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Scale of Space and Time

Spaces of Extraction in Europe: The Corporate–State–Mining Complex and Resistance in Greece and Romania

Espaces d'extraction en Europe : Le complexe minier entreprise–État et la résistance en Grèce et en Roumanie
Espacios de extracción en Europa: El complejo corporativo–estatal-minero y la resistencia en Grecia y Rumanía
Konstantinos ‘Kostas’ Petrakos


Despite the widespread attention paid to the spatial expansion of extractive frontiers around the globe, the multiple ways in which states and extractive transnational corporations interfere with and exercise authority over local populations in spaces of extraction remain underexplored. Drawing on insights from the literature on critical geography and on current debates over extractivism and neo-extractivism, this chapter explores the corporate strategies and techniques of power used in spaces of extraction, and discusses how states promote the forcible appropriation of land for mining operations. While most critical perspectives on extractivism have mainly focused on Latin America, Africa and Asia, where the expansion of extractive activities has intensified and become widespread, my focus is on the expansion of extractive activities in Europe, which has attracted renewed interest from extractive capital in the wake of the financial crisis. Two mining investments—by Eldorado Gold and Gabriel Resources, in Chalkidiki and Rosia Montană, respectively—have been reactivated in crisis-ridden Greece and Romania. In each country, a whole range of neo-liberal state strategies have paved the way for the expansion of the extractive frontier. Through an in-depth exploration of the two European cases examined here, this chapter builds on recent critical scholarship on new enclosures, extractivism, and the permanence of primitive accumulation in order to survey the inter-articulation of extractivist projects and neo-liberal policies in crisis-scapes. Attention given to social mobilisation at the extractive frontier highlights that social opposition arises due to some common agents of oppression. This social resistance leads to the formulation of a critique of development and highlights the importance of contesting neo-liberal policies at the international level.

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1. Introduction

1Since the late 1960s or early 1970s, extractive projects have tended to be more ‘capital-intensive’ than ‘labour-intensive’. This transition has attracted significant attention in the relevant literature (Kallis, 2013; Veltmeyer and Petras, 2014; Webber, 2017). The capital-intensive activities on which mining projects are based generate little employment after the construction stage, and the jobs that are created are typified by poor working conditions and almost entirely male labour, with all the usual consequences of gender segregation for women.

2This study contributes to a growing literature on the roles of space and uneven geographical development (Harvey, 2005) in shaping extractive capitalism (Mezzadra and Neilson, 2019). Under capitalism, the appropriation of nature and the continuous search for raw materials is fuelled by capital accumulation (Smith, 1984), and the neo-liberal state assumes the role of a significant ‘extra-economic’ actor, enabling resource mobilisation and capital accumulation (Bridge, 2014) in this process. The reconfiguration of neo-liberalism started with the 2008 financial crisis, and has continued to shape the dominant paradigm of capitalist development since then. It is characterised, according to Svampa (2013), as the passage from the ‘Washington Consensus’ to a consensus of commodities based on the large-scale export of resources. As extractivism triumphs in many regions (Federici, 2019) it plays a crucial role in contemporary capitalism—a paradigmatic practice of twenty-first century neo-liberalism that provides, according to Mezzadra and Neilson (2019), a lens with which to understand the functioning and circulation of capital.

3At a time of a crisis in capitalism, two mining investments, by Eldorado Gold and Gabriel Resources, in Chalkidiki and Rosia Montană respectively, were reactivated in the two crisis-ridden countries of Greece and Romania. These mega-development projects, just two of the many examples from all over the world, promote land-grabbing, marginalisation, contamination, dispossession and enclosures.

4By shedding light on the current reconfiguration of neo-liberalism, this chapter seeks to address the multiple ways in which states and extractive transnational corporations interfere with and exercise authority over local populations in spaces of extraction. Throughout the study, I observe the close relations between extractive capital’s strategies and those of the state.

5Special emphasis is placed on the active role of states in strengthening the ‘extractive imperative’ (Arsel, Hogenboom and Pellegrini, 2016). The entanglement of states with extractive transnationals creates multilayered power relations that facilitate the extractive process. Across various countries and different land ownership regimes, capitalist accumulation and the incorporation of the state into the act of striving for development have pushed and expanded the spatial limits of extractive activities into national parks, environmentally protected areas, forests and highly populated zones.

6States exercise authority through the modification of legal frameworks on land use and resource exploitation, which is usually expressed as ‘flexibility’, or as the ‘simplification’ of environmental regulations and of the spatial planning framework. Land dispossession and the active role of the state in it (Korfiati, 2020) is analysed in this chapter via a focus on the several amendments to environmental legislation, spatial planning policies and privatisation laws generated during the study period in Greece and Romania. This is rooted in McCarthy’s (2004, 332) analysis of ‘how neoliberal trade agreements impose an environmental governance model that attempts to expand private property rights claims while shrinking the public sphere’; Glassman (2006, 620) further expands on this idea. In each of the two countries examined here, a whole range of neo-liberal state strategies—including prolonged authoritarian governance, state corruption, greedy investors, deregulation of space, ‘simplification’ of environmental legislation, and socio-environmental disturbances (environmental destruction, pollution and social polarisation)—have paved the way for the expansion of the extractive frontier (Mezzadra and Neilson, 2017; Frederiksen and Himley, 2020).

7Although there is a growing body of literature that has extensively explored the articulation between the extractive sector and state-led development strategies for the social redistribution of mineral wealth, these contributions have focused on a global South conceptualisation. Exceptions are the recent work ‘The politicised ecologies of austerity: Anti-austerity environmentalism during and after the Greek crisis’, which discusses how subaltern struggles in Greece, among them the Skouries movement, challenged ‘austerity-driven development patterns’ (Calvário, Kaika and Velegrakis, 2021), and a recent contribution on the ‘socio-environmental injustices’ (Velicu, 2020) generated by mining development and the actions of the Romanian and Bulgarian states and of market actors.

