Mountainous Slovakia is rich in natural resources and its mining tradition dates back to ancient times. We had our Gold Fever five centuries before the Americans. But with the discovery of new overseas deposits, mining activity in Slovakia has slowed down since 19th century.
Recently, in this era of rising commodity prices, foreign companies have started to investigate the region. EMED has invested about 10 million euros into research for new gold and silver mining opportunities since 2005. And they have been successful. In the area of Biely vrch, for instance, they estimate that they could extract 20-25 tons of gold (worth about 100 million euro at current prices).
But mining companies have one big problem: getting the buy-in from the local population.
Because of Greenpeace campaigning, companies need to get the approval from local municipalities in Slovakia for gold mining using cyanide. (In some European countries this technology is completely banned.)
Mining companies are trying various tricks to get this approval but they are failing.
They usually argue that public anxiety is based on misunderstandings due to the lack of information. But none of the locals is interested in their “public discussions”.
In the case of Biely vrch, the three nearest villages – and especially the NGO Podpolanie over gold – do not agree with mining, as they are afraid of widespread environmental destruction.
Workers from nearby precision engineering factories are also up in arms as they see the proposed mining as a threat to their present jobs, as mining vibrations could affect the quality of production in their factories. Mining is not essential for the economic development of the local community, because locals have now found other jobs, as most of the remaining local mining stopped in the previous century with the end of socialist subsidies.
The situation in other potential mining areas is similar. And it is not just the problem of EMED or gold. There are refusals for uranium mining. People remain convinced that companies will not fund the future revitalization/reconstruction of the area after the end of mining.
And activists have found enough examples of irresponsible Western companies operating in developing countries.
The case of the Ajka alumina plant in neighbouring Hungary was also a big warning when a wave of nearly one million cubic metres of liquid waste flooded several nearby localities causing the death of nine people and extensive damage.
“If they want to dig, they can do it in their own country” is the common view voiced by Slovak citizens. Personally, I think we have enough time to wait for more advanced, environmentally friendly technologies that could come with the future higher commodity prices. Our grandchildren will value our decision.