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Bjork will play a concert in protest at the Icelandic government’s proposed changes to conservation laws.
The Icelandic singer tops the bill at the event, which will take place on March 18 at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland. Artists appearing include Lykke Li, Patti Smith, Mammút (pictured below), Highlands, Of Monsters And Men, Samaris and Retro Stefson.
The concert is organised in conjunction with the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA), Landvernd, the Icelandic Environment Association and director Darren Aronofsky, whose film Noah was shot on location in Iceland in 2012 and will premiere at Sambíóin Egilshöll Cinema on the same afternoon.
Collectively operating under the name Stopp!, the group aims to encourage the Icelandic authorities to protect Iceland’s natural environment and impose controls on the damming of glacial rivers and harnessing of geothermal energy, in light of new legislation, reports RUV.
This project was introduced at a press conference at Harpa on the 3rd of March 2014. Björk and Darren Aronofsky participated in the press conference.
The artists will donate their time and the net income will go to INCA and Landvernd.
Tickets are on sale on midi.is. If you can’t attend the concert you can donate to “Icelandic Nature: Identity number. 640971-0459 Bank: 0301-26-302792“
The following statement lists the group’s demands:
All over the world too much of priceless nature has been sacrificed for development, often falsely labeled as sustainable. Rain forests have been cut, waterfalls dammed, land eroded, lakes and oceans polluted, earth’s climate altered and the oceans are now rapidly getting more and more acidic.
In Iceland, the Karahnjukar Power Plant has become the symbol for the destruction which threatens human existence on this earth.
It is our duty to protect Icelandic nature and leave it to future generations, undamaged. The Icelandic highlands, Europe’s largest remaining wilderness – where nature is still largely untouched by man, is not just a refuge and treasure which we inherited and will inherit. The highlands belong to the world as a whole. Nowhere else we can find another Lake Myvatn, Thjorsarver Wetlands, Sprengisandur, Skaftafell or Lake Langisjor.
We demand that Thjorsarver Wetlands, the wilderness west of Thjorsa River and the waterfalls downstream will be protected for all future to come. We strongly protest plans by the Minister for the Environment and Resources to change the demarcation line for the extended nature reserve in the Thjorsarver Wetlands. By doing so, the minister creates a space for a new dam at the outskirts of the area. The way in which the minister interprets the law in order to justify that all nature are as and/or potential power plants are at stake in each and every new phase of the Master Plan for Conservation and Utilization of Nature Areas is an attack on Icelandic nature and not likely to stand in a court of law. [We have engaged a law firm and we are threatening lawsuit if the Minister goes ahead with his plan]
We now have a unique opportunity to turn the high lands into a national park by bill of law to be adopted by the parliament. Thereby the highlands as a whole will be subject to one administrative unit and clearly defined geographically. Thus all plans for power lines, road construction and/or other man made structures which will fragment valuable landscapes of the highlands will belong to history.
We strongly caution against any plans to construct a geothermal power plant at or near Lake Myvatn. The Bjarnarflag Power Plant is not worth the risk. Lake Myvatn is absolutely unique in this world. Hence, we have a great responsibility for its protection.
We demand that the nature of Reykjanes Peninsula will be protected by establishing a volcanic national park and that all power lines will be put underground.
We find it urgent that the government will secure funds for conservation by hiring land wardens and will protect valuable nature areas against the ever growing pressure of mass tourism.
In particular we protest against the attack on nature conservationists, where unprecedented (sic. S.I. ed.) and brutal conduct by the police as well as charges pressed against those who want to protect the Galgahraun Lava, was cruel and unnecessary. We remind that the right of the public to protest nature damage everywhere, worldwide, is a basic premise for the success of securing future human existence on this earth.
We demand that the proposed bill of law repealing the new nature protection laws be withdrawn and that the new laws should take effect, as stipulated, on April 1.
Feb 16 2014
Iceland once was set as an example of unspoiled nature, clean energy and extraordinary financial recovery. Unfortunately, lately the strong Atlantic winds of change start to blow in the wrong direction.
By Julia Vol
In the wake of the devastating financial crisis that brought Iceland to its knees, the people took charge, went out on the streets and demanded the right-wing government to quit what later will be named the “pots and pans revolution”. The right-wing government, led by the Independence Party, was deeply involved in corruption and notoriously known for its crony capitalistic approach in reaching for the country’s leadership, which eventually led to the economical collapse.
The new social-democratic alliance led by Johanna Sigurðardóttir came to power in May 2009, and in the aftermath of the financial collapse had a lot of mess to clean and painful decisions to make. However, under Sigurðardóttir’s leadership the economic situation stabilized and recovery came about quicker than expected. In the years to follow, Iceland was often quoted as an example for economic recovery to fellow crisis countries such as Greece and Ireland. In addition to essential financial reforms and regulations, the social-democratic government set the foundation for long-term social and environmental sustainability. Natural preservation laws and committees were put forward to minimize the exploitation of Icelandic natural resources for monetary profit, green economy plans were outlined by the Parliament, and sustainability considerations started to receive growing attention in decision-making processes.
Many Icelanders even claim that the crisis turned out to be somewhat a positive thing, breaking the “gold rush” craze grasping the nation over the years prior to the crisis, and helping people get back to basic values and out of their arrogance and greed.
