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Learn from Greece’s experience. People vs. mining, 1995-2002

October 20, 2011

Olympias – ex lead-zinc mine – TVX proposes gold mine project. Result: the mine wasn’t opened
Stratoniki – zinc mine belonging to TVX. Result: the mine was closed.
Sapes – received in 1999 a preliminary approval
Perama– received in 1999 a preliminary approval

TVX = the mining company the people fought against. The company declared bankruptcy in 2003.

The ones that started the anti-mining struggle in Greece were the 600 inhabitants of Olympias, a small village in northern Greece. The area was already polluted because of the operation of a lead-zinc mine, so when a project appeared for the construction of a gold plant within breathing distance from the village, the people refused to accept further deterioration of their livelihoods. After 15 years of struggle against two different mining companies, first a state-owned one and then the Canadian TVX GOLD, their struggle was justified by the country’s Supreme Court which blocked development of the mine on environmental grounds.

How the Greeks fought against gold-mining between 1995-2002, for short:
– violent demonstrations during the first years, read more
– they filed lawsuits and complaints, read more
– they tried to block the company’s access to funding, read more

First years

During the first years the struggle was often violent and included powerful demonstrations, road blockades, burning down equipment and clashes with the riot police. At the end of 1997, military law was imposed on Olympias – for the first time after the military junta of the ‘70s. Armed policemen patrolled the village and the mine area and people got arrested if they were caught outside their homes at night. This kind of struggle has been successful in averting the installation of the gold mine for several years, but it had a great personal cost to everyone and could not go on forever. People had neglected their work and families and many of them, men and women, had been sentenced to years of imprisonment because of their resistance to the mine.

Legal actions

Around the end of 1997, the struggle took a turn as people outside Olympias got involved in the struggle. They decided to follow the legal route, flooding the ministries and judicial authorities with lawsuits and complaints and taking the matter to the State Council.

They never negotiated directly with the mining companies because, in their view, the problem is not where or how to mine. The problem is “to mine or not to mine” and this is a political problem and it is strictly between local communities and the government.

International: block the company’s access to funding

At the international field, they tried to block the company’s access to funding. They contacted reporters, market analysts and TVX shareholders. The reports and articles about the fierce local opposition to the project that appeared in the international press, added to the serious financial problems that TVX was already facing because of the repeated delays in receiving final permit.

They presented their case at the annual 2000 general meeting of Deutsche Bank, which was to finance the development of the Olympias goldmine. This move, which was in cooperation with the Critical Shareholders of Germany resulted in a major success: one year later, the Bank officially announced the discontinuation of negotiations with TVX.

As a major industrial investor, TVX was to be subsidized by the EU with 35% of its total investment, or $174 million for the two projects of Skouries and Olympias.
When they provided details of the projects, the European Commission responded that “the projects were incompatible with the spirit of sustainable development promoted by the EU” and therefore would not be subsidized.

TVX Gold’s stock price which had jumped to $14 in 1995, when the purchase of the Cassandra mines was announced, plummeted. After two consecutive reverse splits (5:1 and 10:1), the stock price was brought to 30 cents in 2002 and the company was at the time facing mismanagement lawsuits for by its shareholders.
In 2001, a landmark ruling of the State Council cancelled TVX’s gold project at Olympias, justifying the long and hard struggle of its people.

TVX is left with only one producing mine, illegally expanding underneath the village of Stratoniki

TVX was left with only one producing mine, an underground lead-zinc mine which was illegally expanding underneath the village of Stratoniki. In late 2001, the local mining inspector ordered TVX to suspend all mining under the village, but TVX ignored the order and went on. Underground explosions were causing houses to crack and the earth surface to subside in several places. Discontent over the mine erupted in February 2002, when the government gave TVX an illegal permit to operate.
A police force was sent in to suppress riots and “protect” TVX from the people who were demonstrating daily in the village square. The people of Stratoniki are mostly retired miners whose children were driven away by unemployment. These makes their struggle twice as important because these elderly people decided they had to save their homes, were confronted with the police and, in the end, were successful. Just like in Olympias, the women of Stratoniki were the most dynamic group of inhabitants. They organized public protests, contacted reporters, printed pamphlets.

Stratoniki was under police occupation during most of 2002. In December 2002 the Stratoniki mine was found illegal by the State Council and its operation stopped. This was the final blow to TVX Hellas, TVX’s greek subsidiary, which filed for bankruptcy five months later.

Sapes and Perama

At the end of 1999 it became known that two more gold projects, Sapes and Perama, had received preliminary approval. In cooperation with local groups, Hellenic Mining Watch started an information campaign and it did not take long for the local farmers to realize that mining would destroy their livelihoods.
It has been much easier than in Halkidiki, because the area has never had mines and miners depending on them. Very soon, public opinion was 100% against gold mining and local and regional councils had unanimously decided against
the projects.

(our story stops in 2002. to be continued)


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  1. antigoldgreece permalink

    Hi there! Greetings from Greece and thanks for the mention! Your story stops at 2002 because there’s so much to be done that there’s no time to write in english…
    Since 2002, other companies have taken over, both in Halkidiki and in Thrace and one of them, Hellas Gold, a subsidiary of European Goldfields which also owns the Certej project in Romania, was recently given environmental permission for a huge gold-copper-lead-zinc-silver project in Halkidiki.
    We are currently preparing our legal challenge against the permit and we believe we have a very good case.
    I will prepare a short update in english and send it to you.

  2. Thanks, great 🙂

    Did you see the news from Alaska? The locals voted against the mine proposal this Monday (Oct 18th), yet the company is continuing its work undisturbed. Sounds familiar? 😀

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