a society, come to life.
March 25th, 2013. Greek Independence day Parade, Ierissos : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiaZZVgyHPU
May 25th, 2013. Concert of Solidarity for a Gold-Mining Project that will never happen : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiVbAhdbV3c
Welcome to the Greek Eldorado : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diUxacCtCFc#t=18
For more information : SOS Halkidiki