#rbnews international weekly bulletin 30 March – 05 April 2013

The text companion to this week’s #rbnews international show is now online. You can read it after the jump.

One  more demonstration against ore mining took place in Halkidiki on  Saturday 30 March. Residents of the area opposed to mining projects  gathered in Ierissos and marched to Stratoni, the village where mining  company Hellas Gold has its regional headquarters and runs the existing  ore processing factory. A delegation of protesters entered Stratoni to  hand over to company representatives a statement voted by the community,  in which they said that the company is not welcome in Halkidiki.
Meanwhile,  evidence of the extensive environmental damage to come should the  company’s massive mining plans go ahead was made obvious this week with  the publication of an extensive report in the Editors’ Newspaper about  the presence of toxic heavy metals in freshwater streams in the  Strymonian Gulf area. Measurements show that in the region of Olympiada,  where mining activities were conducted since the 1990s, the presence of  arsenic, manganese, lead and zinc in streams is several thousand times  higher than the acceptable level for security and safety, up to 49000  times higher in the case of arsenic. This contamination poses  significant problems to the economy of the region, as heavy metals in  freshwater are bound to enter every level of the food chain. In a  statement it released on the issue, Hellas Gold and its parent company  Eldorado Gold said that the presence of acid runoff was not linked to  current mining activities, but did not deny that the water quality  analysis was correct.
Ore  mining companies faced a further setback in Thrace this week, when the  chairman of the company there had to announce that its thirty workers  were fired and the project was put on ice until the investment framework  in Greece becomes clearer. Eldorado Gold had also threatened to pull  out of Halkidiki a few weeks ago if the government did not take  appropriate measures to simplify red tape but then stated its intent to  pursue operations in Greece in a recent press conference in  Thessaloniki. It is unclear whether these actions by mining companies  are intended to pressure the government into granting them operating  licenses or if the companies are indeed considering to pull out of  northern Greece. Eldorado further announced this week that it is  organizing, and paying for, a 4-day visit of its premises for  journalists in Halkidiki and Izmir in Turkey.

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Anti-racist  groups organised demonstrations in several Greek cities on Saturday 30  March to demand the right to Greek citizenship for second-generation  immigrant children. This specific population group suffered a setback  recently when a law passed in 2010, which enabled fast-tracking of  applications for citizenship for second-generation children, was  repelled by the Council of State. The 2010 law stipulated that children  born to parents who have been residing in the country legally for  several years, or children who have completed several years of their  education in the Greek school system, were eligible for Greek  citizenship. This was a sea change in a system of nationality which was  based thus far on blood and ancestry. The law was however struck down as  unconstitutional by the Council of State, which deemed that the  conditions it laid out for the acquisition of citizenship did not  demonstrate a strong bond with Greece. As a result, tens of thousands of  children who were born in Greece or came at a young age and have no  other country to call home are left in legal limbo as they often do not  hold the citizenship of the country of their parents.

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A  few hundred people answered a Facebook call for an anti-austerity  protest in Syntagma in the evening of 31 March. Similar gatherings were  held in other cities of Greece. This is the third week in a row that  such protests are held in an attempt to revive the movement of the  Squares that swept Greece in May-June 2011, even though turnout has been  small so far.
On  Thursday 4 April on the other hand, several hundred people who were  passing through Syntagma during the day took spontaneously a few moments  to pay tribute to Dimitris Christoulas, an elderly pharmacist who  committed suicide in the square one year ago to protest the situation of  the country. Passers-by delivered flowers to the tree next to which  Christoulas shot himself and where a monument had been established in  his memory. The monument was destroyed by supporters of governing party  New Democracy during their final pre-election rally in June 2012.

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On the basis of a law dating back to the dictatorship of Metaxas in 1937, and with the justification that they do not fulfil licensing requirements, the Municipality of Athens is shutting down at least 35 cultural spaces in the capital. Among them, several are small, alternative spaces, such as experimental theatre groups, which, in order to be able to operate, will have to pay an extremely heavy fine and are therefore bound to close down forever. In this context, beyond the fact that Athens will be culturally poorer and is orienting itself towards mass entertainment, there is the issue that many young artists will be faced with unemployment.
The agencies and artists involved in this issue held an assembly, in which they decided to hold protests but also to take legal initiatives to demand that the cultural spaces keep operating but also that the legal framework be updated.
On its side, the municipality claimed that it has controlled 89 spaces, of which 50 at least are not operating legally, but, after the reactions it caused, it announced that it is in the process of finding a compromise solution. The municipality statements are revealing of its formalistic approach, but also of a lack of overall planning with regard to the cultural scene.

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On Tuesday 2 April, members of Golden Dawn together with one of their MPs provoked immigrants, left-wing activists and simple passers-by in downtown Chania in Crete. Local anti-fascist groups and far-left groups reacted immediately, with several of their members going to the place where the events were happening to intervene. There was a similar reaction from the Communist Party, whose members held a spontaneous march to the scene. There were small clashes during which the police detained and arrested Golden Dawners. During the clashes, members of a left-wing group threw a member of Golden Dawn into the harbour.
On the next day, Golden Dawn reacted with a statement in which it called for a rally outside the courthouse in support of its three members who had been arrested. It is noteworthy that, at the end of the statement, Golden Dawn demands that the Communist Party offices in Crete be shut down.

