Tensions remain high in the villages around the Skouries forest in Halkidiki, where an arson attack on the worksite of mining company Hellas Gold led to more than 50 random detentions of local residents by the police. Anti-mining activists dispute the legality of the process through which Hellas Gold found itself in possession of mining rights in the area, the techniques it plans to use in order to mine gold and copper and most importantly the assessed environmental impact of the mining project. The residents’ concerns are reflected in independent studies conducted by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Macedonia chapter of the Technical Chamber of Greece.
A large rally against mining but also against police repression of the anti-mining movement took place on Sunday 24 February in the village of Megali Panagia, which is located less than a mile away from the planned open-pit mine on the Kakavos mountain. The rally was attended by more than 3,000 people, mostly from local villages but also from Kilkis, Alexandroupoli and Komotini, three other areas of northern Greece threatened with extensive environmental damage due to ore mining, as well as activists who came in solidarity from Athens and Thessaloniki. Among the speakers at the rally were several prominent local activists, but also representatives from political parties and movements, including SYRIZA, ANTARSYA, the Antiauthoritarian Movement and the Ecogreens, as well as the mayor of Alexandroupoli in Thrace, who gave a passionate speech against ore mining.
Meanwhile, the police continued detaining residents randomly and behaving abusively by holding detainees without charges, demanding that they hand over DNA samples, exercising psychological violence and seeking to criminalize political beliefs. On Saturday 23 February, a woman from Ouranoupoli was detained for 14 hours without charges, without being allowed to communicate with relatives or lawyers, while her husband and a friend were also detained and the police conducted a search in her house in the presence of a prosecutor who had not issued a warrant. She reported that the police had been asking her questions about, among other things, her faithfulness to her husband, her attendance at church and her political beliefs. After being released together with her husband and their friend on Saturday evening, she was given a hero’s welcome by 50 of her co-villagers who had gathered outside the Polygyros police directorate, but also by several hundreds who were waiting for her release in Ierissos.
On Monday and Tuesday, the police started summoning people to the police HQ in the regional capital of Halkidiki, Polygyros, instead of detaining them in their home villages. Among those detained was at least one 19-year-old high school student from the village of Ierissos, whose classmates shut down the school and held a demonstration in protest. Later in the week, the police arrested 4 university students from Ierissos in Thessaloniki. The students were held incommunicado for several hours and at least one of them reported being beaten by the police while in detention. In an interview with radio station Sto Kokkino, the student’s father asked if Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s commitment to implement the mining project at all costs included the use of torture.
The anti-mining movement is spreading and intensifying in other parts of northern Greece following Samaras’s stated commitment to remove all legal obstacles to implementation of the mining project within ten days. A demonstration is scheduled to take place in Alexandroupoli, Thrace, on Monday 02 March.
At the end of January, the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, the agency responsible for promoting the utilization of the State’s assets under the terms of the bailout memoranda, announced that it had accepted the proposal of US-based fund NCH Capital for the concession of 17 hectares of land in the Kassiopi area of Corfu. The investor was handed over the land for 99 years in exchange for €23 million. This is the first case of utilization of public land by the HRADF, which is better known by its Greek acronym TAIPED.
The plan for touristic development of Kassiopi is described as “moderate”. In reality however, the investors will build a full-fledged private town complete with golf course and marina, with private construction rules that do not apply elsewhere in Greece. The new owners of the land have also acquired the right to expropriate neighbouring privately-owned plots of land at will if they deem that it is “necessary for their investment.”
The Kassiopi area covers a total of 49 hectares of lush land of great natural beauty, including a forest, a lake, historical buildings and a beach. It came to be in the possession of the US-based fund following an international tender in which the fund was the single bidder. The concession agreement stipulates that the investor has the right to sublet the land in the future and also to enjoy tax rebates.
