No TAV: A war for the Susa Valley’s soul

This month the campaign against high-speed railway line TAV kicked into life once again as construction work began on a project which has been been fought against for decades across Italy, France and Switzerland.

Italy’s government wants, whatever the cost, to impose the Turin-Lyon line line which critics say is useless, expensive, harmful to health and the territory. At stake is much more than a train. At stake is the need to bend and regulate a movement fighting for 25 years.

In 2005 a popular uprising in the Susa Valley stopped the project cold, as it entered the implementation phase. The government used force, imposed a military occupation on the surrounding territory, and violently dismantled the the barricades of the Free Republic of Venaus, but eventually the State was forced to back down. The government realised that the valley had become ungovernable, that people would multiply blocks and barricades, and decided the cost was simply too high, especially as winter was coming and with them the Olympics in nearby Turin.

In 2011 another round of clashes occurred. After years of non-cooperation from locals, the government tried a grinding approach with slow but steady advances of troops into the region and a slowly escalating level of violence and repression.  The dance of the batons and tear gas, and the clink of handcuffs have been a feature of the past six years. The push was a difficult one, and the community found itself counting the cost of the six-and-a-half kilometer Chiomonte tunnel project in trials, convictions, broken bones.

Today, media disussion around the No TAV movement has stopped — and not by chance. The timing is crucial.

In January Italy’s parliament ratified a treaty with France on the Turin-Lyon route, while the Interministerial Committee for Economic Planning (CIPE) approved its final draft of the international section, starting land expropriations and preparations for the start of ancillary works in Lower Valley, Bussoleno, Susa, San Didero and Bruzolo.

We are coming to the point of no return.

The lives of the people will change forever. Trucks loaded with muck and asbestos dust will travel the valley east and west, jeopardising the health of all. The military presence will gradually creep into densely populated areas. The loss of groundwater will be inevitable and irreversible.

The terrifying prophecy made 25 years ago by the No TAV movement could turn into harsh reality.

The ‘No TAV’ mayor who lied

The violent imposition of new sites is not the only danger. A major pitfall has been the illusion of parliamentary options, the seduction to 5 Star that affected so much of the movement (the political party won Turin’s mayorality in 2016), when the road traveled thus far had relied firmly on people’s own two legs.

Turin 5 Star mayor Chiara Appendino (the only woman in shot)

The legitimising of the institution’s right to decide for us means we play their game at a table where the dealer always wins and takes all. Civic lists, referendums, electoral games have taken up enormous energies to no avail, except to alienate even more people who had been part of the action on the ground, by focusing on strategies to embarrass 5 Star’s parliamentary opponents.

The game being played in Val Susa goes far beyond the train line. If it was just a story of trains would already long over. At stake is the people’s rights to control decisions that affect their lives and the territory where they chose to live.

Some call this democracy. We do not, because we know what is real democracy: a mere replacement of the system by its nature keeps everyone away from the places where the real decisions are made. Too many times election fever has crossed over Val Susa, absorbing huge energy excluded from the everyday struggle. Fortunately some cracks seem to be forming in the electoral narrative. It’s time to take off rose-tinted spectacles and see through the institutional illusion, to face the harsh reality in which we are forced to live.

The “No TAV” mayor of Turin has distanced herself from the “violent few,” thus justifying a crackdown against anarchists, social centres and the No TAV section at the May Day parade. That same day she congratulated Turin Prosecutor Antonio Rinaudo and the police for the arrest of six anarchists active in the struggles in Turin and Valle. Rinaudo is the holder of many investigations and trials against the No TAV, anti-racists and squatters.

The words of the mayor have left their mark.

Just over a month later the Minniti-Orlando law on urban security has been used to make an order prohibiting the sale of alcohol to takeaway shops, a popular way for working-class people to bypass the expensive prices of gazebo nightlife. It ended with riot charges against a crowd that had been relaxing in Piazza Santa Giulia.

Prohibition and truncheon. Good and bad. There are those who vote and those who act. It’s a scheme that the No TAV movement has always rejected, because too many politicians (sometimes “friends”) have used it to push the renunciation of any active resistance.

So many times the big story of democracy has melted like snow in the sun. Whenever freedom, solidarity, equality is understood and practiced in their constitutive, radical otherness, in contrast to a social order based on domination, inequality, exploitation, fiercer competition, “democracy” shows its true face.

Parliamentary democracy admits dissent, provided that their opponents’ opinion remains ineffectual, a mere exercise of eloquence, simple word games. If dissent becomes active, if you do direct action, if there is a risk of blowing up the rules of a fierce game, democracy becomes a discourse of power that denies legitimacy to any other word.

