Tear Gas and Kidnapping in the Battle for Skouries Forest
(Photo via Anti Gold Greece)
It's been three weeks since 50 masked activists broke into the Skouries forest work site in northern Greece and torched just about every piece of machinery they could. The barrage of Molotov cocktails and environmentalist rage was directed at Canadian company El Dorado and their plans to bulldoze the ancient forest and build a mine there instead.
What started out as a protest from local residents opposing the mine (they claim it will poison the water supply and irreversibly destroy the area's rich environment and the tourism, fishing and farming it provides) has now morphed into a full-blown counter-attack from the massed ranks of state authoritarianism and corporate shitbaggery. Nikos Dendias, the Greek Minister of Citizen Protection, set the bar the day after the attacks by visiting the site and fully living up to his promise to protect Greece's citizens – by demanding that a load of them be arrested.
The Greek police – always happy to oblige – did just that, kidnapping university students, forcefully taking DNA samples and arresting high-school kids without notifying any of their parents. But I suppose all those tactics are fair game when you're talking about a load of pretty arbitrary arrests for an offence that didn't cause any human harm.
Since the attack, locals have spoken of hooded police patrolling the nearby village of Lerissos, arresting people, taking their phones away and interrogating them for hours without notifying anyone of their whereabouts or giving them the option of having a lawyer present. As you can imagine, the atmosphere in the village is now pretty tense, owing in part to the 100 or so riot and counter-terrorism police who turned to conduct a "routine search" last Thursday.
Residents, in protest against the occupying force, blocked the road that leads to the village with burning tyres and surrounded the local police station. The police responded with tear gas in an attempt to disperse the demonstration. Bizarrely, they figured one effective method would be to fire tear gas canisters into the courtyard of a nearby school, where only children were present, leaving four of them in the infirmary with breathing problems, one passed out and another injured after a canister hit her directly on the head.
As if that wasn't enough of a disaster, another story surfaced a couple of days ago: a newborn baby inhaled some of the tear gas chemicals, had to be rushed to the hospital and is now suffering from anaemia. Because it's clearly dumb to admit that you've carelessly harmed children and given a baby a blood deformity, the police initially claimed that no chemicals had been used, before amending their statement to admit that there had been a "limited use". Footage of residents standing in front of a pile of canisters suggested that "limited" might not have been the right word.
One of the arrested high-school students, 15-year-old Konstantina, appeared on national television and recounted her experience: "I was called on my mobile by someone saying they were from the anti-terrorism unit and told I had to go to the precinct and testify. I told them I was 15 and had no idea what they wanted, but they said I should come and that they should notify my parents before I did. I turned up and they asked me a load of irrelevant questions that I'm pretty sure won't help solve the case. I also want to call out the Vice-Minister of Education who publicly denied my questioning, even though I have an official document to prove it. He should be ashamed of himself."
I spoke to Dimitris Tarazas, a local resident who was abducted and questioned for five hours without the presence of a lawyer or the option to contact anyone outside of the police station.
"They arrested two of us in Lerissos and took us to Polygyros [a town just under an hour away], where we were greeted by ten guys from the counter-terrorism unit. Five of them took the other guy to the first floor and the other five took me down to the basement. They started cursing and pushing me – we almost got into a fight. My phone was off and anyone who called was told that I wasn't in the police station, but my mother was outside and had seen me through the window. It was a proper abduction – they forced me to give my prints and a DNA sample then let me go.
"They respect nothing any more, but they haven’t bothered me since because they've got nothing on me. We’ll be forced to leave or revolt, and they've already driven people to extremes. One of the miners, who's deep in debt, showed up the other day and threatened to shoot us, but we disarmed him. If anyone gets killed, it won't be long until the civil war starts, the way they're pushing us."
Arguably more shocking than any of that are the allegations of Greek police torturing those they arrest. I spoke to a source (who wanted to remain anonymous for obvious reasons) who told me about four students who'd been arrested in Thessaloniki on the 28th of February in connection to the case. All four were allegedly taken to the local police headquarters and had their phones confiscated.
The two girls were supposedly released a few hours later, but the boys were taken down to the basement of the building, where one of them claims the police officers put a hood over his head, questioned him for hours and hit him. As standard, he was forced to give a DNA sample, then was also presented with a piece of paper that detailed his movements over the last two weeks, all without showing a warrant or giving a legitimate cause for tracking him. It's like we've reverted back to the dictatorial regime used against dissidents during the military junta of the 70s, only with arguably less of the Nazi sympathisers and more harm caused to children.
It's no surprise that these heavy-handed tactics are being enforced just as Greece's privatisation programme starts to shift its way into full throttle, with the government clearly keen to keep investors – like those keen on building the mine in the Skouries forest – on side. But the attention they're drawing to themselves isn't doing them any favours – new details of the deal are surfacing, exposing the odious character of this “investment”.
In documents sourced by activists from antigoldgreece, we learn that El Dorado will most likely be reimbursed for its initial investment by the state, meaning there's now more financial ground to go back and cover. The stage has been set with abductions, the use of chemical weapons and beatings, and I doubt it's long before those in need of work and desperate for a job in the mine will be pitted against those who oppose it. To see profit, El Dorado are going to have to fight, and they really don't seem bothered by how much blood is spilled.
Follow Yiannis on Twitter: @YiannisBab
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