Still, apparently not enough Icelanders shared this optimistic view, as in April 2013 the right-wing coalition led by the infamous Independent and Progressive Parties were voted back into the government, by a majority of 51% of the votes. Only four years after being disgracefully thrown out of Parliament, the two parties were back on the top again. With less than a year in power, things seem to take a backward turn to the worse quite quickly, especially in regards to issues of natural preservation, social justice and governance on the little island.
The results of the administration switch were soon translated into action. Among the first steps of the new government was to cancel out the Ministry of Environment and merge it with the Ministry of Fishing and Agriculture. No conflict of interests there. The new minister of all the above declared upon entering the office, that his administration would be making more utilitarian usage of the Icelandic nature and refused to sign a bill initiated by the previous government to increase nature protection in Iceland. This promising start embodies the governments’ general line of argument: that whenever environmental considerations are part of the equation they will always count the least.
It’s All About Energy
The previous government had appointed a special professional committee to conduct the “Energy Framework”, a document aimed at providing guidelines on which areas of Iceland could be harnessed for power, and which shall be protected, aiming to regulate and limit the exploitation of natural resources for monetary profit. Shortly after coming to power, the new government called to cancel the Energy Framework guidelines and build a new shiny power plant in areas previously categorized as preserved. The government also dismissed over 400 letters from citizens who raised concerns over the new changes – in a manner that was widely described as arrogant and ignorant. Government officials claimed that experts’ opinions were more important than public opinion, while forgetting to mention that the two experts appointed to deal with the issues were politically appointed with no expertise in energy nor in preservation.
Over the course of the last half a year new plans have been laid out, setting the stage for more energy projects that violate the Energy Framework and the Icelandic conservation law. Experts from all fields are voicing their concerns and dissatisfaction over the very short-sighted environmental assessments made in the preparations for the new plants, warning constantly about the irreversible damage that will be done to Icelandic wilderness and disturbed ecosystems.
Worldly renowned natural areas such as the Mývatn lake, the Þórsjá river and the Icelandic highlands are put in danger of destruction, all for the cause of producing more energy for aluminum smelters. Lately, the Minister of Environment (and agriculture, and fishing), announced that he aimed to change the existing conservation law to allow further development in preserved areas around the Þórsjá river, including damming the river flow. This area (Þjórsárver, S.I. Ed.) has been protected by both the Environment Agency of Iceland and the Ramsar Convention since 1981. As expected, the Icelandic Nature Conservation Association strongly objected the plan, claiming that this will cause irreversible damage to the entire area and the surrounding waterfalls. The minister’s answer to these allegations was that it is okay to sacrifice several waterfalls for the purpose of economic profit which will come out of developing the area.
The violation of the natural conservation law continued when last October the government presented a brand new program to construct a highway which will pass through an 8,000 year old protected lava field. This expensive plan has been approved by the government right after a long line of a very painful budget cuts in education, welfare, health, culture, research, arts and science (yet not in subsidies to heavy industry). Why such a rush to build a highway in a sparsely populated area in times of financial cuts? The answer followed soon: The family of the Minister of Finances is expected to greatly benefit from the development of this project.
Environmentalist groups appealed against the project to the supreme court, however, the government decided that waiting for the court decision would be a waste of time and gave green light to start the construction. This sparked a protest of concerned citizens, and many of them arrived to express their dissatisfaction with the construction. They were arrested for speaking their mind despite their completely peaceful protest. Among the arrested protesters were some very well-known journalists, professors and public figures, not exactly a group of hooligans. Today, some of these people are facing prosecution for demanding the government to obey the law. This chain of events vividly demonstrates the government’s insistence on proceeding with its plans at all costs, using every possible tool to silence the opposition.
“Enjoy the Icelandic Wilderness (Before it’s Too Late)!”
The disruption and destruction of the Icelandic nature reserves is not preventing the new government from attracting as many tourists as possible, and maximizing profits from marketing Icelandic wilderness before it’s all gone. Tourism is a very fast-growing industry in post-financial crisis Iceland. The number of tourists has tripled over the past 12 years passing the threshold of 1 million tourists in 2013 (keep in mind that the entire population of Iceland is 380,000 people!). Understandably, this raises concerns over the fragile Icelandic nature, which was never exposed to so many people at once. While the previous government was putting forward regulations and preservation plans, the new government announced that 1 million is not enough and aims to bring over 3 million tourists per year within the next few years. Already today the effects of this fast growing industry are evident all around the island: Massive tourism is damaging fragile ecosystems, and Icelandic cities are turning into tourist attractions with decreased space for the local population. Needless to say that such a steep increase in tourism will put strain on the ecological system, especially since there is still no regulation or infrastructure in place to prevent the long-term effects of massive tourism. No wonder then, that even the New York Times strongly recommended its readers to go to Iceland ASAP, before it’s too late.
To Whale or Not to Whale
The paradox of destroying nature while communicating and marketing the image of Iceland as a pure and unspoiled nature destination is very present in the whaling controversy. Last summer the whaling of Fin whales was renewed, and the new administration has also revoked the decision to limit whaling grounds around the capital in favor of whale watching areas. Note that whale watching is the most profitable tourism attraction in the capital area, however, there is an increasing amount of incidents where tourists pay to witness the magic of wild animals but end up watching a very bloody hunting process.