8In the political framework of the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, an escalation of land dispossession in Europe to the benefit of extractive projects based on renewed corporate interests has been observed and analysed in the literature (Hadjimichalis, 2014; Tsavdaroglou, Petrakos and Makrygianni, 2017; Calvário, Velegrakis and Kaika, 2017; Velicu, 2020). With the present chapter, I seek to contribute to this literature by examining the corporate–state–mining complex in order to scrutinise the conflicting spatialities (Guzmán-Gallegos, 2012) in mining sites in a crisis framework.

9By unfolding the complex ways in which extractive transnationals exercise their power in spaces of extraction, I investigate how both the financial crisis and the imperatives of extractive development (Verweijen and Dunlap, 2021) transform socio-spatial relations and how social resistance has responded to such processes of capital accumulation. The extractive transnationals focus their efforts on convincing the locals of the benefits of mining in order to secure a social license to operate (Svampa, 2012), as well as to tackle social opposition generated by their operations. For the purposes of this chapter, corporate social responsibility strategies employed by extractive transnationals are examined first through the close relations and partnerships that link them to the state, and second through the infiltration of corporations into almost all functions and areas of social activity. According to Welker (2009, 146), it is widely believed that corporations alone have the power to catalyse development; thus, they ‘often assume a de facto state role, subsidising public transportation, education, health, utilities, and waste management infrastructure’.

10At the local level, the expectation of development based on mining is often linked to the employment of local populations in economically deprived areas within the national territory. And this often creates expectations of local, regional and national development. Despite the frustration of these expectations, they tend to remain unchanged regardless of the lost opportunities to detach the economy from this specific activity and to deploy different forms of productive reconstruction. The basic, long-lasting problem in mining areas is the political priorities and choices that have imposed mining as the only route to economic survival, as the two cases presented here also show.

11The local benefits of mining are, however, questioned both in the existing literature (Welker, 2009; 2014; Svampa, 2012; Gilberthorpe and Banks, 2012; Jacka, 2018) and on the ground, as seen in the proliferation of struggles against extractivist projects. The absence of ‘any real socio-economic development at the grassroots’ (Gilberthorpe and Banks, 2012, 185) contributes to the generation of conflicts between companies, states and local communities. As a counterbalance to this process of capital accumulation based on the joint efforts of extractive transnationals and host countries to expand the extractive frontier, powerful struggles against extractivism have emerged in both Romania and Greece. These began mainly as localised resistance to extractivist projects and to the environmental injustices (Velicu and Kaika, 2017; Velicu, 2020) provoked by them. Along with such local opposition, the defence of place (Escobar, 2001) and the construction of new materialities of space (Tsavdaroglou, Petrakos and Makrygianni, 2017) by social movements constitute what, according to Escobar (2001, 139), is seen as ‘network-oriented subaltern strategies of localization’. That said, the present chapter also provides insights into the radical praxis of these struggles in the form of social opposition to extractivism on both the local and the national level and beyond, as they have achieved a significant international profile and garnered strong international support.

2. The Permanence of Primitive Accumulation: Expanded Extractivism in Crisis-Scapes

12During the last decades of the twentieth century, various scholars, mainly from the Marxist perspective, reconsidered the discourse on primitive accumulation. In particular, autonomous Marxist scholars recognised that primitive accumulation is not only confined to the origins of capitalism, but is a continuous phenomenon (De Angelis, 2001; Glassman, 2006; Midnight Notes Collective and Friends, 2009) constitutive of capitalist relations at all times, eternally recurrent, and ‘part of the continuous process of capitalist accumulation’ (Federici, 2019, 15). Autonomous Marxists argue that enclosures are constantly expanding and therefore that they are not merely a pre-capitalist procedure. These contributions are complementary methodological tools that highlight Marxists’ contribution to the interpretation of various urban and rural spaces and promote radical praxis. In this context, I also draw on scholars of political ecology who research struggles against the normalisation of austerity in Europe (Calvário, Kaika and Velegrakis, 2017; 2021).

13In this framework I focus on insights from the literature on critical geography (Massey, 1994; Allen, 2016; Bridge, 2004; 2014) and on current debates over extractivism and neo-extractivism (Svampa, 2013; 2019; Acosta, 2011; 2016; Gudynas, 2013; 2018) in order to explore the corporate strategies and techniques of power used in spaces of extraction, and to discuss how states promote the forcible appropriation of land for mining operations.

14The term ‘extractivism’ was first coined in Latin American critical thought with specific reference to the increasing extraction of minerals, hydrocarbons and other natural resources. According to Acosta (2016), the practice of extractivism began to emerge 500 years ago, and was maintained during the era of colonial and postcolonial looting and capital accumulation. Today, it has become prominent as a model of economic development in many Latin American countries and is expanding worldwide (Gudynas, 2013; Svampa, 2013; Fabricant and Gustafson, 2014; Gordon and Webber, 2016). In its most basic definition, extractivism is described as a type of natural resource extraction that is large scale, very intensive and oriented primarily towards export (Acosta, 2011; Gudynas, 2013), and subsequently as a mining trend–strategy that becomes prominent during a socio-economic crisis and facilitates the extraction of raw materials by transnational corporations, which develop close alliances with host countries and infrastructure companies. Extractivism differs from extraction geared towards endogenous needs (Webber, 2017) as it includes all the functions of both the capital and the industries activated for the exploitation, extraction and export of resources. Thus, it is associated with the orientation of national development strategies towards primary export, a colonial heritage reinforced by global neo-liberalism and maintained under progressive governments in Latin America (Brand, Dietz and Lang, 2016; Svampa, 2019). As a result, Latin American countries experienced an accelerated process of ‘re-primarization’ (Lander, 2014) of their economies during the commodities boom of the early twenty-first century (de los Reyes, 2017).