Environmental and citizen groups have presented structured objections to the investment plan, while local organizations have submitted a request for cancellation of the concession decision, which is still pending before the courts. The objections focus on the risks presented by the development plan to the region’s environment and on the fact that benefits for the State and the local community are negligible. The €23 million to be received by the State will go straight to the escrow account for repayment of the debt, which is managed by the troika, while the “all inclusive” model of this touristic investment means that local communities will receive no benefit at all. Similar investments in neighbouring countries were observed to aim at fast profits without any attention being paid to the natural and human environment in which they were conducted.
On Wednesday 27 February, a Thessaloniki court ruled that the former mayor of Thessaloniki, Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, had been an immediate accomplice in a case of embezzlement involving two of his collaborators, Michalis Lemousias and Panagiotis Saxonis, who were also deemed guilty, as well as the two heads of the municipality financial services who had assisted Saxonis in embezzling municipal funds. On the other hand, three former deputy mayors and 10 municipal employees were acquitted. Papageorgopoulos and his two collaborators were given a life sentence, with the judge rejecting any mitigating factors. Papageorgopoulos claimed his innocence after the verdict was issued.
It must be noted that Papageorgopoulos, who is a member of New Democracy, had received heartfelt support from Prime Minister Antonis Samaras as late as September 2011, who had described him then at the Thessaloniki International Fair as “a honest man who has done a whole lot for the city of Thessaloniki.” This is not the only case in which New Democracy officials in Thessaloniki find themselves mired in massive cases of corruption. In June 2011, the New Democracy governor of Central Macedonia, Panagiotis Psomiadis, had to step down in the midst of a fraud scandal for which he was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment with a three-year suspension. This did not prevent however then-opposition leader Samaras to appoint him as New Democracy’s campaign manager for Macedonia in the 2012 election campaign.
85 members of parliament of senior government coalition partner, New Democracy, proposed this week an amendment to an education bill due to be discussed and voted in parliament, under which only “Greeks by citizenship and genos” would be eligible for enrolment in military and police academies. A few days later, the General Chief of Staff of the Greek Armed Forces came publicly in favour of the amendment on Twitter.
The expression “Greek by genos” is a commonly used but rather vague criterion of “Greekness”. The word “genos” (γένος) in its wider sense can be translated as parentage, race, breed, lineage, species and more. Defining someone as “Greek by genos” may mean “Greek by birth”, “Greek by blood”, “born to Greek parents”, “of Greek lineage”, “ethnic Greek” or any variation of the above, depending on the political intention of the speaker. For the extreme-right, it can go as far as meaning “someone who has Greek DNA.”
The proposed amendment invokes reasons of national security and the fact that a 2010 law to fast-track naturalization of second-generation immigrant children was struck down by the Council of State as unconstitutional to propose that only Greeks “by genos and nationality” be allowed in military and police academies, with the exception of Diaspora Greeks who become Greek citizens after they enrol.
The obvious intent of the proposed amendment is to keep foreign-born applicants out of the officers’ ranks; the vagueness of the term “genos” however could be interpreted as including other groups, such as Jews, the Muslim minority of Thrace and the Roma by a future government in which an extremist group such as Golden Dawn would gain more power.
Golden Dawn called the proposed amendment a “great victory” which showed that New Democracy is adopting Golden Dawn’s agenda. The amendment was initially supported by the 85 New Democracy MPs, Golden Dawn and populist right-wing Independent Greeks, but it appears that the latter later withdrew their support. It is opposed by SYRIZA and the Communist Party of Greece as well as junior coalition partners PASOK and Democratic Left. Both of the latter issued strongly-worded statements against the proposed amendment, with Democratic Left in particular qualifying it as “medieval obscurantism.” The amendment will be brought to a vote in parliament next week.
After seeking to recruit adolescents in schools, Golden Dawn is now targeting even younger children of primary school age. As announced on its website, local offices of the neo-Nazi group are organizing so-called “programmes of national and spiritual awakening” targeting children aged 6 to 10. Children can be enrolled by their parents in this programme, which is called « Edification of the Child ». One of the first sessions took place last week in a suburb of Athens and was led by two self-proclaimed “educationalists” who are members of Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn website published pictures of the activities and announced that more such sessions would be held, while explaining that meetings would be held with parents to assess the progress achieved by the children. The purpose of the programme is to instil national ideals in the minds of the children. This was widely reported in both mainstream and alternative media, with many asking if the so-called educationalists are also employed in public schools, which many would deem to breach the teacher’s code of conduct.