The paradox is that the demand for whale meat worldwide decreases, and that it would be much more profitable to preserve these magnificent creatures for whale watching only. But this does not fall in line with the internal interests of the Icelandic elite, where the family owning the whaling company is well connected. The whaling ships continue their work, and the saddest part of this paradox is that due to low demand many of the endangered animals end their life as dog food in Japan or as some marketing nonsense such as “whale beer”.
The Wheels of Greed are Spinning
Iceland is an amazing country and is home to some of the most creative, innovative, talented and entrepreneurial people. It has the potential to become a role model for a sustainable community in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. For a brief moment there it looked that it might even come true. However, it seems that the strong Atlantic winds bring darker times along. Best put into words by the former Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir: “The current government’s priorities could not be more different from the ones honored by the last one. Inequality is once again rearing its ugly head, and the sharp knife of austerity has been turned towards the welfare system—all to benefit society’s wealthiest and best-off. Once more, the wheels of greed are spinning”. Read More
Feb 16 2014
The Icelandic government has spent decades protecting its glaciers, pools, ponds, lakes, marshes and permafrost mounds in the Thjorsarver Wetlands, part of the central highlands, which constitute some 40 percent of the entire country, mostly in the interior. But last year, the government announced plans to revoke those protections, allowing for the construction of hydropower plants (instead of glaciers and free-flowing rivers, imagine man-made reservoirs, dams, paved roads and power lines). “If they get into this area, there will be no way to stop them from destroying the wetlands completely,” said Arni Finnsson, the chairman of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association. More bad news looms: A law intending to further repeal conservation efforts has been put forward, so if you ever want to see Iceland in all of its famously raw natural beauty, go now. — DANIELLE PERGAMENT
On Saturday 11th January the Ministry of Environment and Forests finally gave its statement formally rejecting permission for Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mine. This move brings a conclusive end to the ten year struggle of the Dongria Kond tribe, alongside local farmers and dalits, to prevent the mining of this sacred mountain range which is their livelihood. Saving Iceland has followed the struggle and supported our comrades at Foil Vedanta as part of the global solidarity campaign which helped win this unique victory.
The ruling against the mine is being hailed as a precedent victory for grassroots democracy, after Supreme Court judges initiated a referendum on the mine last summer in which every inhabitant of twelve villages on the mountain voted against the project, giving passionate speeches against the company and the Odisha government.
The failure of the Niyamgiri bauxite mining project is estimated by some to have cost Vedanta $10 billion in lost investments. Vedanta boss Anil Agarwal had built the Lanjigarh refinery at the foot of Niyamgiri mountain, and even expanded it sixfold, so sure was he that he would gain permission to mine despite the local inhabitants’ dissent. In November 2004 he even used a Financial Times article to mislead investors and create confidence, by claiming that he already had permission to mine the mountain.
The misleading FT article is typical of the many ways in which the British government has propped up this contentious company, which is increasingly criticised by even such high profile figures as the former head of the Confederation of British Industries (CBI) Richard Lambert – who accused it of violating human rights and corporate governance norms and using its London listing to improve its reputation. Foil Vedanta is now calling for Vedanta to be de-listed from the UK Stock Exchange in recognition of their catalogue of human rights and environmental abuses at every one of their operations across India and Africa, as well as corruption, tax evasion and violations of corporate governance.
Foil Vedanta have recently published a comprehensive report on the company’s Zambian copper mining subsidiary KCM http://www.foilvedanta.org/articles/copp…) which has cost the Zambian exchequer billions of dollars in lost tax, as well as polluting and mistreating workers relentlessly.
Meanwhile the company are facing hard times as low share prices officially demoted them from the FTSE 100 to the FTSE 250 this December, removing their ‘blue chip’ status. In a panic Anil Agarwal (majority owner and Chairman) began to buy back as many shares as possible to increase the share price and save the company. He bought 1.7 million shares on Dec 19th, and another 3.5 million on Dec 24th, through his holding company Volcan Investments Ltd, which is based in the Bahamas, a UK controlled tax haven. A little later his new Executive, Tom Albanese (formerly Rio Tinto CEO who was pushing the aluminium industry on Iceland), also bought a large chunk of shares. But it was too late and the company slumped to the FTSE 250 nonetheless.
This makes Anil Agarwal now the 67.99% owner of Vedanta Resources, a violation of corporate governance norms for a listed public company.
Agarwal is now trying to keep his investors happy by claiming he will get bauxite to keep his refinery alive from another source in Odisha, but there are no immediate options available and activists are demanding the decommissioning of the Lanjigarh refinery, which has repeatedly spilled toxic red mud in local streams and polluted the surrounding villages.
Saving Iceland associates Samarendra Das and Miriam Rose of Foil Vedanta have recently authored a report exposing Vedanta’s dirty dealings in Zambia. The report has already caused a stir and the Mineworkers Union of Zambia have launched an investigation into the report’s findings.
Daily Nation, a leading independent Zambian daily newspaper, reports: Copper gate scandal deepens
The report by Das and Rose can be downloaded here: Copper Colonialism – Vedanta KCM and the copper loot of Zambia report or you can read the full report (35 page) online below.
21st January 2014.