They have laid their strategy

At present, the government is trying to wear us out. It makes statements on the difficulty of stopping sites protected by the army, police, armored thugs.

The government has carefully chosen the land on which to challenge No TAV. An uninhabited place, where it’s easy to take the control of access roads and build a closed and well defended fort. The military and company employees control the streets, No TAV only the paths. In recent months even the paths are hard to reach and drive. We continue to “greet” the occupation troops with fireworks, countered with tear gas which is as dangerous as it is a useless exercise. The government has learned its lesson: the shipyard employs mountain troops, people used to being in the woods.

A thousand people have been prosecuted, tried and sentenced for participating actively in a movement that has never wanted to have a mere role of witnesses.

At crucial moments though, No TAV has been able to show solidarity with those accused of terrorism and sabotage. The State’s repressive actions, far from dividing the movement, have reinforced integral action, in supporting the prisoners, the condemned. But it did damage. It has not scratched our convictions, however it has enlarged the gap between those who do and those who applaud, re-paving the way for institutional paths and delegation.

No TAV has shouldered the burden of hope for people everywhere. The risk is in emotional wear and tear, the deadening stretch of time, the repetition of steps already taken. But the pride of still being there, to hold on, to continue to give a hard time to our opponents, is strong.

The longest stretch of 60 kilometers through the massive dell’Ambin will dig into the mountain tunnel, starting from Chiomonte gallery. It’s a choice dictated by fear of opening a large construction site in Susa and the clearest sign that, despite its declarations of victory, the government continues to fear the No TAV movement. The government prefers to start from the heart of the mountain, increasing costs, time and risk in order to make direct action difficult.

The government has chosen its pitch, but will never win.

No TAV, no forgetting

It is important to remember: No TAV has supported and endorsed the practice of direct action against the construction site and collaborationist companies, the roadblocks and the railways, the general strike, the great marches and acts of sabotage.

Stopping the TAV is the raison d’etre of the movement. But the road to get there has been as important as the destination. In this story there are no shortcuts. At stake is much more than a train, there is the freedom and dignity of those who do not tolerate the imposition by force of a choice not shared.

Back 2005, no one expected the campaign to become so successful. We were the first to be amazed. The barricades, the trunks in the middle of the road, blocking the roads were the answer to a military occupation. People stopped delegating and became the protagonists of their own history. All together on the roads and paths. We descended together into the snow, until the winter of policemen and batons forced us to leave. They were the strongest, but they knew that the seed of revolt that grew in the shade of Rocciamelone threatened to take root everywhere. And for a while that air of freedom spread throughout the peninsula.

The game is not played and not won in fields under highway pylons hanging over Venaus. There, on December 8th 2005 the game was won by the people who, a few hours after the evacuation in Venaus, blocked roads, highways, railways, countries. It was the culmination of a story that began many years before. A story that has nourished the shared knowledge that so many people have been able to own, mixing it with the living water of their aspirations for a world free and equal. A world where it is not normal that companies count as people. We live in a time where only those who consume nationality are counted, while others are little short of waste to be buried. Maybe under the sea. There have been 30,000 deaths in the Sicilian Channel, migrants killed by center-right governments and those of the center-left, while the 5 Star movement announces that it will do worse, multiplying blocks and borders.

The No TAV movement must look in the mirror. Those under the illusion that a 5 Star government will erase the TAV, who are set to campaign for Beppe Grillo and his award-winning businessman friend Gianroberto Casaleggio, will be able to rest easy knowing that this government intends to implement social policies appreciated by fascists and members of the Northern League?

In 2005 the Valley became ungovernable. The Valley must once again become ungovernable. We must choose our times and places, until the popular movement goes back to being the protagonist, until the government is obliged to back down. You can enclose a building site in a cage, but not a whole valley. The new works will give us new opportunities to embarrass our opponents, it depends only on us seizing them. We are at a point of no return. From now on, every step will be important.

Long years of direct action, horizontal organisation, the construction of shared decision-making processes have been an extraordinary exercise in freedom. All of us carry in our hearts, in the living memory of our Venaus movement and the  Free Republics, a true libertarian common, where hierarchy was broken.

The future does not delegate: today as then only direct action, with no steps back, can create the conditions for stopping this mad rush, which puts profits before the life and liberty of all.

We walk under a sky without stars, but we know the way.

Anarchist Federation Torinese


This article is and edited machine translation from a piece on Umanita Nova.

Pics: Umanita Nova, Collettivo Politico Scienzeze PoliticheCau Napoli CollettivoCino (Flickr CC)

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