For the past three years Ierissos in Greece has been at the centre of an increasingly bitter dispute. Its inhabitants, hitherto more accustomed to farming, fishing, or running hotels, have been condemned as subversives at the highest level of government, and they have learned how to stem the effects of tear gas, how to build a roadblock and how to carry out basic first aid.
The reason for the dispute is the gold that lies in the ground beneath Skouries, an ancient mountain forest just outside Ierissos. Small-scale mining has taken place in the region since the days of Aristotle, who was born here near the village of Stagira. In modern times, various companies have operated concessions, but plans to expand them collapsed after running into local opposition.
Now, however, Skouries is one of several sites in Chalkidiki earmarked for a vast expansion of gold mining which will extract roughly 380 million tonnes of ore, far in excess of the 33 million tonnes that have been mined in the past two millennia. Opponents say the project – an open-cast pit, supported by chemical and distribution plants – will destroy the surrounding environment, and that the jobs created won’t replace the livelihoods lost that depend on soil, sea or tourism.
In December 2011, the Canada-based, London-listed conglomerate Eldorado Gold bought a 95 per cent stake in Hellas Gold – a private company set up by the Greek government to run mines in Chalkidiki.