The following document aims at presenting the most relevant moments of the conflict in the Susa Valley as well as an overview of its 20 years of history. It is important to underline that this summary is not exaustive as both the project and the opposition to it are still ongoing. On both fronts, some of the people and organisations involved are not mentioned here, and some details of the struggle are missing – for example, it is impossible to argue from this document the total cost of the whole project.
France invited Italy to join the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, high speed train) railway line.
In 1990 a committee composed by both public and private institutions was formed in Turin with the aim of promoting the new Turin-Lyon planned line. The committee’s main aim was to lobby the Italian railway national company. Both the Italian and French committees urged for an improvement of existing infrastructures, with the addition of a TAV line to sustain the increase of people and goods’ traffic (after a short while their arguments started focusing on goods only).
Already in the 80s there had been protests against the realization (sometimes unfinished) of infrastructures in an area such as the Susa Valley, rich of natural reserves. The TAV was considered just one more. The opposers founded an organisation called HABITAT, which included both local residents and politicians. The group didn’t identify with any party. Many university professors were members of it, and became vital for their technical support.
The French and Italian Ministers of Public Transport signed an agreement that stated the priority of the Turin-Lyon line.
Italy on its own invested 83 billions of lire (about 40 millions of Euro) in investigations for the project, while another 24 billions were given by both countries together. In 1994 the European Community included the high speed line in its priorities, but didn’t mention any investment.
HABITAT started an independent survey, which included studies on the acoustic impact of the TAV (based on the existing TGV Paris-Lyon line) and investigations on the possible costs. The survey concluded the costs could be as much as 4 times higher as the official ones. In France groups against the TAV blocked 2 railway stations.
Romano Perino, Mayor of Mompantero (a small town of 600 inhabitants) lead the “Mayors against the TAV” initiative. The main national association of farmers, Coldiretti, took a stand against the TAV, which would damage agricultural fields in the valley. Most local parties didn’t oppose the TAV, with the only exceptions of the Green Party and the hard-line Communist Party; initially the Northern League was also against it, but only for a few years.
The NO TAV groups kept publishing their opinions and the data collated in their research, while the mainstream media kept avoiding the issue. One of the NO TAV pamphlets ended with a reference to the Resistance against Nazifascism, which was very relevant in the Susa Valley. French groups in Savoye published a pamphlet titled “J’accuse”. The movement meetings became weekly, and so they stayed for the following years.
The French and Italian Ministers of Transport created a committee (CIG) to work on the project. During its 7th meeting the committee decided to set aside 105 more billions lire for geological, environmental and economic research.
On March 2nd 1996, the first big protest against the TAV took place in Sant’Ambrogio, gathering about 3,000 people. HABITAT had an information stall for 3 days. Over the next 18 months the Italian railway company was targeted by many sabotage actions, as well as the highway crossing the Susa Valley, and the town hall of Caprie (another little town in the Susa Valley). The NO TAV movement was accused of these actions but, except for the town hall sabotage, which was proven to be a involuntary side-effect of a robbery, the investigations never produced any evidence. The movement always declared it had never been involved in any of it.
The French Minister of Transport seemed to take a step back, and to be considering the possibility of improving the existing line. The CEO of the Italian railway company revealed they didn’t have enough money to build the new line.
Three young squatters, Silvano Pelissero, Edoardo Massari “Baleno” and María Soledad Rosas “Sole”, the latter of Argentinian nationality, were arrested and accused of terrorists actions. The prosecutors stated they had “irrefutable evidence of guilt”, but the final trial proved they were wrong. Regrettably, Massari and Rosas never heard the final sentence, because they both committed suicide, Baleno a few days before Sole. At the end of trial, Pellissero – believed to be the head of the group by the prosecutors – was only charged with robbery and arson, and acquitted from all other charges. Some of the charges referred to facts happened when “Sole” still lived in Argentina.
An accident happened on March 24 1999 in the Mont Blanc tunnel, re-awakening pro-TAV actions.
