Same steps, same struggle, just a bit older. Ten years ago, the No TAV movement soared to national attention in the village of Venaus, Italy, where in early December 2005, a community became aware of its own strength and its own history.
It said ‘no’ to a useless and harmful high-speed rail project and asserted its right to challenge it. For the protesters’ efforts, police forcefully dismantled their camp, injuring several demonstrators and escalating what had been a peaceful rally.
TAV is the Italian acronym for Treno Alta Velocità, a proposed high-speed railroad that would connect Lyon, France, to Turin, passing through the Susa Valley and Venaus, a key point of early construction efforts. But the rail line has been set back years by funding delays caused in part by the No TAV movement, which claims the 35-mile-long tunnel beneath the Alps will not only waste money but will release trapped toxins into the atmosphere.
Yesterday, 20,000 people traveled the road from the town of Susa to Venaus in a colorful procession.
“We’ve lasted 10 years, and we swear we can withstand another 10 years,” said Lele Rizzo, one of the protest leaders. “But above all we swear that we will fight and resist for as long as necessary to drive them away one by one, taking with them all the screws, nets and barbed wire in their construction sites. With the injustices committed daily for this project, I still challenge anyone to show how it’s useful.”
A fog hung in the valley, but in Venaus it was sunny. Cassandras armed with cameras, perhaps hoping to photograph a movement of alleged extremists, went away empty-handed. Instead, the only sight was a colorful mosaic of resistance, enough to cover the meadows of the Susa Valley, marching in the direction of France.
The reasons for the protest remain unchanged.
“We will continue to push their buttons,” said Alberto Perino, a prominent leader of the No TAV movement. Pushing alongside them were many local officials, led by Sandro Plano, mayor of Susa, as well as the mayors of Rivalta, Alpignano and Venaria Reale. The three municipalities have recently left the TAV Observatory, born in 2006 as an institutional discussion table that quickly lost its raison d’etre and its autonomy.
“I changed a lot of things, but the political and institutional system failed to remove the reasons for our opposition to the Turin-Lyon,” said Venaus Mayor Nile Durbiano. “I don’t believe we can still consider the so-called ‘zero option,’” he said, a reference to the hardline call for no new rail construction. “But the focus should be, and remains, the massive expansion of the existing historical line, circumventing the international station in Susa, a real slap in times of crisis.”
Ten years for a movement can be an eternity, but No TAV defies odds. They have been and remain the greatest source of popular opposition in Italy.
In the coming days the protest will move in court, where the appeal process will resume Friday for four activists sentenced to three and a half years for “sabotage” of a construction site in May 2013.
Attorney General Marcello Maddalena re-submitted charges of terrorism, but they were acquitted. He will have to comply with a Supreme Court ruling, which recently rejected an appeal filed by the prosecution against other militants involved in that assault. For the Supreme Court, activism is not terrorism.