A demonstration organized by antifascist organizations took place on Thursday in Parikia in the island of Paros. Approximately 400 antifascists protested against a public event of Golden Dawn which was scheduled at the party’s offices on the island. Special forces of the Greek police had also arrived in the island before the event and used tear gas against the protesters. This is the first demonstration on this scale in Paros, whose total population is just above 15,000.
The Ministry of Finance announced on 30 January the names of the new leadership of the Fiscal Stability Fund, in which only one official was maintained from the previous management. The new chair of the fund is a Dutchman while the general and deputy general directors are Greek. The new management is due to remain in place until 30 July 2017.
What the mainstream media failed to comment however is the salaries received by the Fiscal Stability Fund’s management. The Gazette publication pertaining to the issue stated that the cost of salaries for the 8 new management staff appointed by the government will be €785,000 per year. The new management staff are essentially technocrats who worked previously in foreign banks and international organizations. The Ministry of Finance decision stipulates that the chairman of the board will receive payment of €100,000 per year while board members, who represent relevant ministries and the Central Bank of Greece, will receive €30,000. As for the executive committee members, the general and deputy general director will receive €215,000 and €185,000 respectively, while the third committee member will be paid €165,000.
Crime boss Panagiotis Vlastos, who is serving a life sentence in the Trikala prison in Central Greece for his involvement in the so-called “crime syndicate,” which was responsible for a range of felonies, including blackmail, kidnapping and murder, tried to break out of jail with the help of a helicopter on Sunday 24 February. Mainstream media reported that some 500 shots were fired, forcing the helicopter to touch down outside the prison. Three men armed with a Kalaskinov assault rifle and two Uzi submachine gun were arrested, while the helicopter’s pilot and engineer were also taken in for questioning.
Vlastos had already attempted to escape from the Korydallos prison in December 2011. Sunday’s attempted escape was the third time that a helicopter has been used in a prison breakout in Greece. In 2006 and 2009, serial robber Vassilis Palaiocostas and his accomplice, contract killer Alket Rizai, successfully escaped from the Korydallos prison in a helicopter. Rizai was recaptured a few months later but Palaiocostas is still at large.
An opinion poll conducted by MARC for Alpha channel showed that a small plurality of voters prefer opposition party SYRIZA to governing party New Democracy. 23.1% of respondents said they would vote for SYRIZA if elections were to be held today, followed by 22.8% who gave their preference to New Democracy. Golden Dawn came in third place with 10%, followed by PASOK at 5.3%, Independent Greeks at 5.3%, the Communist Party at 4.5% and Democratic Left at 4.4%. Other parties garnered 6% of voting intentions, with 18.6% of respondents saying that they would not participate in elections or cast a blank vote or that they were undecided.
The survey further noted that respondents saw measures to address unemployment as a key priority. Furthermore, 56% stated they could not meet their obligations in term of taxation, while more than 64% are certain that they will be burdened with more austerity measures in the near future.
The European Barometer of Public Opinion in the fall of 2012, which was published this week, shows that while 50% of Greeks acknowledge important achievements of the European Union such as the free circulation of people, goods and services and peace in Europe, one in four Greeks is not willing to recognize any EU achievements. The barometer further shows that a majority of Greeks answer negatively to all the questions pertaining to whether they benefitted from specific achievements of the EU, including freedom of movement, enhanced consumer rights, the availability of cheaper flights, the possibility to work, live or study in other EU countries and access to health care in other EU countries. 54% of respondents stated that they do not feel that they are citizens of the EU while the EU average stands at 36%. A crushing majority of 84% further stated that they were not or poorly informed about European political issues. Another noteworthy element is the mistrust of Greeks towards national media coverage of European issues, with 48% of respondents stating that Greek television in particular presents European issues in a more positive light than appropriate.