On October 17, Maria Kadoglou of Hellenic Mining Watch sent this exciting news:
The residents of the small town of Stratoniki in northern Greece won a crucial victory in their struggle against the mining company that has been mining underneath their homes. On October 16, press agencies reported that the Greek Council of State unanimously ruled that the ministerial decision allowing TVX Gold to mine underneath the village without a prior Environmental Impact Study was illegal and therefore had to be cancelled.
TVX had been illegally operating the Mavres Petres base metals mine underneath Stratoniki for more than a year before the permit in question was issued, in February 2002. The Mayor and local residents challenged the permit at the Council of State, the supreme administrative court that, one year earlier, had cancelled TVX's gold project at Olympias, on environmental grounds.
Mining activity has already caused the land surface to cave in, in several places, and caused considerable damage to houses and the village church. Stratoniki is located in a highly seismic zone and the residents fear that their cracked houses will not withstand a 7.2 R earthquake, like the one that destroyed all the villages of the area in 1932.
United in their struggle to save their homes, the people of Stratoniki have been protesting daily in the village square, but their demonstrations were violently quelled by a strong police force sent in by the central government. More than 50 citizens have been arrested and charged with serious offences, in an effort to silence opposition to the mine
That the residents fears were all but unreasonable was proven in June 2002 by the only people who actually knew what was going on underneath the village: the miners themselves. On June 21 they went on strike, denouncing the unacceptable health and safety conditions at the underground works of the Mavres Petres mine. According to the union's announcement: conditions are deteriorating instead of improving, dust and explosion gases increase with the galloping rates of production, underground adits are becoming increasingly dangerous as their dimensions increase and proper support is impossible.
In an attempt to prevent further strikes, TVX tried to have the local courts declare the strike illegal, but its petition was rejected.
Miners who testified at the trial painted a grim picture of the conditions in the mine. Underground adits are poorly ventilated, as the nearest ventilation shaft is located outside the village, several hundred metres away from the actual workings. As a result, dust and gases from the explosions remain trapped in the adits and workers are exposed to extremely high levels of contaminants.
The long-awaited ruling of the Council of State is a decisive victory for the residents, but it is hardly the end of the war. TVX, which has recently been taken over by Canadian Kinross Gold, is planning to develop the huge, low-cost gold-copper mine of Skouries.
Local residents are also planning to file massive compensation claims against TVX and the Greek State. "Our struggle will only end when the mine is sealed off for good and proper restoration is done to prevent future damage," says Nikos Sideris, a member of the Committee to Protect Stratoniki from Mining.
The court will officially release its decision in early November. Until then TVX is free to continue business as usual, in an effort to get as big a bite at the ore as possible, before it is forced to close down. Underground explosions were stronger and more frequent today, villagers say.
Hellenic Mining Watch