Greece Lignite Addiction Wreaks Havoc on Rural Communities

For decades, Anargyroi’s residents have had to look on as, one by one, the region’s villages are consumed by the sprawling mine. But none could have anticipated the scale of the landslide that awaited Anargyroi in June 2017.

Splintering roads, toppling houses and severing power supplies, the collapse of the Amyntaio mine triggered tectonic shifts so powerful, 80 million cubic meters of earth collapsed causing parts of the village to subside by up to a metre.

“Some houses have been split in half!” Giorgos Pinopoulos, Deputy Mayor of Anargyroi

The risk of a landslide had been known for decades. Residents had even reported hearing noises and tremors beneath their homes. Yet their protestations fell on deaf ears, as the mine’s owner – state controlled Public Power Corporation (PPC) – refused to act.

In 2011, a government department warned that the village should be relocated due to the threat of a landslide. But again, no action was taken. This time authorities cited budgetary restrictions imposed after the 2008 financial crisis as the grounds for inaction.

And so where once a thriving rural community of shepherds, beekeepers and farmers went about their daily business; now only a few hardened souls remain – afraid to look to the future, yet reluctant to break with the past.

Many of those that have elected to leave have been forced to abandon their rural way of life in search of new beginnings in nearby cities. The struggle to find work and adapt to urban life remains a customary feature of many former villagers’ accounts.

Back in Anargyroi, abandoned family homes once passed down from generation to generation lie dilapidated and dormant.

A short drive from Anargyroi lies the village of Mavropigi – “black source” in Greek. Mavropigi is perched precariously on the edge of the 1000 square kilometre Ptolemaida open-pit mine.

Like Anargyroi, Mavropigi was once a bustling rural hamlet. But now it only plays host to a clutch of stray dogs and a dozen hardened locals – united in their determination to remain in their homes.

Pitted against them is the multi-million euro corporation PPC and its desire to mine under the village. Residents were told that they would receive compensation for their property. However in practice, most have received offers far below the market value.

As a consequence, some residents still fight to stay, despite the knowledge that cancer rates in the region are up 16 percent since 1950.

For outsiders looking in, it can be hard to understand the desire to stay, especially when confronted with such widespread destruction. But when forced to choose between residing in their homes and the uncertainty of relocation, some inevitably remain.

There are of course ways that villages like Mavropigi and Anargyroi could be spared such devastation. But for that to happen, the Greek government and the region’s coal companies would need to agree to a coal phase out strategy and commit to plant closures.

Greece remains the world’s twelfth largest producer of lignite and is inviting proposals for new lignite projects to operate until 2050. Such a stance offers scant hope for villages like Mavropigi and Anargyri, which are already well on the way to being entirely erased.

Frustratingly, Greece has enormous potential to capitalise upon abundant forms of clean energy, such as solar and wind – yet it opts to burn millions of tonnes of lignite.

Investing in renewables could lay the foundations for a fully-furnished green economy. But instead, Greece is doubling down on the toxic practices of yesteryear – a policy that will condemn more everyday Greeks to ill health and eviction.

So as it stands, Mavropigi and Anargyroi – just like the villages of Komanos, Charavgi, Kleitos, and Kardia before them – will suffer the indignity of eradication.

Except that is, for their churches and graveyards. These will remain – in compliance with Greek law – ghostly islands of sanctity, amid an apocalyptic sea of lignite.

These villagers deserve better.