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In Crete, A Naval Protest To Stop The Chemicals Of War


I grew up in Crete.

You may have been there on holidays, or you may have heard about the island, its Minoan palaces and Venetian fortifications, or its stunning coastline. To be honest, while I still find Crete to be one of the most beautiful and hospitable places I’ve been to, the northern part of the island has been rather spoiled by the irreversible effects of mass tourism, with its enormous monstrous hotels, the noisy nightclubs, and the crowded beaches with their paid-for umbrellas. You know… the kind of development that the Greek government and the Troika are imposing for the rest of the island and the country with their latest bill that aims to commodify and privatize the country’s seashore.

But let me tell you a secret: for me and many of my generation, the most beautiful part of Crete lies in the South, where mass tourism has not yet managed to destroy the coastline by building hotels and nightclubs for the rich. There lies the Cretan sea — or Libyan Sea, as we call it — blue and wide, with its open horizon. We used to escape there in the summer imagining the Egyptian or Libyan coasts with their legendary cities that lie across it. We still do, spending our days and nights in the south’s virgin coast with its mysterious caves or under its salt cedars that always honor us with their shadow. In the past, the hippies had discovered this part of the island which became a hippie paradise some decades ago.

However, it seems that the island, and together with it the whole of the Mediterranean Sea, is now facing the risk of an enormous irreversible environmental disaster. Under a NATO decision, the chemical weapons of the Syrian civil war will be destroyed on-board, in the Mediterranean Sea somewhere between Crete and Malta, with the method of hydrolysis. It is the first time this method is being applied on-board, and while NATO assures that no substance will be thrown into the sea, access to international observers has been blocked, which makes the whole thing at least suspicious. At the same time, the ship that has been selected to carry out the mission, Cape Ray, an old American battleship, does not fulfill the security conditions for such a mission. Considering the fact that the Mediterranean is a closed sea, almost an enormous lake, the dangers of a possible accident are not easy to ignore.

After the hydrolysis that will take place on-board, two private multinationals have been subcontracted to destroy — bury, I guess — the chemicals on land, under highly profitable contracts, of course. This is the first time that such a process is being used, setting a precedent for a future highly risky — and profitable — business.

Against the hydrolysis of the chemicals in the Mediterranean Sea, a very dynamic movement has evolved. It has its own horizontal assembly, its coordinating body, its blog, and its own Facebook group. Its actions have also been impressive. The movement has already blocked the NATO naval base of Souda for a couple of days, and is now starting a… naval protest. On Friday July 25, 2014 a number of ships will sail from the Venetian harbor of Chania, hoping to reach close to Cape Ray to protest against the on-board hydrolysis in the Mediterranean Sea.

I don’t know whether we’ll manage to stop this disastrous experiment. I don’t know whether NATO, the Greek government, or other governments of other Mediterranean countries are willing to even bother trying to stop this process. I don’t know whether they even care about a possible disastrous accident in the Mediterranean. You may also find the Cretan movement and its efforts to stop the hydrolysis hopeless. However, what I know is that we won’t stay silent watching with our fingers crossed and our breath held while such a dangerous mission is being carried out, ignoring the huge environmental risks it involves, and the will of the people that face the risk. Let’s do anything we can, whatever that is, to stop them. Let’s stop the chemicals of war!

Leonidas Oikonomakis is a PhD researcher in Social Movement Studies at the European University Institute, a member of the Greek hip hop formation Social Waste, and an editor of ROAR Magazine.

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