In December Foil Vedanta activists made a trip to Zambia to investigate the operations of Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), Zambia’s biggest copper miner, and to make links with grassroots movements, academics, journalists and those in the political system who may be questioning the unjust terms of copper mining in their country.
We were shocked to discover the environmental and social devastation wrought by Vedanta’s operations, and the lack of information held by policy makers and regulators in Zambia on this multinational as well as on wider issues with copper market manipulations, material flows and the real interests controlling their country. This report is a comprehensive account of the origins of, and interests behind the rapid loot of Zambia’s copper resources which is currently taking place. Read More
How a mining conflict led to the political emancipation of a community in Northern Greece.
By Evi Papada
Occupied London – From the Greek Streets
Mining conflicts are increasingly surfacing globally due to complains over mines and pollution of water, soil and land occupied as well as over transport and waste disposal. The Skouries forest in Halkidiki has been at the center of a hot dispute between the mining company, Hellas Gold, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining giant Eldorado Gold and local communities. The company claims that an ambitious plan for mining of gold and copper in the area- including deforestation and open pit mining with excavation and everyday use of explosives- will benefit the region through the creation of some 5,000 direct and indirect jobs, while local residents argue that the planned investment will cause considerable damage to the environment and livelihoods, resulting to many more jobs losses in the existing sectors of the local economy (farming, pasture land, fisheries, beekeeping, food processing and tourism). The residents’ claims are supported by research conducted by various independent scientific institutions including the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Technical Chamber of Macedonia. In addition to legitimacy questions underpinning the transfer of mining rights from the Greek state to the aforementioned company , the Environmental Impact Assessment produced by El Dorado has been found to contain gross methodological discrepancies and whilst the public consultation process could be at best described as cosmetic .
Local communities have been mobilizing against the expansion of mining activities long before El Dorado was given the green light to begin works on site. Small scale mining had been taking place almost uninterrupted since the end of Second World War and residents have had first experience of its impact on their livelihoods and the environment. During the 90′s the Greek government had made several attempts at reviving mining activity in the region but following an appeal by the people the State Council decided that the potential risks of the proposed investment were higher than the potential benefits for the community and the environment and operations came to a halt in 2002 . The case of mining in Halkdiki took a definite political dimension owing to the following events. In December 2003 the mines were transferred to the Greek state through a law ratified by the Greek Parliament for 11 million euros and were sold the same day and for the same price to Mr George Bololas, owner of Hellas Gold S.A for the same price and without an open procurement process. The concessions relieve the company in advance from any tax transfers and from any financial obligation concerning environmental damage resulting from previous operation of the mines. It also stipulates that the mining company has possession of all minerals in the concession granted and there are no royalties for the state.
When it comes to mining conflicts, issues of distribution of resources extracted, recognition of the community’s relationship to natural resources at stake as well as their meaningful participation in the decision making processes determine the sense of injustice, or environmental injustice. In political ecology thus, mobilizations can be understood as a response to a series of disruptions in the course of ‘procedural justice’. In the years to come, local village communities set up local committees and met in their homes, organized information seminars and succeeded in engaging and mobilizing the wider scientific community of Northen Greece in an attempt to collect data and exert pressure against the expansion of mining in the region. A space has been created where communities and individuals live and develop political strategies. The documentary ‘Gold in the time of crisis: the treasure of Cassandra’ released in 2012 is a rare in depth investigation of the resistance movement and offers an eloquent account of everyday resistance in praxis.
Further parliamentary pressure lead to the European Commissions’ decision that the terms of the contract amount to an illegal State aid in favor of he company and ruled that the Greek government should collect 15.3 million Euros, plus interest. In addition, the EU Court of Justice decide that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) produced by the company failed to meet any of the goals of the Framework Directive 60/2000/EK regarding community action in water policy and ruled it out as inadequate. From the same Directive follows that mining activity can be sustainable only if it does not alter the character of a region, and developmental if it is carried out in the overall interest of society. The Greek government has appealed the decision and the case is still pending. Despite a court decision and the strong criticism it received, the EIA was finally approved and in March 2012, 4.1 square kilometers of public forest was conceded for the company to begin the implementation of the mining projects.
The way an environmental conflict fleshes out is determined by the language of valuation used by the different actors involved. The impact on the surrounding environment and livelihoods of current and future generations may be evaluated in physical or monetary terms or ‘strong’ versus ‘weak’ sustainability respectively. For the residents of Halkidiki, collective memory of village life, loss of livelihoods and the future of the coming generations are values that surpass monetary valuations of cost and benefit analysis. On the other hand, scientific valuations typically exert a cost benefit analysis monetizing environmental externalities using basic economic theory. Such externalities include social, environmental and policy impacts and data should be selected during the initial stages of the project. In the absence of original data selection, as is the case in the Halkdiki mines, a ‘benefit transfer’ methodology has been used as a ‘second to best’ approach to estimating benefits and costs of projects or policies. A robust Environmental Impact Assessment is deemed essential for such a method to be scientifically sound and it is, regrettably, absent given it has been ruled by the European Commission as not meeting set standards. The concept of ‘ecological distribution conflicts’ is often used to illustrate the incommensurable values pertained in any such conflict , while dynamics of power regarding the prevailing language of such valuations may bare significant consequences on how the conflict is negotiated in the public domain. According to a study recently conducted by a consortium of Greek universities using the aforementioned methodology, the annual environmental externalities of the mining activity in the area are estimated at 1.3M while the mining project will increase GDP by 40% and national income by 66% and will create 880 indirect and induced jobs. The benefit-cost ration is found to be 3.13 for the Greek economy.
