One night last April Konstantinos Potouridis disappeared from his home in Aspropyrgos, an industrial town in central Greece. Two weeks later, his uncle Kostas received a phone call from his abductors. “They said my nephew was still alive,” Kostas explains, “but they wanted €1,500 for his return.” Kostas didn’t contact the authorities. His mother had been killed in a hit-and-run accident a few years previously, but the police had called him a liar and refused to consider his case. “Never trust the police in Aspropyrgos,” he says. “They lie to get promoted.” So late that night, he found himself waiting by the side of the highway. A man in a black sports car pulled up next to him. Kostas handed over the money and the car peeled swiftly away. But Konstantinos never showed up. A week later, the police called Kostas and told him that his nephew had been found – handcuffed, pumped with bullets and chained to a bag of stones at the bottom of the Mornos Channel in the hills above the town. “My nephew got too flashy with his money,” Kostas says. “He had the biggest house on the block, six taxis, motorcycles. There was a target on his back.”
This is not an unusual story in Aspropyrgos, but then Aspropyrgos is an unusual place. Twenty kilometres north-west of Athens, it is cut off from the rest of the country by the sea on one side and an arc of mountains on the other. The Greek state crams onto this rocky plain, which stretches the length of 1,000 football pitches, everything that is too noisy or dirty to put in the capital. Aspropyrgos is home to Greece’s major steelworks, brick manufacturers, quarries, cement silos, power plants and petroleum refineries. “Nowhere was it possible to find land so close to Athens and so cheap,” a local butcher called Eirinaos tells me. “Now those old sheep pastures spit out gold.” The Mornos Channel serves as Athens’s major water supply and Greece’s biggest dump lies on a plateau to the north-east. Accounting for less than 1% of the country’s landmass, Aspropyrgos and the surrounding Thriasio Plain are responsible for nearly 40% of Greece’s industrial output. “Aspropyrgos makes, Europe takes”, reads graffiti scrawled around the town.