15As will become clear in the following analysis, this chapter aims to contribute to these discussions, and argues that the intensification of extraction worldwide reinforces the Latin American literature on extractivism. A growing body of literature focuses on the conflicts that emerge when the territorial logics of large-scale mineral mining are imposed through legislation and securitisation (Vélez-Torres, 2014) causing significant territorial reconfigurations (Warnaars, 2012; Vélez-Torres, 2014; Van Teijlingen, 2016). Illustrative of this is work on the processes that constitute the Colombian extractivist governmentality (Vélez-Torres, 2014), which places particular emphasis on the territorialisation of the government’s juridical arrangements for the control of mining resources. Turning to the Ecuadorian Amazon, Van Teijlingen (2016) uses a governmentality approach to scrutinise the development discourses and practices that surround territorial struggles around mining. These two contributions to the literature suggest that state strategies have resulted in government-led mining dispossession and/or ‘giving private actors privileged access while dispossessing local communities from their territorial control’ (Vélez-Torres, 2014, 76). The argument here is that the mining–development nexus works as an essential element of the ‘extractive imperative’ (Van Teijlingen, 2016). In this respect, the present chapter examines the strategies, policies and tactics employed by states and private investors that reinforce the power relations present with regard to land and land-based resources (Vélez-Torres, 2014), and explores the subsequent social struggles that resist such power apparatuses.

16Through an in-depth examination of the two European cases examined here, the present chapter underlines that mining sites’ creation of environmental costs is not accidental and inadvertent, but is a result of the particular way in which production and its (constituent) social relations are organised at the local level, the sites’ particular geography, the specific economic conditions, and the financialisaton of mining activities (Mezzadra and Neilson, 2017; de los Reyes, 2017). Thus, I build on recent critical scholarship on new enclosures, extractivism and the permanence of primitive accumulation in order to examine the inter-articulation of extractivist projects and neo-liberal policies in crisis-scapes.

3. Case Studies and Methodology

17Located in northern Greece, the Chalkidiki peninsula is a popular tourist destination. The area of north-east (NE) Chalkidiki, meanwhile, is a departure from this tourism-based development model and is characterised by a long history of mining activities. Since the beginning of these activities, which go back to the time of the Ottoman Empire, the region and its local populations have been confronted with capitalist power relations, signified by the power exerted by national and international mining capital. The decision to locate mining facilities in NE Chalkidiki for the production of the materials and fertilisers needed by Greek industry for the post-WWII economic rebuilding activities of the Greek state gave the area its current character. Power alliances have changed over the years, but the power itself has shaped the region’s extractive identity and has defined the labour relations around mining operations. During the past two decades, there has been renewed interest in mining investment in the region, targeting the further exploitation of its mineral wealth. In particular, the most recent period of mining exploitation is characterised by the development of a gold metallurgy infrastructure as the main target of the companies concerned. Prior to this, the production of mixed sulphide had been the main focus of mining activity in the region. The current investment phase began in 2006, and for the first time the region saw the introduction of new technologies, such as open-pit mining, which was introduced in Skouries—a pristine forest of rare biodiversity. Since February 2012, Eldorado Gold, which currently holds all of the share capital of Hellas Gold, has held the exploitation rights for 31,700 hectares in the area—43 per cent of Aristotle Municipality. This area, which has been earmarked as a possible mine, contains 16 villages and approximately 19,000 inhabitants.

18Rosia Montană meanwhile, located in the Apuseni Mountains of western Transylvania (west-central Romania), is a mountain village that lies on a massive deposit of gold. The mining landscape of Rosia Montană is unique in Europe, as the visible results of its more than 2,000 years of continuous mining operations testify. But it is the open-pit mining that took place from 1971 onward—its production levels gradually decreasing until 2006—that is largely responsible both for the scale of the environmental degradation caused and for the most dramatic aspects of physical change. Those operations ultimately comprised both irreversible loss and unsustainable practice. After 2000, and mainly in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Canada’s Gabriel Resources intended to implement Europe’s largest open-pit mine in the region. The Rosia Montană project was planned to be four times larger than that of the exploitation that took place during the Ceauşescu regime, when gold and copper opencast mining took place.

19At first sight these two mining projects have many features in common. Both regions have been officially declared mono-industrial, a fact that facilitates land speculation. Another common point is that both projects were reactivated during the financial crisis. Starting in 2009, the Romanian government entered into economic adjustment programmes with the World Bank, the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for its austerity measures with regard to public finances and salaries. Thus, the most recent attempt at mining exploitation in Rosia Montană began after the Romanian economy had been subjected to fiscal adjustment measures.

20My research analysis regarding the project in Greece is based on document analysis and active participatory fieldwork research carried out specifically mainly in NE Chalkidiki, where the Kassandra Mines are run by multinational mining company Eldorado Gold. I draw on a fieldwork study conducted in the villages of Megali Panagia and Ierissos, both located in NE Chalkidiki. The study was spread intermittently over the five years from late 2013 to late 2018. In those years, I visited the site many times, and conducted extensive periods of fieldwork in the wider area. Around 20 semi-structured interviews with men and women between 25 and 55 years of age, and numerous face-to-face discussions with groups of participants in the Skouries movement, were conducted. The fieldwork employed an ethnographic approach to the case study, and participation in a wide range of activities, including everyday activities, informal discussions, local assemblies, protests, festivals and cultural ceremonies.

21In parallel, yet not in the same detail, my research also considers the case of the Rosia Montană mining area in Romania, following a field visit conducted in May 2017. Here, the fieldwork included tours of the underground mining sites of past mining operations and of the open-pit mining sites of the Ceauşescu regime era, and trips to the wider area of the mining concession, alongside participating in local ceremonies and attending a meeting of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). Following a visit to the Museum of Mining History, I had the opportunity to talk with members of the mining resistance movement, who guided me to the places that were being targeted for mining exploitation according to the investment plan of Gabriel Resources. I thus saw the scale of the mining concession area, and the wealth of the area under threat.

22The aim of my research has been twofold: firstly, to trace the systems of oppression that seek to maintain inequality in extractive spaces; secondly, to highlight the variety of resistance strategies and actions that call into question the hegemonic reasoning of development projects.

