The Municipality of Aristotle – a welcoming region with a rich cultural and natural heritage. A homeland that was violently shaken up by an earthquake – not the kind of earthquake that tears down homes and swallows up villages, but an earthquake that divides communities, tears down consciences and creates a vast chasm. The Eldorado earthquake. Everywhere in the world, the same story. The more burdensome an extractive project is for a region, the greater the need for improvement of the extractive company’s image. It’s called “corporate social responsibility” – a corporation’s attempt to show social sensitivity, to transform itself into an integral, beneficial partner of the local community. With one hand it undermines the very conditions that secure a healthy environment for life in the region, with the other it grabs – or even sometimes creates – “golden opportunities” for a sponsorship which adds a positive value to its image. A conference here, a trip for journalists there, a contribution to firefighting, a tourism-related project or an athletic event, and so forth. When local communities and local authorities refuse to consent to the construction of this alibi, are they working against or defending the public good?
“Investments at all costs” have already been costly to Halkidiki. It took decades of political-corporate entanglement in the region for them to be licensed, the economic crises was used to justify their necessity, permits were granted based on incomplete and assailable studies, laws were changed to support them, a social struggle was criminalized. Decades worth of political entanglement has laid the ground for – and today is implementing – an extractive project-plan which, far from contributing to the region’s development, is equivalent to its destruction – rendering it unable to continue to support life. An extractive project which is being implemented with continuous violations of the conditions set by the environmental permit, which stands on wooden scientific legs.
There is but one truth. It is these very “investment plans” – as long as they are equivalent to a region’s destruction – which give birth to the struggle against them. No matter how large a sum of money a corporation spends on communication consultants or specialists in strategic planning and conflict resolution – in order to improve relations with local communities – the weight the corporation carries cannot be lifted so easily, nor will local communities simply endure the burden when they are struggling in defense of life itself. Although individual services may well be bought out, social consent can not.
In our narrative, laws, treaties, international trade agreements with corporate giants are not inevitable natural laws of the universe. They are treaties which must be changed in order to ensure public benefit and social well-being. Governments, parliaments, public institutions exist in order to serve public benefit and society – not temporarily or occasionally, but now and forever. Solidarity and social struggles are stronger than criminalization, propaganda and political entanglement. Their gold is not only to be found in the Skouries of the world. Their gold is also our silence. And that, we shall not give away.
As the truth was being violated, so too our land-base and our lives were being violated. And the pursuit begins, the hell of terrorizing a whole society begins. On the one hand you lay sleepless watching the forested mountain Kakkavos being eaten away, and on the other you jump in your sleep in fear that your door will be broken down and your husband or child will be grabbed. Dawn comes, and you find yourself in prison. And you wonder what it is that will make you stand upright again, to continue to struggle for your freedom and that of your homeland. It is, however, something powerful, it is the truth, it is life. It is the continuation of being human.
We did not remain silent in the face of destruction and the crime against our homeland, our land-base. We did not fear to deal with the violence of suppression, to abandon homes, families, jobs – our daily lives – and to be, again and again, on the streets and on the mountain. At times speaking out loudly for what is just, at times with agony and tearful eyes giving courage to one another to persist in our struggle. Sometimes speechless and motionless, sometimes bursting over with chants and covering endless kilometers for justice to our homeland. We will never accept the logic of losing the largest aquifer of Halkidiki, of the destruction of our forests and mountains. Struggling for life and your homeland is difficult. That’s what we’ve understood from the struggle people have undertaken before us for so many years, and up to today. The cost is huge, since you realize – after so many court trials, so much teargas, so much pursuit – the very cost of going forward with extraction will have to be the human being – I, you, all we who became “the inhabitants of Skouries”, who spoke the truth that extraction projects “with all costs” are not investments.
So – we, are invested in life. The struggle against the metamorphosis of our homeland into an extractive sacrifice zone has been, is and will be a life struggle for economic, social and environmental justice. Those who govern have a duty to comprehend that, and not expose us to irreparable danger.
Citizens’ Coordinating committee of Ierissos against gold-copper mining