Back in 2013, ecotopia biketour got involved with a local struggle against a big gold extraction project in South-East Europe, in Rosia Montana, in Romania. We had heard about a similar project that would destroy an unspoilt forest in Halkidiki, a peninsula close to Thessaloniki, where most of the coordination for 2014 is taking place.
Some people of the S.O.S. Halkidiki assembly had luckily heard about our spring meeting and travelled to Thessaloniki to meet us and join in the discussions. They invited us to come and visit them for a weekend at the end of March, when there was a conference about the ecological impacts of the proposed gold mining project in the town of Ierissos. So two of us took the chance to go, on the way scouting possible routes to go by bicycle. It took two days, in each direction, across mountains and along the sea. Our hosts, who opened a bicycle repair shop there a year ago, welcomed us into their family for several days.
We spent a bit of time at the conference, but, due to our lack of Greek language knowledge, got most of the info in the breaks. On Sunday, a protest, together with a barbecue, was held on the mountain in the forest close to the projected site of the open pit mine. The two of us went with a group of mostly teenage boys on a mountain bike tour to that place, en route seeing the damage already done to the forest, parts of which have been cleared to make way for the gold extraction and its waste disposal lake. We also saw tunnels dug into the mountain to empty it of its water – the freshwater resource for the entire region. Idyllic spots like natural ponds in the forest that local people enjoy in the hot summer months are going to be irreversably destroyed, damaged or polluted by toxic wastes. At the moment all preparations for the mine are underway – clearance of forest, building of new big roads for lorries etc.
Local people are resisting this, partly with blockades of the road and of the construction efforts. Several times in the past two years these protests have been met with fierce police violence. We were told of tear gas attacks in the forests as well as towns (even shooting a tear gas canister into the school), people being arrested for several months and of people being called in illegally for DNA tests.
The common assembly of S.O.S. Halkidiki consists of assemblies in four towns and villages in the region affected by the gold mining. However, many local people are employed by the gold company, creating a tension between those who oppose the mine and those who see it as an economic benefit to the locality. The mining project has caused noticeable rift in society, even upsetting family units, reminded us of what we had felt in Rosia Montana.
Deeply affected by what we had experienced, we cycled back through the beautiful landscape being overtaken by lorries of the gold company. We told our newfound friends in the region we definitely want to join them in solidarity on the 2014 biketour and are now discussing how best we can contribute to the struggle.