4. Confronting the Expansion of Extractivism: Radical Praxis in Chalkidiki and Rosia Montană

23When the mining investment plans for Chalkidiki were made public, several citizen initiatives (the so-called struggle committees) were formed in the surrounding villages, organising many mass demonstrations, occupying the local police station, and blocking the local road network in order to prevent the riot police from entering homes. In recent years, several acts of solidarity and sharing have been taking place, including popular assemblies, solidarity concerts–festivals, and summer camps in the forest of Skouries—in proximity to the open-pit mining site. The importance of this struggle and its unique characteristic is that participants act in the physical space, refusing to enter into endless, ineffective negotiations with institutional actors. At the same time, the struggle has spread to major Greek cities. Several solidarity initiatives, and protests in front of the Canadian embassy and Eldorado offices, were organised. The struggle also attracted international attention, as solidarity actions took place in many countries. The fight against gold mining in Skouries became one of the most emblematic socio-environmental struggles in Europe, alongside ‘Save Rosia Montană’, ‘NO TAV’ (Treno ad Alta Velocità) and ‘ZAD’ (Zone to Defend).

24The gender dimension of daily life also came to the fore thanks to the involvement of women in this social movement against mining, and was identified by many participants as an important dimension of the struggle. Previous work (Tsavdaroglou, Petrakos and Makrygianni, 2017) has also emphasised the feminist perspectives that have emerged during the struggle against mining. On several occasions women tried to break the police blockade in order to approach the Skouries forest on the mountain at Kakavos, and successfully blocked the entrance of the construction site. This social mobilisation deregulated the patriarchal structures of local society, even temporarily, and caused ruptures that distorted the previous rhythm of everyday life (Tsavdaroglou, Petrakos and Makrygianni, 2017).

25Company social infiltration tactics reproduce and reinforce power relations regarding land ownership and resources. According to the Megali Panagia struggle committee:

Regardless of whether Eldorado, and every Eldorado, wants to, can or dreams of exploiting the resources, we do not share the Greek state’s fantasies of ‘gold’ rights and surpluses in royalties. We are certain that extractivism and mega-exploitation have never served equal human well-being or satisfied real social needs, but have fostered and continue to foster voracious human greed, adventurism, speculation and the self-justification of the rulers. That is why we oppose mining investment development plans in general. ‘Gold mining never and nowhere’ remains our main slogan. (Discussion with members of the struggle committee of Megali Panagia)

  • 1 A copy of the dossier is in the author’s personal archive.

26In a similar manner, the Rosia Montană mining project faced social resistance from local communities and urban populations fighting for the protection of the environment and the preservation of their cultural heritage. As noted in the nomination dossier of ICOMOS WG for Rosia Montană,1 the whole area is an outstanding cultural landscape with a rich diversity of different heritage components, constituting a unique mining landscape in Europe with regard to its characteristics of continuous mining operations. According to the resistance committees, the Rosia Montană valley in its entirety would be transformed into a lunar landscape.

27At the local level in Rosia Montană, Gabriel Resources focused, as we shall see, on convincing the locals of the benefits of mining. Most residents, however, refused to enter into negotiations with the mining multinational or the Romanian state, deciding instead to form, in 2000, the non-governmental organisation Alburnus Maior to defend their right to property, preserve the natural landscape and cultural heritage of the area, and challenge the legality of permits. By confronting the ‘legitimacy’ of the state assuring the interests of extractive capital, residents of Rosia Montană refused to accept expropriation and won the ‘recognition’ of a place at the table in face-to-face discussions with Romania’s president (Velicu and Kaika, 2017). During their struggles, they became involved in radical changes and ruptures in their everyday practices and livelihoods (Velicu, 2020).

28In the village of Rosia Montană in particular, the situation was devastating, the place rendered a desert due to the expropriation of the inhabitants’ houses by the mining company and these houses’ gradual crumbling into ruin. Members of the mining resistance movement told me that this signified the point of no return for their action. They decided to intervene, and to focus their actions on the preservation of the built heritage and infrastructure, each of which was deteriorating.

29The organisation of the ‘FanFest’, an annual cultural and ecological festival first held in 2004, has been the most visible expression of the struggle against this extractivist project. The aim of the Fest has been to promote the alternative development potential and preserve the cultural and natural landscape of Rosia Montană. Some years later, the resisting communities introduced the ‘Adopt a House in Rosia Montană’ campaign (launched in 2011), its aim to protect the historic site and its built heritage. Specifically, the campaign’ purpose is to restore buildings and religious sites and to establish a community centre dedicated to the struggle, contributing to social change through the empowerment of local communities in Rosia Montană and the surrounding area.

30Despite the slow disappearance of communities (Velicu, 2020) from the region, an alliance of Alburnus Maior, Save Rosia Montană, and ICOMOS Romania made the struggle more effective and successfully prepared the nomination document for the inclusion of the mining landscape of Rosia Montană in the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’s list of world heritage sites. On 27 July 2021, Rosia Montană was inscribed simultaneously in the World Heritage List and in the List of World Heritage in Danger, providing a successful conclusion to an effective struggle dedicated to the protection and conservation of a mining landscape.

31Thus, despite the initial willingness of the Romanian state to foster, during the financial crisis, the exploitation of the mineral resources of Rosia Montană, the mining project was cancelled thanks to powerful struggles that developed against it.

5. Corporate Social Responsibility as a Means of Enhancing the Expansion of extractivism

32Having provided a brief description of two cases from the expanding resource frontier in Europe, with an emphasis on the characteristics of the social mobilisation that rose up against mining projects in these cases, I now move on to explore strategies as the means by which corporations seek to infiltrate society and promote their interests. Applied to the question of power imbalances, the ideology of ‘senile developmentalism’ (Martínez-Alier, 2010) in extractive spaces is, I argue in this chapter, supported and ensured by the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and national developmental agendas. Building on the concept of CSR in extractive industries and its entanglement with sustainable development, Welker (2014) examines CSR as an extension of corporate knowledge and power and dissects the uneven and contingent ways in which capitalism is promoted and contested in particular places and among particular people. According to Welker (2014, 70), ‘Talk of sustainable development in the mining industry—which by definition extracts nonrenewable resources, generating large-scale destruction and pollution in the process—sounds patently oxymoronic’.