A golden opportunity for growth
Regional competition for resources and pressure to curb high unemployment rates are pushing a gradual shift in European attitudes and policies towards mining. In an article published on the Reuters on line edition on July the 4th2013 titled ‘mining revival offers hope in crisis hit Europe’ an analyst of Raw Materials Group explains that growing resource nationalism in many parts of the world makes Europe more attractive from a political risk point perspective. Canadian investors clearly encountered no resource nationalism when they knocked on Greece’s door: the concessions mentioned above (full possession/no royalties for the state) were granted based on a law that dates back to the Greek military Junta, and which the current government did not bother to amend.
Since 2009, Greece has been operating under the auspices of financial recovery plan, designed collectively by the IMF, European Central Bank and the European Commission. According to the signed Memorandum, the country has agreed to a multi billion bailout on the condition of implementation of structural adjustment programmes and the attraction of investment is seen the only road to growth and job creation. Given the pressures inherent in any IMF structural adjustment programmes to allow Foreign Direct Investment, it come to no surprise that the Greek government approved the questionable terms of the Environmental Impact Assessment. The paradox however still remains as the terms of the concessions made to the company leave little room for the Greek state to profit out of this investment. The scale of environmental damage and the circumstances under which this project has been licensed bare striking resemblance to many post colonial modernization projects widespread in the developing world.
It is not the first time that the economic crisis is used as a pretext for the sacrifice of the environment and basic rights. So eager was the then Minister of Finance to approve the Environmental Impact Assessment and sign the investment agreement with Hellas Gold (the Greek subsidiary of Canadian based El Dorado) and so determined to follow it through, that practically no one could stand in his way. Certainly not protesting local residents, who were soon to be accused of forming and participating in a terrorist organization.
The turning point came on Oct. 21 2012 when about 2,500 protesters fought a pitched battle with more than 200 police along the forest road leading to Eldorado’s Skouries gold-and-copper deposit, arresting 14 people. Retribution came on the night of Feb. 16, when about 40 masked men invaded a Skouries work site in the forest, set fire to machinery and vehicles, and doused three security guards with fuel, threatening to burn them alive. Eldorado put the damage of the arson attack at $1-million (U.S.). Two men were arrested and another 18 are under investigation.
Evoking concerns over terrorist activity and threat to social order, police forces imposed a regime of occupation in Ierissos, conducting continuous house searches, interrogations, arrests including 16 DNA samples taken by force and without consent as well as arbitrary detentions, an Orwellian reality that residents of Ierissos and the neighboring areas were forced to experience. A 76 year old was called to testify at the local police station under accusations of ‘use of illegal violence’ during her participation at the June demonstration June 2013 blockade of the road leading to the worksite in Skouries. 35 more local residents are facing identical charges, for protests and blockades in April 2013. To make matters worst, on October 23, 2013 the National Federation of Editors Union released a statement condemning the surveillance activities of the National Intelligence Service for secretly recording conversations with national and international media regarding the events in Skouries, for the purpose of using them as evidence in court against those accused.
The local mobilization and unprecedented repression that ensued quickly found an international platform for support and solidarity through social and critical media platforms. The ‘battlefield’ ceased to be the central stage for mobilization and resistance welcomed new actors. More hybrid forms of resistance emerged, local, national and global, local protests continued along with international advocacy, lobbying etc. Consequently, police presence has been gradually withdrawing and the North Star ascended, a by private security firm guarding the site and equipment. On December 16th, 2013, 150 employees of the aforementioned security firm were fired and came to protest at the village square of Stratoni as El Dorado Gold decided to change their security provider to ‘Blackwater’, the notorious international private army known to the public through its involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Protesters were carrying a placard writing ‘murderers of nations out of here’.
Corruption and the mainstream media
An open letter addressed to the National Federation of Editor Unions from the Coordinating Committee of affected communities wrote:
“During the last few days…..the residents of our towns and villages have been targeted by a certain part of the Media, which systematically present us as “terrorists”. Not only is televised time split unequally, but we also often see a television “reality” that is manufactured for the needs of the 8pm news. On the pulpit of tele- democracy and the government affiliated news papers, there is no mention of the repetitive violations of our human and constitutional rights, the continuous police surveillance of our personal lives, the violation of our lawyers’ rights, the abductions/citizens’ disappearance for hours at a time, the unbearable pressure to give DNA samples. The rule of law is abolished everyday in our towns and the journalists pretend they see nothing”.(sos.halkidiki fact sheet,2012)
The mainstream media tactic concerning the events and issues surrounding the investment in Skouries has been two fold. First, the vast majority of TV and written press failed to report on the organisation of events and demonstration in area or surrounding cities, which were often attended by tens of thousands, making them the largest demonstation during the histroy of austerity in Greece.
A characteristic example is the newspaper ‘Kathimerini’ reporting of the demonstration of the 9th of September 2012 and the police repression. In an article under the heading ‘Determination in the face of extremities’, the unknown author argued that the struggle against the expansion of mining activities is equivalent to the action of far right groups, characterizing protesters as’ leftist assault battalions.