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The emergency tax on real estate property has caused significant reactions for the past year and a half, especially because the tax is collected through electricity bills. The  arbitrariness of this tax led it to be dubbed “haraç” by the public at  large, after arbitrary taxes and levies imposed on people at the time of  Ottoman rule. The tax had been defined as an emergency measure that had been imposed due to the economic crisis.
This tax has often been qualified as going against the law, while the European Commission itself has denounced the fact that power is cut to those who do not pay it. Employees of the Public Power Corporation had engaged in protests and occupied the company’s electronic operations centre to complain about the suspension of the power supply to people who refused to pay the haraç. The  Council of State ruled in late 2012 that the tax should not be  collected through electricity bills, but this decision was overruled by  Minister of Finance Yiannis Stournaras, who pressured the Public Power  Corporation and the Council of State to maintain the status quo.
Many citizens have refused to pay the haraç, and had their power supply cut even though they had paid their electricity bill. In one case at least, when a court ruled that cutting off power was illegal, the Minister of Finance publicly expressed doubts that the judiciary authority was competent to intervene in this matter.
On Thursday 4 April, after a long meeting, the government coalition parties announced that the tax will be maintained under a different name. They also clarified that, in 2013, it will still be collected through electricity bills. From 2014 onwards, this tax will be extended to all forms of real estate, while it currently only applies to buildings, and it will be collected together with income tax.
This new policy regarding the payment of this tax will be submitted for approval by the troika.

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Discussion  of the possibility of countries leaving the eurozone, not as a punitive  measure but as a willing choice, seems to be opening up in Greece and  Cyprus. In Cyprus, the leader of AKEL, the former governing party which  is now in the opposition, stated this week that the possibility of  Cyprus leaving the euro should be examined. In Greece, SYRIZA leader  Alexis Tsipras hinted that the option should be considered when he said  in a press conference:  “Our goal is to save Greece within the euro, not  to save the euro within Greece. And not to save the euro in Greece  whatever the consequences.” The official position of SYRIZA so far had  firmly been that Greece should remain in the eurozone even though some  party officials had stated that all options should be on the table only  to be rebuked by the party’s leadership; Tsipras’s statement is the  first time however that he hints himself at the option of a eurozone  exit as a true possibility.

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The Greek police continues in collaboration with agencies of the Ministry of Health to conduct the operation codenamed Thetis. In this operation, policemen sweep indiscriminately individuals which they deem to appear under the influence of drugs in downtown Athens. They shackle their hands and take them as far away from downtown as they can, to detention centres for undocumented migrants, which are located in areas such as Amygdaleza in Attica, Corinth or Thiva. That is where the detainees are identified and subjected to forcible medical testing, and after a while some are let free.
An unnamed drug user who is treated in a mobile clinic run by the NGO Doctors of the World gave a chilling account to the Editors’ Newspaper: “Every day, they drag us first to police stations and then somewhere far away. A few days ago, in the in flagrante detention area, there were 23 men and with them three young women. They put everyone together. Then they took some people for identification in Corinth. Those who had money came back, but one of them came back on foot. It took him a day and a half to come back.”
The chairman of Doctors of the World, Nikitas Kanakis, denounced Operation Thetis, saying: “Medicine is not punitive. It is comforting and supportive. People must feel safe. Otherwise, they’ll hide, they’ll avoid treatment, they’ll turn against society for vengeance.”
Thetis is not the first case of collaboration of the police with medical agencies in violation of the medical code of ethics. In April 2012, in a very high-profile operation, the police and Ministry of Health had arrested approx. 100 female drug users, tested them forcibly for HIV and paraded on TV the mug shots of those who were HIV positive, claiming that they were sex workers  and therefore a threat to public health. Radiobubble’s Zoe Mavroudi is preparing a video documentary on the story of these women.

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There were chaotic scenes in parliament on Thursday morning during a session of the special parliamentary committee investigating the Lagarde list scandal, as Golden Dawn MP Kasidiaris hurled insults at the Pasok leader, Evangelos Venizelos. Kasidiaris accused New Democracy MP Antonis Georgiadis of “protecting” Venizelos by obstructing and interrupting his questions.
Venizelos had been called to give evidence into his role with the Lagarde list – so called after then-French Minister of Finance Christine Lagarde, who gave a list of potential tax evaders to the Greek finance ministry in 2010.
The committee is currently seeking to determine which ministry official initially received the list of approximately 2,000 Greeks with money deposited at HSBC’s Geneva branch.
Venizelos left the room during the altercation between Kasidiaris and Georgiadis, and, speaking to reporters, said “There is a lot of tension because testosterone is a matter of endocrinology. And medicine has not yet told us whether psychiatry preceded endocrinology or vice versa.” When he returned to the room, Kasidiaris called him “ridiculous and fat”.
This outburst led the committee chairman, Christos Markogiannakis, to expel him from the hearing.
Kasidiaris reportedly then smashed a water glass and hit the microphones as he walked out.

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