33The concepts of CSR and/or a ‘social license to operate’, combined with sustainable development and governance, configure the dominant discourse that aims to legitimise extractive economic projects. At the same time, as I will argue below, extractive multinational corporations seek to elicit acceptance of these projects through multifarious mechanisms of biopolitical control of the population (Svampa, 2012). In seeking a ‘social license to operate’, they aim to establish the legitimacy of the ongoing extraction in order to gain stable, long-term access to subsurface deposits (Frederiksen and Himley, 2020) despite the negative consequences of their projects for the social fabric and despite the degradation of the environment that these projects entail. I argue that soft power manifestations—or, as Allen (2016, 68) terms them, ‘quieter registers of power’—such as incitement and manipulation, develop, occur and are implemented in combination with violent processes of dispossession around mining locations. On this topic, a growing body of critical literature (see Brock and Dunlap, 2018, and Verweijen and Dunlap, 2021) uses the notion of counter-insurgency in the extractive sector in order to emphasise the ‘hard’-coercive and ‘soft’-pacification techniques employed by corporate–state networks. ‘Participatory’ and ‘community-oriented’ interventions deployed in CSR initiatives constitute, according to Verweijen and Dunlap (2021), the ‘soft’ tools of counter-insurgency that operate next to and overlap with techniques of overt violence (Brock and Dunlap, 2018). According to the analysis of Brock and Dunlap (2018), the use of counter-insurgency techniques demonstrates a continuation of repressive tactics and social manipulation, revealing the efforts of corporations and governments to socially engineer the political terrain and normalise socially and ecologically damaging practices. In this context, my focus lies on elucidating the political (re)actions ‘from above’ (Verweijen and Dunlap, 2021) in these two extractive spaces in Europe.

34With regard to those local communities affected by extractivist projects, multinational mining corporations financially support specific economic sectors and settlements in order to achieve a more effective infiltration into society.

35In the case of Chalkidiki, quieter registers of power include Eldorado Gold’s infiltration into local authorities and communities, supported by the pretext of the jobs created by its activities, and exacerbated by its exploitation of the concept of CSR. In particular, Eldorado Gold rewarded the former (until 2014) municipal authority of NE Chalkidiki for its support by subsidising public services and the police. Simultaneously, the company was promoting its investment in the schools of the region and created a ‘tourism organisation’ in order to demonstrate the compatibility of extraction and cultural tourism. In addition, in certain settlements it emphasised the strengthening of the region’s economy, creating an imaginary picture of a society that prospers. Whereas for settlements close to the mining operations the economic viability of their populations is threatened by the forced abandoning of the forest and other primary sector activities, as well as by their geographic proximity to the mining operations, in a process that has led to spatial and social deprivation. As a result, local conflicts between the inhabitants of different settlements become part of daily life, social discord is spreading through the local community, and tensions arising from the spatial separation generated are exacerbated.

36In this context, it is worth mentioning that promises of local employment and of preferential treatment for the local workforce contributed decisively to the driving of a wedge between the locals, and between settlements—a corporate strategy that continues to shape the area today. ‘What is interesting with Eldorado Gold’, the struggle committee of Megali Panagia stressed,

is that the Canadian multinational company acts as a typical example of […] so-called cowboy capitalism […] a company that was not afraid to make aggressive moves. Having acquired a partial social consensus, [it] targets citizens who opposed mining and turns its employees against their fellow villagers. Look at the facts… on March 20, 2012, 400 hundred miners led the attack on the mountain with the company’s vans, and burned the guardhouse built by the struggle committees three years earlier. (Discussion with members of the struggle committee of Megali Panagia)

37With regard to the struggle against the Eldorado Gold mining project, a variety of repressive techniques have been documented, including the burning of the guardhouse, police harassment and brutality, surveillance techniques, vandalising homes and illegal detainment by the police. At the same time, Eldorado Gold collaboration in repressive/violent operations in the Skouries forest interacts with sensitive social development initiatives and public relations strategies (Verweijen and Dunlap, 2021).

38The above indicates that the dialectic relationship between soft power tactics/quieter registers of power and violent processes of dispossession—a point I made earlier in this chapter—takes on particular visible forms. It is precisely these repetitive tactics of multinational companies that, as Maria—a member of the struggle committee of Megali Panagia—points out, create this ‘nerve-racking’ environment:

In the first stage, mining multinationals promise jobs, compensation benefits, infrastructure projects and training programs for the population. In the second stage, when these means do not work, they attempt to acquire control over all the resources of the area via force, through expropriations of land and savage repression, in collaboration with the state. States are passing laws prohibiting people from suing companies for environmental disasters and declaring that the area is in a state of emergency. The companies’ strategy is driven by the ‘divide and rule’ doctrine, since social discord has been spreading in the local community and social conflicts have become part of daily life. (Discussion with Maria, member of the struggle committee of Megali Panagia)

39What emerges is that in contrast to the area’s reputation as a pristine forest region of rare biodiversity and possessed of a rich cultural history (known worldwide as the birthplace of the Greek philosopher Aristotle), transformed regimes of access to land and resources create accumulation by a process of dispossession (Harvey, 2003). The reputation of the region is currently at risk due to the ensuing environmental degradation and the undermining of different forms of productive reconstruction. That said, another repeating pattern in the area’s mining history is the emergence and bankruptcy of mining companies, and shifts between job security and growing unemployment at the local level. Here, a fine example is the village of Stratoni. According to the New Investment Agreement signed by the Greek government while COVID-19 lockdown measures were in place, the village appears to be of diminished importance for Eldorado Gold due to the elimination of certain of the company’s activities. For the population of Stratoni, the non-inclusion of a metallurgical plant and port facilities in the new Agreement could mean a future characterised by unemployment and poverty.

  • 2 Eldorado Gold announced the move in May 2019. Its employees warned that if the company stuck to thi (...)

40A mining monoculture has therefore emerged, which signifies an economic weakness for the settlement due to the banning of any other development in the area. While the company’s plan to move its offices and administrative services from Stratoni to Thessaloniki may have been temporarily frozen2 due to the negative reaction of its employees’ unions, the existence of such a plan per se rather reinforces arguments of economic weakness. Further, a significant change in the new Agreement is that the 90:10 quota in favour of hiring employees from local communities has been abolished. The company has thus now been given the opportunity to take any action it deems to be in its own interest and to employ a local workforce only where it wishes to do so. As Elli and Giannis put it,

A company that for years has been polluting and destroying the land, looting the mineral wealth of the area, manipulating and trying to mislead the residents of the Municipality of Aristotle. A company that, we would remind you, advertises itself as a low-cost gold producer. For us, this means high environmental and social costs and certainly not local development and prosperity. (Discussion with Elli and Giannis, members of the struggle committee of Megali Panagia)

41Eldorado Gold is a low-cost gold producer and the open-pit mining sub-project at Skouries forest is ranked first in the top ten lowest-cost gold mining projects in the world, at a cost of only USD 215 per ounce.3

42In Romania, meanwhile, Gabriel Resources, the parent company of Rosia Montană Gold Corporation (RMGC), took over the management of the Museum of Mining History in Rosia Montană to promote and advance its message of corporate sensitivity and social responsibility with regard to the preservation of cultural heritage. Simultaneously, it spearheaded the relocation of the inhabitants of Rosia Montană and the forced expropriation of their legally owned property. With a mining monoculture imposed, the local agricultural sector deteriorated. Thus, the case illustrates how local communities are manipulated in ways that allow multinational extractive capital to operate amid specific cultural and economic sensitivities, in a process that obscures dominant relations regarding access to land.

43As Eugen pointed out,

Through these years, mining representatives when they came they never talked about the project itself, they were just lying about their mission. Our area is at risk of total destruction as it lies squarely in the path of today’s hazardous mining practices. (Discussion with Eugen David, president of Alburnus Maior)

44‘What they […] proposed to us’, stresses Irina, a member of ICOMOS Romania, ‘was to blow up four mountains to create Europe’s largest opencast mine, to eliminate 2,000 years of continuous mining history, [and] to destroy the archaeological landscape, the underground mining network that remains unexplored.’

45This analysis shows that, in the region of Rosia Montană, ‘hard’-coercive spatial instruments were deployed, but coexisted with ‘soft’ tactics aimed at making possible the apparatus of extractive development as it is ‘genetically determined throughout the population’ (Gudynas, 2018, 68).

6. The Logic of Extractivism Shapes State Policies

46At the nexus of finance and mining there is a growing literature (Gago and Mezzadra, 2017; de los Reyes, 2017; Mezzadra and Neilson, 2017; 2019) in which the notion of extraction is extended to include the articulation of mining operations with other operations of capital, apart from and beyond the site of physical mining. With regard to the question of finance, an important factor of the revival of research interest in mining and extraction is the fact that the operators pursuing these mining and extraction activities display a surprising level of corporate concentration (Mezzadra and Neilson, 2017). In the mining sector, a limited number of companies control an increasing share of the industry globally (Ericsson, 2012). Regarding gold in particular, de los Reyes (2017) skilfully focuses on some of the biggest gold mining corporations and underscores the new manifestations of financialisation in the mining industry. Her work presents systematic research into the changing landscape of the mining industry and the internal financial processes of mining companies and shows how mining investment decisions are made in places far away from the site of extraction (Rodríguez-Labajos and Özkaynak, 2017).

47The aforementioned extension of the notion of extraction is used as a way of analysing and understanding the current moment of contemporary capitalism, at a time when economic growth is increasingly shaped and controlled by financial institutions. It is important to understand the current dominant forces driving the intensification of extraction. Extractive operations –which are highly dependent on globalized capital– severely limit national governments’ choices as to how to handle them. Rather than replacing the state, extractive capital complements it, so that together they shape the development framework of a country. In a recent interesting contribution on this topic, Brock’s (2020) analysis reveals the interconnection between the fracking industry and the British state, exposing the state’s extractive interests at the fundamental level, and highlighting the interplay between extractivism and statism.

48In various cases, the effects at the local level are repeated under all property regimes involved in extraction, whether private, public, or mixed (Gudynas, 2018). That said, it is of crucial importance that we focus our attention on the state’s policies in fostering the spatial expansion of the extractive frontier. These policies, although diversified, all end up supporting and enhancing the expansion of extractive operations, as I shall argue below.

49Extractive operations are not applied in the same way everywhere. Extractive transnationals take into account and adapt to the specificities of host countries and their mining regions, targeting national governments and—as I have already shown—local authorities and communities. Regarding host countries, extractive multinational corporations implement a range of different strategies depending on the national government’s willingness to approve the licensing of mining projects. Often, the involvement of states in corporate schemes is the most appropriate way of ensuring that a mining project can be carried out.

50In Romania for example, Minvest Deva, a state-owned mining company, holds a 20 per cent stake in mining projects in Rosia Montană and Certej. When operating in Certej, Eldorado Gold concluded an agreement with the same state-owned company, but the Greek state never claimed a share of the profits of Eldorado Gold from its related activities. According to the new investment plan for the Kassandra Mines in Chalkidiki, Eldorado Gold ‘is recognized as the absolute manager, holder and owner of all natural resources in the area’ (Struggle Committee of Megali Panagia, 2021).

51By analysing processes of state intervention in the mining areas of Chalkidiki and Rosia Montană, this study shows that the logic of extractivism continues to shape the model of economic development in these two countries and beyond. At each site, the respective national government has implemented an orthodox, neo-liberal-oriented policy regime in order to attract foreign direct investment. The dominant forces of this neo-liberal orientation are inherited power relations (resulting from the interregional and transnational division of labour), the lucrative environment for speculative capital (Hadjimichalis, 2014) in the context of socio-economic crisis, and the economic adjustment programmes—imposed by each country’s creditors—to which the economy has been subjected in a phase of economic crisis. In each country, the state has revised existing or adopted new mining regulations in an attempt to attract foreign investment to the mining sector (Bridge, 2004).

52In the case of Greece, several amendments to spatial legislation were accelerated in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Spatial planning policies were characterised by an overproduction of legislation, and spatial arrangements to facilitate land privatisation and the exploitation of public property. Two of these laws (4262/2014 and 4280/2014), passed in 2014, are directly related to the specific mining project studied here. In particular, Law 4280/2014 (Article 54) permitted the construction of buildings serving the needs of mining investment in the forest of Skouries. Giorgos Zoumpas, former mayor of Aristotle Municipality, argues that ‘the construction of industrial plants in forest areas was allowed, since the Law was made for this, mainly for our mines and those that will come later, in other areas of Northern Greece’.

53Such types of legislative amendments have set a new paradigm in the relation between fiscal policy and spatial policy (Klabatsea, 2012), following a process that has been applied since the preparation for the 2004 Athens Olympiad, in which the establishment of projects involved derogation of the legislation then in force (Kalatzopoulou and Belavilas, 2014). This new approach to jurisprudence has created the precedent upon which decision-making in the aftermath of 2008 has been based.

54In Chalkidiki, the alliance between extractive capital and the indebted state resulted in several amendments to spatial legislation that purposely precluded the introduction of any alternative proposals with regard to regional planning. Thus, the Greek state, which has been subjected to neo-liberal structural adjustment programmes imposed by its creditors, is extremely willing to entertain foreign investment in the form of extractive capital. Contesting this process of capital accumulation, members of the struggle committee of Megali Panagia stress:

To the timeless blackmail of […] mining exploitation, we counter-propose the declassification and restoration of the area by the Greek state. […] [I]n a beautiful and fertile place, but [one] neglected, abandoned and trapped due to mining activity and the inability of the Greek state to solve any serious social and economic problems, our counter-proposal is economic and productive reconstruction based on the primary sector, with small-scale agricultural and tourist activities, with social control, for the harmonisation of ourselves with the natural environment. We remind the Greek governments, which are probably not aware of the spatial planning of the region[,] that its sustainability could be ensured by the proper and rational management of the primeval forest of Skouries rather than by [the] mining project of a low-cost gold-producing company trying to implement the world’s cheapest mining investment. (Discussion with members of the struggle committee of Megali Panagia)

55In a process similar to that mentioned above, the Romanian government and the local administration of Rosia Montană allowed, through the modifications of legislation, Gabriel Resources to expropriate hundreds of local properties and dispossess citizens of their private property. According to Velicu (2020), the authorities repeatedly plan in favour of the corporation. By banning any other economic activity in the area, they forced relocation; by failing to provide basic services such as medicine or education, they created impoverishment. Under this sociopolitical framework, almost 600 houses were abandoned by farming families—in total, 80 per cent of the 800 families then present (Velicu, 2020) sold their lands and properties to the corporation. As Eugen David, President of Alburnus Maior, puts it, the local and national authorities were ‘behaving like representatives of the mining company, and as a consequence they have lost the trust of the residents’.

  • 4 ARA is an NGO dedicated to research into and the preservation and enhancement of cultural heritage (...)

56All this became evident in the state’s intervention to facilitate the extractive project. Claudia, a member of Arhitectură. Restaurare. Arheologie (Architecture. Restoration. Archaeology (ARA4)), argued during one of our discussions that the representatives of the Parliamentary Committee on Cultural Heritage had abandoned their previous position and were now at the disposal of the mining company: ‘[T]hey visited the site under the protection of the miners, instead of meeting directly with the young people who have worked voluntarily for the restoration of the old houses in Rosia’ (this, a reference to the ‘Adopt a House’ project).

57After the visit, the local movement’s resistance escalated, encompassing outward-facing actions and successfully mobilising Romanian citizens to participate in marches the like of which had not been seen in Romania since the fall of the oppressive Ceaușescu regime in 1989. Apart from cultural heritage, Romanians’ criticism focused on political corruption, the failure of state commissions to preserve this historic site, and the social infiltration tactics that the mining company was employing in order to exploit poor local residents. In particular, local activists referred to the predicament that many of the residents found themselves in when they accepted the company’s offer to resettle. These residents saw their property pass into the hands of the company and their material and emotional ties with their land disappear.

58In this sense, the difficulties in compiling the management plan for the site were underlined during discussions with members of the ‘Save Rosia Montană’ social movement concerning the lack of a coordinated legislative framework to safeguard the area of protection, as was the fact that settlements are now largely abandoned as a result of the multinational mining corporation’s grabbing of housing. As noted in the nomination dossier of ICOMOS WG for Rosia Montană,, the ‘authenticity of the villages is threatened in its absolute [because] the properties are turned into ruins’, but still there is space for the development of a model of a mixed local economy ‘based upon the sustainable preservation and enhancement of Rosia Montană settlements and mining landscape’. This condition is necessary for an appropriate management of the historical tangible and intangible values of the heritage of the site and its environment, as well as for the quality of life of the site’s inhabitants.

7. Conclusion

59In contributing empirical evidence to an emerging area of research that identifies extractive operations and projects as key drivers of land dispossession and environmental degradation, the purpose of my research has been twofold. First, I have tried to clarify the reasons for the expansion of resource frontiers in crisis-ridden countries of Europe and for the escalation of the land dispossession exercised by extractive projects based on renewed corporate interests. Second, I have sought to analyse the social struggles against such enclosures and how they have generated what is an ongoing crisis.

60Extractivism in its current form is a prominent developmental model of capital accumulation that allows us to explain the prevalence and strategic role of extractive operations in contemporary capitalism (Mezzadra and Neilson, 2017). This argument is aligned with a growing discourse on the power imbalances between multinational mining companies, state actors and local populations. In this chapter, I have focused my attention on the close relations that connect extractive capital strategies to state strategies. Through an examination of the two cases presented, I have also shown how the concept of corporate social responsibility is employed by corporations in extractive spaces.

61According to Brenner (2000), the state operates as the most crucial institutional mediator of uneven geographical development (Smith, 1984) under capitalism. As the case of the mining project in NE Chalkidiki shows, the Greek state is engaged in juridical and territorial negotiations that precede the licensing and expansion of mining operations. In Rosia Montană, the Romanian state is directly involved in partnerships with multinational corporations through state-owned enterprises. These entanglements often involve multifarious and changing forms of patronage. And direct corruption and political complicity with transnational corporations and large private infrastructure companies are both, for example, observed.

62The infiltration of extractive capital and its dynamics into different regimes of ownership of land and/or resources is based on the ability to take advantage of the specificities of conditions of production (Massey, 1994), such as mining legacy, degraded land and spaces, and marginalised communities. All of the above are, in the context of extractive expansion, transformed into opportunities for capital accumulation. And in each of the two cases studied here, this occurs under a range of different ownership statuses, whether this be through full control over access to the resource including possession (privately owned Eldorado Gold mines) or through foreign investors entering into joint ventures with state-owned mining enterprises (RMGC is a joint venture between Gabriel Resources and the state-owned company Minvest Deva). Thus, the extractive frontier is constantly expanding under different ownership regimes (Gudynas, 2018, 64), whether these be private companies (such as Eldorado Gold), or joint ventures (such as RMGC).

63I have analysed struggles against the expansion of extractivism, but have also explored the mining–development nexus in terms of a variety of socio-spatial implications. Given the spatial scope of extractive operations (Mezzadra and Neilson, 2019), this concept led me deeper into how power dynamics unfolded in spaces of extraction in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. First and foremost, these social struggles centre their opposition on issues related to the spatial dimension, such as the imposed mining monoculture and the resulting transformations in the productive sectors. I have shown that the implementation of spatial policies that are harmful and disruptive for the environment, the local economy, and social relations is a tool for ‘regulating’ corporate demands on space and leads to communities being dispossessed of their lands and places. These state-led transformations, which produce spatial enclosures, demonstrate how the ‘spatializing powers’ (Glaab and Stuvøy, 2021, 38) of governments–corporate actors and ‘the spatialized juridical mechanisms of mining management’ (Vélez-Torres, 2014, 77) facilitate the expansion of the extractive frontier.

64Based on the above observations, what becomes clear from this research is that the politico-economic transformations brought about by extractive processes are produced both within the countries concerned and in new or emerging international relations. Thus, this chapter contributes to the documentation and critical theorisation of the interconnections between capital, corporations, states, and local communities, and does so by revealing how corporations and their allies push through extractive operations (Verweijen and Dunlap, 2021). In this light, I argue that the states’ support for the private accumulation of capital that takes place through the foreign exploitation of mining resources (Vélez-Torres, 2014) is implemented through ‘soft’ power manifestations that operate alongside techniques of overt violence. And that these manifestations and techniques reconfigure spatial relations, displace previous land uses (Frederiksen and Himley, 2020), and diminish access to land and resources for nearby populations.

65In the two preceding sections, I have discussed how corporate social responsibility strategies and national developmental agendas converged to generate social discord, and how large-scale mining is portrayed as an opportunity for the respective countries to overcome the crisis in question and for the respective regions to develop. In both Greece and Romania, the narrative that seeks to promote the expansion of extractivism is based on a vague ‘national interest’, or on an even more questionable ‘public interest’. Whatever the argument is, the costs are borne by the local population in terms of both spatial deprivation and environmental degradation.

66In such a context, it is also crucial to analyse the systems of oppression that seek to maintain inequality in extractive spaces. Power imbalances require that we focus on social mobilisation at the extractive frontier. In this sense, social opposition arises based on certain common agents of oppression, which leads to the formulation of a critique of development, and highlights power imbalances and the importance of contesting neo-liberal policies at the international level. As discussed here, the specific opposition to mining in Greece and Romania, respectively, decisively contributed to highlighting the negative impacts of extractivism, and the social movements concerned developed a creative criticism of the positive role of mining in the development processes of a country. In their struggles, these movements introduced a variety of resistance strategies and actions, and questioned the hegemonic reasoning of development projects.

67The literature that lends support to my analysis focuses mainly on cases from Latin America, Africa and Asia. The expansion of extractive operations in European countries demonstrates, however, that the act of pushing through extractive operations is occurring everywhere. In particular, I argue that the case of such extractivist projects in Europe has come to the fore and has been intensified in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. This chapter illustrates how the literature from Latin America is in dialogue with the European context of mining in the context of the financial crisis and accompanying austerity measures.

68Since then, as a study of the EU’s list of critical raw materials (EU, 2020) clearly shows, the logic of extractivism has continued to shape European policies and strategies. That study includes raw materials of high importance to the EU’s economies and of high risk with regard to their supply, and more research is planned to ensure the security of supply of critical raw materials to EU industries, giving priority to domestic resources.

69But political and corporate pressure for exploration and the exploitation of new mining sites is expected to increase in the coming years. In such a context, social resistance to extractivist projects, while apparently fruitful, may yet become more complicated, as ‘the geography of global capitalism embraces all scales and spaces, in complex ways’ (Glassman, 2006, 617).

70What I have personally witnessed, perceived, and experienced is that social mobilisation against the expansion of the extractive frontier in Europe produces unique social struggles able to re-territorialise resistance (Psimitis, 2016) to globalised capitalism while adopting strategies and tactics rooted in specific sites. Such social resistance constitutes prefigurative movements that take the form of a peculiar hybrid of community organisation and international action. Instead of centrism, hierarchy, and authority (Springer, 2016), they adopt decentralised radical praxis and implement locally focused collective efforts (Psimitis, 2016), aiming to generate powerful resistance spaces with which to counteract the hegemonic reasoning of development projects.

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1 A copy of the dossier is in the author’s personal archive.

2 Eldorado Gold announced the move in May 2019. Its employees warned that if the company stuck to this decision, it would be a cause of war with uncontrollable consequences. See (accessed in November 2021).

3 See ‘Top 10 lowest cost gold projects on the globe’, (accessed on 13 March 2023).

4 ARA is an NGO dedicated to research into and the preservation and enhancement of cultural heritage for the benefit of communities.

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Cite this article

Electronic reference

Konstantinos ‘Kostas’ Petrakos, Spaces of Extraction in Europe: The Corporate–State–Mining Complex and Resistance in Greece and RomaniaInternational Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 15.1 | 2023, Online since 02 May 2023, connection on 06 June 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Konstantinos ‘Kostas’ Petrakos

Kostas Petrakos holds a PhD from the National Technical University of Athens and has over five years of research experience in various European projects focusing on urban, regional, and marine spatial planning, the environment, infrastructure, and the circular economy. His PhD thesis focused on extractivism and social resistances, and he has extensive research experience in coastal and marine planning in the south-eastern Mediterranean. Dr Petrakos’s research interests lie in critical geopolitics studies, political ecology, extractive industries and energy infrastructure, as well as in marine and coastal planning and governance.

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