Not a single journalistic account had been published or braodcasted on the greviances put forward by residents of nearby villages regarding the illicit activities of the company. Reporting has been scarce if not absent, rendering the importance of the events not news worthy. Second, mainstream media outlets have used the method of selective reporting of events, broadcasting exclusively the opinions of government and company representatives, allowing it to be adopted as the ‘dominant truth’. A reference by representatives of the Ministry of Environment about a similar mining project of El Dorado S.A in environmentally sound Finland has been continuously reported whereas reports from national and international scientific bodies regarding the devastating effects on the environment are silenced is an illustrative example of the mainstream media serving particular interests. In this way, the ‘dominant truth’ is established as the single means of interpreting events, and succeeds in presenting such an investment activity as devoid of environmental risks, safe and necessary.
The political economy of the Greek media is of great interest and relevance and it has been further scrutinized both nationally and internationally, following Greece’s financial downturn in 2009. A gradual death of mainstream Greek media that positioned critically against the Memorandum singed between Greece and the Troika (IMF, ECB, EU) gave space for the emergence of a ‘memorandum of consensus’. Not only is there greater pressure on journalists to promote austerity measures, but there has also been a massive reduction of voices diversity: 63% of political parties TV air time goes to government, while Troika representatives or journalistic accounts about them account for 57% of TV news (June-December 2013). And another astonishing figure: Greece fell from the 35th place to the 84 in Press Freedom between 2009-2013 (Smyrnaios, 2013). The attitude and stand of the Greek mainstream mass media points to interwoven relations of corruptionBobolas, the same person who owns Hellas Gold S.A.. Incidentally the owner of the biggest Media Group, DOL is Mr George
Local Community strikes back
The liberal peace project of post dictatorship Greece is broken. It is beyond the scope of this document to analyze the current democratic deficit, however rampant police violence and arbitrary arrests are reported nearly on a daily basis on the few media that survived the angry grip of the establishment. All these, coupled with prohibition of assembly on major streets, marshaling of state employees, neo-nazi ressurgence and corruption at the heart of the very institutions that guarantee democratic and transparent processes are pointers to a fragile post 1974 social and political consensus. The terms for the new social contract will have to be negotiated again as the country is struggling to cope with the social and financial wreckage of austerity. The events in Skouries are but only one example of how state and media power as technology of power is creating ruptures with the everyday lives of people.
The presence and scale of activities of the mining company constitute a challenge to customary forms of community organizing and local state institutions. Local authority representatives are divided between those who support the project and sign agreements with the company and those who oppose it and join the resistance network. Land disputes and environmental hazards pose a threat to traditional forms of employment (farming, fishing etc) and different forms of popular mobilization against the mining giant as well as the decision or not to opt for employment in the mines are challenging the main constitutes of the village community, traditionally based on family and work relations. Institutional power revealed itself as ideology, under the mask of growth and the local struggle at safeguarding the environment against the activities of El Dorado transfuses itself with a struggle against an ideology that places the doctrine of ‘growth at whatever cost’ at the center of the new financial liberation dogma for debt ridden Greece.
The tactic of ‘divide and rule’, so carefully put in place by both the government and a large section of the mainstream media has not yield the expected results. The community’s response to the harassment, violations and serious legal allegations has been dynamic and continues; their everyday mobilization and repoliticization denotes resistance. When the governmental, judicial and Media institutions stand so firmly against a community then autonomous agency reclaims that vacant institutional space and introduce processes that resonate with the local experience and satisfy the needs of that particular community. The different tactics the communities use are flexible, resourceful and able to adapt against the institutionalized forms of control and coercion. On Sunday 19th of January 2014, in advance of the local election due to take place in May this year, over 3000 voters from five villages of the Aristotelis Municipality, under the banner of ‘ An initiative of Unity’ organized a secret ballot for the purpose of selecting one out of the three candidates, all active members in the movement against mining in the region, who will represent the anti mining block in the local elections. This is where autonomous agency meets with the liberal paradigm and creates what Oliver Richmond refers to as places of hybridity.Read MoreIn other words, this is an example of a creation of a space for political emancipation.
By Dr. Rannveig Magnusdottir
People have different passions. Some people are enthusiastic about coffee, others adore shiny things, yet others are passionate about nature and wildlife. Passion for nature makes people chain themselves to trees, parade naked to protest the fur trade, sail in rough seas to stop whale killing, climb oil rigs to protest drilling etc.