The French and Italian Ministers of Transport gave their definitive approval to the line, to be built by excavation of a tunnel (since then the only option considered).
There were already many organisations gathering around HABITAT and the Susa Valley towns. Opposition to the TAV increased in the nearby Sangone Valley and in the area northeast of Turin, which also would be affected by the line. A new group, the ‘Popular Committee to Fight Against the TAV’ was created; it was to become more and more important, with numerous people joining the movement. On January 29 2001 thousands of people attended a demo in Turin during a meeting between Italian and French authorities. In July 2001 NO TAV activists took part in the demonstrations against the G8 meeting in Genoa. In the same year they also held a protest camp which still goes on yearly.
The EU included the TAV line in “Corridor 5” (Lisbon-Kiev) of the Trans-European Network, which was to receive European funding.
Without any warning, the Italian railway company started excavations in Chianocco for geological research. Many actions took place over this period; for example, in May 2003 20,000 people marched from Borgone to Bussoleno, blocking for some hours the traffic on one of the main motorways of the valley. The NO TAV movement presented their reasons for opposing the line to the European Commission. Some people successfully started a permanent picket line against the excavations in Chianocco, forcing the company to back out for a while. A permanent assembly of all the NO TAV opposers was created.
The NO-TAV movement demonstrated great strength, stopping many other excavations, and blocking expropriation of the land where the works would begin. Permanent lookout posts were created in Bruzolo, Borgone and Venaus.
The government’s answer was to militarise the valley and try to push away people from the building sites. On October 31 during the so-called “Battle of Seghino” the NO TAV managed to block the police forces on a little bridge and kept them there for the whole day. In the evening the police chief promised they would leave, so the activists went home, only to find out next day that a construction yard had been set up during the night, with 3 check points to defend it (people living around the check points still have to show their documents every time they go from one area to the other). The NO TAV organised many big demonstrations; in November a march of 80 thousand people from all over Italy took place. At the end of November the “Free Republic of Venaus” was created.
Since most of the areas where the 2006 Winter Olympics were planned to take place were around the Susa Valley, the government asked for an “Olympic truce” that was accepted by the NO TAV. The truce lasted until the national elections in April 2006.
In 2007 the European Union allocated 671 million Euros to the TAV Turin-Lyon, for research and the actual build (check out the official statement).
The NO-TAV carried on its protests, outside Italy too: a 6,000 people delegation took part in a demonstration in Chambery in France, organised by NO TAV French activists. In June a small delegation travelled to Rome mostly on foot (800km!), collecting on the journey petitions to bring to the government. The NO TAV joined a “mutual solidarity network” with similar campaigns and visited many of the other groups involved, such as the groups opposing the build of a bridge over the Straits of Messina, those opposing the new US military base in Vicenza and the anti-landfill and incinerator groups near Naples.
The Italian PM formed a technical committee (“Osservatorio Tecnico”) to investigate on the problems connected to the TAV project. The President of this committee was Mario Virano, formerly member of the pro-TAV committee.
The “Osservatorio Tecnico” committee presented a project called FARE (which stands for “Efficient and Reasonable Alpine Railways; “fare” also means “to do, to make”). This project suggested an improvement of the existing railway, so to use it more for economic purposes, rather than lorries. The 4th of the 5 phases of project suggested the construction of a new tunnel, not necessarily to be used for high speed trains and only after the objectives of the previous 3 phases would be achieved. The suggested deadline was around 2030.
The NO TAV rejected the project, and exposed it as a strategy directed to let the works begin. The idea of the new tunnel was judged absurd, regardless of whether it would be used for a high speed train. Last but not least, the FARE project falsely claimed the necessity of a new line due to an apparent increase of traffic, which was never proven.
In 2008 NO TAV activists started to buy collectively some of the land that would be excavated to build the tunnel. This was done to make the expropriation procedures more difficult and time-consuming, and also to acquire the right to be present when expropriations would take place.
The European Commission went over the funding for 92 huge infrastructural projects of European newtworks, including the Turin-Lyon line. It decided to decrease the funding for the TAV line from 672 millions of Euro to 662 millions. The deadline for the project changed to 2015. You can consult the original documents here.
The investigation works began in Turin’s area and around the Susa Valley, and were protected by a massive deployment of security forces. The works actually began in some of the sites only. A fire destroyed the permanent NO TAV lookout post in Bruzolo; there were suspicions of arson, successively confirmed by another 2 fires, one of which managed to destroy another lookout post completely. The movement responded with numerous protest initiatives, like demonstrations, marches, and new posts. They also traveled to the European Parliament in Strasbourg to explain the reasons of their protests, together with NO TAV activists from France and Spain.
The European Union postponed of one month – from May to June – the deadline for the Italian government to resolve any matter prior to the beginning of the works. These discussions were fundamental for the approval of European funding by the EU. The urge to begin the works lead, over the whole year, to a massive militarisation of the Valley, with security forces protecting the building sites.
The Italian government – that in 2004 had agreed with France to fund 63% of the shared section of the line, in exchange for the construction of 2 corridors inside the tunnel – asked France to go back to the original agreement in which both countries would share 50% of the costs. France refused. The only solution would be to divide the project into phases, but that would also mean losing the European funding. On September 28 the 2 countries agreed that Italy would fund 57,9% of the international section, and France 42,1%.
Lyon Turin Ferroviaire (LTF), a company funded in 2001 to organise the construction of the international section of the line, prosecuted 3 leaders of the NO TAV movement for having prevented the preliminary investigations on the project with their demonstrations. Other NO TAV activists received invitation to court appearances for facts happened during the previous years. One of the trials started in April against a Mayor and an ex-Mayor, charged with aggravated assault against police officers that would have taken place during the clashes of December 2005. The movement kept on organising demonstrations, marches, cultural events, and lookout posts to block the works. One of the permanent lookout posts began the “Free Republic of the Maddalena”, in the town of Chiomonte. It became clear that the NO TAV struggle was also a struggle for democracy, that in the Valley as well as in other areas of Italy, seemed to tremble in front of repression and lack of dialogue.
On June 27, 3 days before the deadline given by the EU, about 2,500 police officers evicted the lookout post in Chiomonte in the middle of the night. The whole area suddently started to get fenced off (the NO TAV argued that due to the Italian government’s lack of money for the works, the fences were being put up only to make the EU believe the works had started, and therefore get their funding).
The next day several NO TAV protests sprang up and lasted all day, with clashes between the security forces trying to push away the protesters using teargas, and the protesters themselves, some throwing rocks at the police. Over the following days the NO TAV initiatives multiplied. They called for solidarity from all over Italy and organised a national demo in the Chiomonte area on July 3. About 50,000 people attended. After the march through the mountain footpaths of the Valley, there were clashes between some of the protesters and the police, nearby the fenced area. CS teargas was used by the police to disperse the protesters, while on the protesters’ side some threw rocks and other objects at the police. There are many videos on YouTUbe showing the police throwing CS teargas at eye level, like this one. CS teargas’ use is illegal in Italy, according to an international convention.
Despite the gravity of these events, which caused injuries on both sides and the arrests of 4 activists, let alone the effects of the CS teargas, it’s necessary to highlight the massive number of people of all ages and all parts of Italy among the protesters. The participants described it as a flooding river going up the mountains, of which you couldn’t see the end. One of the many videos made can be seen here. A good summary of some of the events, touching especially the police violence, can be seen here (English subtitles).
The following days there were assemblies to discuss the events and organise the struggle, considering new strategies. NO TAV demonstrations carried on throughout the whole summer, in the Valley, in Turin, in the Sangone Valley, in Genoa for the 10th anniversary of the G8, and in Umbria for the yearly Peace March from Perugia to Assisi. More than once the protesters managed to break through the “red zone” of the Susa Valley – everyday more militarised – and take some of the fences down. For the September grape harvest the local growers had to write a list with the names of the people in charge of it, to get temporary permission to get through the check points.