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Event – Discussion “The Island of Silence – Public Health, Environment, Democracy”

Εκδήλωση - συζήτηση «Το νησί της σιωπής – Δημόσια Υγεία, Περιβάλλον, Δημοκρατία»

Aegean University Amphitheatre
Saturday 24 February 2024

The event – discussion entitled “The Island of Silence – Public Health, Environment, Democracy” (lasting 4 hours!), with the participation of journalists, lawyers, doctors, engineers and activists from all over the country, co-organised by the Environmental Quality Observatoty of Syros (EQOS) and the Student Association of the Department of Product & Systems Design Engineering.

At least 350 people filled the Amphitheatre, but also an additional two classrooms and courtyards of the University of the Aegean, while more than 170 people watched the event online.

The first session, entitled “Public Health & Environment“, was moderated by the journalist Stavroula Poulismeni (radio station Sto Kokkino 105.5 & Having also been the target of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) lawsuits herself, she talked about the systematic degradation of the natural environment and public health for the benefit of private profit across the country.

Michalis Fragkiskos (PhD Engineer NTUA – Metallurgical Engineer NTUA, specialising in industrial waste) and Nikos Zacharopoulos (Mining Engineer – Metallurgist and faculty member of the University of the Aegean) pointed out the methodological failures of the study on the pollution of the seabed of the port of Ermoupolis, carried out by the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR) funded by the potentially controlled shipbuilding company ONEX(!) They highlighted the seriousness of the findings of the study, comparing the situation of our port with other polluted ports within and outside the national borders, pointing out the record high concentrations of several elements dangerous for nature and humans (heavy metals, carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, etc.).

Iordanis Papadopoulos (paediatrician, Senior Registrar at the General Hospital of Syros, member of the Board of the Medical Association of Cyclades) presented the effects of marine and air pollution on public health, with emphasis on the risk of the elements identified by the HCMR study, especially when it comes to respiratory problems and carcinogenesis.

Finally, Kostas Gousgounelis (mechanical engineer, member of the EQOS) presented briefly the current situation as well as good practices and methods followed in modern, more environmentally friendly shipyards abroad (closed tanks, temporary covering of the work area, robotic systems for water blasting, filtering and automatic absorption of liquid waste, etc.).

The second session, entitled “Social Control and Democracy“, was moderated by the journalist Tasos Sarantis (Efimerida ton Syntakton), also a target of SLAPP lawsuits, who pointed out the common practice of business groups to bring abusive lawsuits, with extortionate financial demands, against citizens’ movements, journalists and activists who stand against irresponsible profiteering.

Petros Stavrianos, lawyer representing EQOS in the trial for the 3 lawsuits brought by ONEX against EQOS and two of our members, with total claims of more than €3,000.000, presented the decision of the Syros Court of First Instance, which ruled that our action, in its effort to highlight the issue of environmental pollution and the threat to public health, are entirely legitimate, reasonable, justified, documented, without any ulterior motives, and was carried out in the context of our constitutionally guaranteed individual and collective rights and that no damage (moral or material) has been caused to the company, ruling out any compensation claim.

Alexandros Bistis, one of the defendant members of EQOS, described the wall of silence that has been erected by the local authorities, together with the local media that covered up both the issue of pollution as well as the lawsuits brought against us, stressing the need for concerted collective action against the class war against nature and public health for the sole purpose of profit for the few, which endangers democracy, social peace and the harmonious coexistence of people.

Petros Kusounadis, target of SLAPP lawsuits as a member of the anti-windfarm movement of Tinos, spoke about the necessity for social control and the conflict between horizontal collectives and the unbridled speculation of business lobbies, underlining the gap between the decisions of elected officials and the real needs of citizens.

Dr. Faye Tzanetoulakou, lecturer of History of Art, at the University of Thessaly, also a target of SLAPP lawsuits, as a member of the movement against waste incineration in Volos, highlighted the danger of dioxins released into the atmosphere and stressed the necessity of interconnection and mutual support of activist movements across the country.

Stavroula Poulimeni, who received abusive lawsuits due to her reporting on pollution incidents at Skouries, Halkidiki, pointed out the danger posed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which can be exploited to prevent the disclosure of the details of individuals involved in pollution incidents by powerful business interests, circumventing the public’s right to information on matters of public interest.

Tasos Sarantis, the target of abusive lawsuits due to his reporting on prosecutions against associations, citizens, radio stations and municipal councillors by companies operating in the wind energy sector, referred to the risk of censorship and self-censorship of journalists by the industry of vexatious lawsuits aimed at restricting press freedom and covering up environmental crimes and corporate impunity.

Intervening in the discussion were, among many others, Maria Karamanof, former Vice President of the Council of State (CoE), Dimitris Sarafianos, member of the Board of the Athens Bar Association and member of the Hellenic Union for Human and Civil Rights and Stratos Zolotas, our other defendant member, former president of the Board of EQOS, who supported our cause and deplored the abusive lawsuits that attempted to silence the concern of the people of Syros. In addition, Eleni Kamperi, researcher at HCMR, participated remotely, defending the reliability of the study on the quality of the marine environment in the bay of Ermoupolis and pointing out the urgent need for new studies of this kind.

After the conclusion of this extremely well attended event, we feel confident that the local authorities have become aware of the concern of the citizens and they have received the message that the law of silence will not prevail. Our fight to bring down fear and the wall of silence is justified and will win.

The … Island of Silence, will speak!

P.S. Please note that the event was originally going to be held at the Cultural Centre of Ermoupolis, but after the intervention of the Municipality it was found without a hosting venue. The immediate willingness of the Student Association to host it in its premises, highlights for the umpteenth time the necessity of supporting Public Universities as a place of research and learning, but also of free expression and exchange of ideas.

Εκδήλωση - συζήτηση «Το νησί της σιωπής – Δημόσια Υγεία, Περιβάλλον, Δημοκρατία»