Now in Iceland, a group of environmentalists (lead by the NGO “Friends of the lava” are passionate about protecting a lava field, close to Reykjavík called Gálgahraun (Gallow-lava), from being dug up and buried under major roadworks. Some people might think this very odd. Why protect a small piece of lava since Iceland has so much of it? There is lava pretty much everywhere! There are a number of reasons why this particular lava field is unique and should be kept unspoiled. This lava was formed in the eruption of Búrfell, 8000 years ago and is protected by law. This beautiful lava field is mostly intact, and contains amazing geological features and old historical paths used by our ancestors. It also has a strong resonance for cultural reasons, as our best known painter, Jóhannes Kjarval, used scenes from the Gálgahraun lava field as inspiration for some of his famous paintings. Furthermore, it is one of the last unspoiled lava fields within the greater Reykjavík area. What upsets people about the situation is that the planned (and possibly illegal) road construction is completely unnecessary. It will only serve a low number of people (Álftanes has a population of 2.484) and the road construction will cost a fortune (approx 6 million Euros). The argument put forward for the new road layout is that the old road has caused accidents because of icing but out of 44 roads within the greater Reykjavík area, 21 roads were considered more dangerous than the Álftanes road, and of 1427 roads in the whole country, 301 roads have more accidents than Álftanes road. The road could be improved and made much safer for a fraction of what the new road would cost. I don’t know exactly what drives the municipality of Garðabær and The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration to pursue this insane road construction but something about the whole thing stinks very badly.
Four nature NGO’s have sued the municipality to halt the road construction, but have not been able to change the planned work and the lawsuit is still being processed in court. In the last weeks hundreds of people have been protecting the lava field and they set up a rota to make sure there was always someone in the lava field protecting it from the bulldozers. These brave people are making a human shield to protect something they love. Today, the police started dragging them away and are carrying them handcuffed like they were the criminals. On days like these it doesn’t feel like Iceland is a country of law and order anymore.
If you want to help in any way, you can either show up in Gálgahraun and protest or transfer a donation to their bank account number: 140 05 71017, kennitala. 480207 – 1490. All help is greatly appreciated.
Addition at 13:30 on 21st of October: I just came from Gálgahraun and the bulldozers are already ruining this amazing lava field. Dozens of people have been arrested, there is police everywhere and we all (even the police) stood there horrified watching the screaming bulldozer tear down delicate lava features. The people responsible will stop at nothing, their greed has no limits.
Update in February 2014: Gálgahraun lavafield has been destroyed and the court cases against its defenders have commenced. All are charged for “disobeying police orders”. (S.I .Ed.)
Aluminium has found its way into every facet of our lives: deodorants, sun lotions, vaccines or filtered drinking water. But what do we actually know about the side effects of our daily consuming of aluminium products? The light metal comes with heavy consequences. Latest research links it to the increase in Alzheimer’s, breast cancer and food allergies. Hand in hand with the large scale environmental destruction and routine cultural genocide, deemed necessary to generate electricity for smelters, come the often disastrous ecological impacts of bauxite mining.
Saving Iceland would like to recommend this recent and informative film by Bert Ehgartner. Below is a short trailer for the film. You can stream or download the whole film, in either English or German here.
See also: Is Aluminium Really a Silent Killer?
Sep 24 2013
Chris Jones, Statewatch
British police officers undercover in protest movements have been shown to have regularly operated outside the UK. Activists, lawyers and MPs have all called for an independent public inquiry in order to reveal the full extent of the practice.
Two-and-a-half years after the unmasking of Mark Kennedy and other police spies in protest movements, new information has emerged that reveals the extent to which police forces across Europe colluded in their deployment. Accusations have been made that police infiltrators were at the forefront of planning protests, acting as agent provocateurs. European law enforcement agencies coordinated these activities in secretive, unaccountable transnational working groups. Police officers formed long-term, intimate relationships with activists, had children with them, and became part of their extended families. The identities of dead children were stolen to create cover “legends.”
Rather than provide answers, this information has given rise to more questions:
• On what grounds was infiltration authorised?
• Did national police forces have knowledge of foreign undercover officers operating on their territory and, if so, did they benefit from information obtained by those officers?
• Is forming relationships with “targets” – including having children with them – official state policy?
• To what extent are undercover deployments demonstrative of coordinated European police operations?
• How many – if any – of the groups infiltrated by undercover agents can be said to warrant such levels of intrusion, and how is this assessed?
Legal challenges and political inquiries have been made – and are ongoing – in an attempt to find answers to some of these questions. Official reviews have been carried out in a number of countries, but those that have been made public – for example in Iceland and the UK – have been condemned as lacklustre and shallow by political activists, journalists and elected representatives.  The majority of these reviews have been kept secret, providing no answers to those affected by the actions of undercover officers, while those who authorised and took part in the operations have yet to be called to account. While officials may have occasionally wrung their hands and expressed concern, no heads have rolled – yet. 
Repeated calls have been made in the UK for an independent public inquiry into the use of police spies to infiltrate movements, including by a former Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, which have so far been resisted.  This article illustrates significant collusion amongst European police forces and arguably only a Europe-wide inquiry, for example by the European Parliament, can go some way towards establishing the extent to which authorities across the continent have undermined civil liberties and human rights. Read More
Sep 12 2013
Snorri Páll Jónsson Úlfhildarson Grapevine
Each time a free-floating rumour gets confirmed, and past political behaviour becomes a scandalous spectacle, one cannot resist wondering if such conduct might be going on today. This was the case in 2006, after a grand exposure of espionage the Icelandic state aimed at socialists during the Cold War. During parliamentary discussions following the revelation, Mörður Árnason, MP for the Social-Democratic Alliance (“Samfylkingin”), highlighted the importance of revealing if similar espionage was indeed occurring in present times. If so, he asked, “how is it being conducted? [...] Which foreign states have been able to access this information?” Quite typically, those questions were never answered.
