Scrawled on the homes of the village of Megali Panagia in northern Greece are slogans emblematic of the deep rift caused in this society by a controversial Canadian gold mining project. "Goldmines are a curse for every nation," reads one - others are more profane.
For the past three years, the investment of Hellenic Gold - a subsidiary of Canadian firm Eldorado Gold - has deeply divided the local communities of the Halkidiki peninsula, even setting family members at each others' throats. In Megali Panagia itself, tit-for-tat attacks on shops and cars belonging to rival factions have been going on for years. Until now, most of the demonstrations were by residents fearing that the project will cause irreversible harm to the forested Halkidiki peninsula, one of Greece's most popular tourist areas. But the arrival in January of a new leftist government that opposes the investment has sparked a mobilisation among Hellenic Gold employees afraid of losing their jobs. Earlier this month, riot police were sent in when the rival groups came close to clashing in an oak forest between the villages of Stratoni, where Hellenic Gold has its base, and Ierissos, which opposes the project. Police Minister Yiannis Panousis later said some of the protesters were firing bolts from slingshots.
Panousis warned "there will be casualties" unless the situation is resolved. The new leftist government has clearly declared its opposition to the project, with Energy and Environment Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis recently pledging to "employ all possible legal means" to halt it.
After the latest protest Lafazanis went further, accusing the company of acting "as a state within a state" and mobilising its staff to cause violence. The mine employees, who plan to protest in Athens on April 16, counter that it is they who have faced intimidation and violence from the so-called environmental faction since the project was first announced in 2011.
Hellenic Gold says it plans to invest $1.38 billion) in the area overall.