Half a decade later, in late 2010, it was revealed that a British police officer, one Mark Kennedy, had travelled around Europe for seven years disguised as environmental and anti-capitalist activist ‘Mark Stone’ and was collecting information about various activist movements and, in some cases, acting as an agent provocateur. Along with the UK, Denmark, Germany, Italy and France — to name but a few of the places where he worked — he did a stint in Iceland’s Eastern highlands in the summer of 2005. In Iceland, he attended a protest camp organised by the environmentalist movement Saving Iceland which targeted the construction of the gargantuan Kárahnjúkar dam and American aluminium giant Alcoa’s smelter in Reyðarfjörður.
The revelation mostly stayed within activist circles and publications, until early 2011, when a public expose of the spy’s true identity lead to the collapse of a UK trial against six climate-change activists, in which Mark’s secretly obtained evidence played a key role. British newspaper The Guardian then took up the case, and the Mark Kennedy saga started to snowball contemporaneously with the broader attention it received, bringing to light a number of other undercover spies.
Shortly after Mark was exposed, Irish and German authorities admitted that he had worked within their jurisdictions and with their knowledge. Due to the ongoing efforts of Andrej Hunko — MP for German left party Die Linke — a truckload of information regarding European cross-border undercover police operations has since seen the light of day.
A recent book on the matter, written by Guardian journalists Paul Lewis and Rob Evans, brings further context to the affair — the mapping of at least 30 years of police espionage and infiltration of environmentalist, anti-racist and anarchist movements in the UK and elsewhere. Among the information revealed, the authors explain how the undercover officers at the Special Demonstration Squad — the undercover unit responsible for the infiltration — had the modus operandi of taking up identities of dead children in order to build up credible alter-egos based on the short lives of real persons.
It has also been revealed that Kennedy — along with others in his position — enjoyed several intimate relationships with some of his prospects, using sex to build up trust and gather information. One infiltrator, Bob Lambert, even fathered a child with one of these women, only to disappear as soon as his undercover employment became too risky. Eight British women who were victims of this tactic have pressed charges against the spies’ employer, the Metropolitan Police, due to the psychological damage they suffered. In a recent episode of investigative TV programme ‘Dispatches’ on Channel 4, some of them described their experience as having been mass-raped by the state, as they would never have consented to sleeping with the police officers had they been aware of their real identities. Adding insult to injury, their claims will not be heard openly — the British High Court recently ruled that it would take place in the secret Investigatory Powers Tribunal.
Saving Hell’s Angels
Enter Iceland, where the big question concerned whether Mark Kennedy had operated with or without the Icelandic authorities’ knowledge and approval. According to the country’s penal code, a foreign party or state’s espionage that takes place within the jurisdiction of the Icelandic state — or is directed at something or someone therein — is illegal and punishable with five-years imprisonment. Had Mark operated without the authorities’ knowledge, it should have caused an international conflict. If he, on the other hand, collaborated with the Icelandic police, it would have equaled the invoking of proactive investigative powers, which the Icelandic police apparently didn’t have at that time.*
Thus the affair entered Iceland’s parliament in late January 2011. Assuming the former version being more likely than the latter, the above-mentioned MP Mörður Árnason asked his fellow party-member and then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Össur Skarphéðinsson, about the government’s possible actions regarding the matter. After a few lousy personal jokes thrown between the two, Össur claimed he would wait for a report on the matter — conducted by the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police — which Ögmundur Jónasson, MP for the Left Greens and then Minister of the Interior, had already requested.
But when finally published by the Commissioner’s National Security Unit in May 2011, it was pretty much impossible to estimate the relevance of the report, as the details of Ögmundur’s request were never made public. It was, however, clear that the National Commissioner — whose report literally equated environmentalist activists with Hells Angels — wasn’t about to bring any concrete information out into the public domain.
Although admitting that the police received information about the activists and their plans via domestic and foreign sources, and that the Icelandic police collaborated with foreign police authorities regarding the protests, the report’s authors nevertheless fully dodged the question regarding the Icelandic police’s alleged collaboration with Mark Kennedy. The main conclusion of the report merely found that “during an overhaul of data at the National Commissioner’s office, no information has come forth enabling an answer regarding whether this agent provocateur [...] was here in collaboration with or without the knowledge of the Icelandic police in 2005.”
Despite criticism from Saving Iceland and Árni Finnsson, head of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association, which both accused the minister of condoning cover-ups and evasions by accepting these results, Ögmundur never really touched officially on the issue again. Neither did Össur nor Mörður or — as a matter of fact — anyone else from the establishment.
The truth regarding Kennedy’s operations in Iceland is still not publicly acknowledged, and the absurdity of the issue as it now stands is probably best described by Ögmundur’s own words, taken from an article published on Smugan — a now defunct leftist news-site — and his last public remark on the report: “The National Commissioner’s report states that the Icelandic police obtained information from abroad concerning the protests at Kárahnjúkar, but that the police do not have information about how this information was obtained.”
* It is, in fact, questionable if the Iceland police had proactive investigative powers or not. As a result of weak laws and a lack of regulations, it actually seems that until 2011 the police had just about carte blanche regarding whom to spy on and for what reason. See more about it here.
Click here to go to the support site for the women’s legal action against the Metropolitan Police.
Watch the above-mentioned Dispatches show here below: