History of the No Dal Molin Movement in Vicenza
A brief history of the movement in Vicenza, Italy against a new U.S. military base.
A brief history of the movement in Vicenza, Italy against a new U.S. military base.
It’s the last green corner of the city’s outskirts, nestling on the border between the towns of Vicenza and Caldogno and close to the river Bacchiglione. As recently as a few decades ago, local boys would spend their summers there running along the banks and diving into the peaceful water.
Facing north, the Alps; behind you, to the south, the Palladian Basilica, a mere 1.5 kilometers away; and so many more treasures that Vicenza inherited from its illustrious son (Andrea Palladio), who influenced the course of architecture throughout the world.
We’re talking about Vicenza’s Dal Molin airport, built in the 1930s and heavily bombed during the Second World War. Thanks to its status as state-owned land, it survived the uncontrolled urbanization that subsequently swept aside the architecturally balanced image of this city. In this land blessed with water - the surrounding area possesses the most extensive aquifer in all of northern Italy - the U.S. has planned a new military installation to unite the 173rd Airborne Brigade, currently divided between Germany and Italy, transforming it into the single most powerful combat unit deployed outside North American borders.
Buildings up to 23.5 meters in height, but strictly in conformity with "Palladian style."; Weapons depots and command centers alternating with fitness centers and playgrounds; - hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of cement. All of this, according to statements by U.S. officials, would be designed with the most modern and environmentally friendly technology. What the proponents hope to achieve within the perimeter of barbed wire is the largest U.S. military presence in Europe - ready to intervene rapidly in any new theater of war that could open in Africa, the Middle East, or in Eastern Europe.
Vicenza is already in a highly-militarized area. The new installations would join the Ederle barracks, situated with its high walls in the heart of an already densely populated neighborhood; the underground installations of Fontego and Site Pluto, where for decades there has been stockpiling of atomic weapons ready to be detonated in the nearby hills, impeding the hypothetical progress of the advancing Red Army; the ammunition storehouses and the super-protected village that houses the families of the military. All of these zones are inaccessible to the people of Vicenza and out of bounds for any social or economic uses the local population might have created in that part of the city.
A secret agreement between the Italian and U.S. governments confirms "the friendship and the eternal gratitude" of the peninsula towards its overseas ally. In 2004, U.S. representatives advanced new requests to the Italian government - then headed by Silvio Berlusconi. Negotiations also involved Mayor Hullweck of Vicenza. Everything was agreed among the parties without it being considered necessary to inform the citizens about the needs of an army now engaged throughout the world in "exporting democracy." Only in 2006, after an initial evaluation of the project by the Joint Regional Committee, were the citizens of Vicenza made aware of a project that affects the territory in which they live.
While acknowledging that "the majority of the city is opposed to the project," the then Mayor Hullweck succeeded in obtaining a favorable ruling on the U.S. proposal from the Vicenza city council. The council’s consent, however, came with five conditions attached - none of which has been met to this day. In effect, Italian taxpayers are called upon not only to foot 41% of the cost of stationing U.S. troops on Italian soil, but to fund the infrastructure works that are incidental to the military project, such as roads, sewerage and electricity. It all adds up to hundreds of millions of Euro to renew the city’s hospitality towards the soldiers who every morning march in the streets and squares that Palladio made a UNESCO World Heritage site and every evening are to be found in the night clubs of the province.
The final go-ahead was granted by the government headed by Romano Prodi on 16 January 2007. But in the same period in which officialdom in Italy was bowing and scraping before the U.S. emissaries, the people of Vicenza were rediscovering their roots – taking renewed pride in the stunning architectural beauty of their city center, and in the beauty of the tree-lined outskirts of the countryside surrounding Vicenza. Thousands of residents met on the streets and in the squares of the city, discussing the situation, giving birth to innumerable meetings and public events. On February 17, 2007, more than 150,000 citizens joined hands to symbolically encircle the city walls, collectively declaring their intention of opposing those who would wish to impose a military plan on a city that prefers to decide for itself about the future of its children.
The months following these events saw many examples of civic and social commitment in defense of the territory, and the creation of democratic processes that involved men and women of every age, occupation, and political persuasion. Hundreds of initiatives took place throughout the city of Palladio, while citizens created their own space in which to organize and express their opposition. Vicenza, meanwhile, was gaining sympathy and solidarity in every corner of Italy, becoming a symbol of the clash between public policy and the expression of popular will.
The large demonstration of 17 February 2007 was followed by others. There was a European-wide mobilization in December of that year, and two festivals in opposition to the base were organized in the late summer of 2007 and 2008. In March of 2007 the Palladian Basilica was symbolically occupied, as was the Prefecture in January 2008. In January of this year, the No Dal Molin activists occupied the civilian area of the airport for three consecutive days. Faced with the stated intention of Commissioner Costa to "eradicate the local opposition at its roots," the Vicenza residents have become experts on the subject of military bases and their environmental impact. The knowledge they acquired – always denied to the local population by the proponents of the base – has become a precious shared resource among those who never accepted the assurances of officials who now have the nerve to lie in the face of hard evidence.
At the local elections of April 2008, the coalition led by Mayor Achille Variati emerged victorious against all the odds. Following through on the proposals made during the election campaign, the city council moved to promote a new study of the entire project, as well as promising to conduct a referendum that would give voice to the local population. That referendum was canceled four days before it was to take place by the Council of State, which accepted a last-minute appeal by those in favor of the project. In effect, it was stated that the military installation in Vicenza is outside the democratic discourse. The indignation sparked by this latest act of arrogance led to a spontaneous outpouring of public opposition. That same evening more than ten thousand people gathered in the main square to confirm October 5 as a day of democratic participation and self determination.
Dozens of tents were set up by hundreds of volunteers for a vote to be held in front of the very buildings that were to house the polling stations. From the early morning of the 5th, there were endless lines of citizens determined to express their opinion. At the conclusion of voting, nearly 25,000 citizens had expressed their will. More than 95% of them came down against the construction of the new U.S. military base.
It was a definitive example of democracy and popular participation to which the U.S. - who call themselves friends of Vicenza and exporters of democracy - have yet to reply. In spite of that, work began in February 2009 for the construction of the new military base. The opposition to this construction goes on to the present moment.
Timeline of Major Events Marking the No Dal Molin Movement
2001-2006: SECRET MEETINGS Mayor Hullweck and then Prime Minister Berlusconi deal secretly with the U.S. regarding concession of the Dal Molin Airport to the U.S. military, giving their informal consent for further militarization of the city, already home to Camp Ederle.
25 May ‘06: PROJECT REVEALED Vicenza discovers the secret project. Councilor Cicero, accompanied by U.S. military officials, presents the project for the new military base to the City Council.
5 July ‘06: SIT-IN AT DAL MOLIN Over 500 people block the airport entrance for hours.
23 July ‘06: DAL MOLIN IN PARLIAMENT A delegation from Vicenza travels to Rome to bring the issue to the attention of the government. After some discussion, newly-elected Prime Minister Prodi promises to reconsider the proposals made to the U.S. by the previous government.
19 September ‘06: THE PERMANENT ASSEMBLY IS FORMED A coalition of citizens’ committees is formed to oppose the new base.
23 September ’06: STUDENTS AGAINST DAL MOLIN 3,000 students take part in a protest march against the new base.
21 October ‘06: BLITZ AT DAL MOLIN Approximately 100 people peacefully invade the Dal Molin Airport to hold a press conference.
26 October ‘06: POTS AND PANS AT THE TOWN HALL The City Council discusses – and approves – the project, selling off the city of Vicenza. In the square below, thousands show their dissent by banging pots, pans and drums, blowing whistles and making as much noise as possible for seven full hours.
24 November ‘06: MEETING WITH DEFENSE MINISTER After having announced a protest at the Ministry in Rome, a delegation from Vicenza is invited to meet with Defense Minister Parisi.
24 November ‘06: PARISI MEETS WITH NO DAL MOLIN After having announced a protest at the Ministry of Defense in Rome, a delegation from the Permanent Assembly is invited to meet with Defense Minister Parisi.
2 December ‘06: 1st NATIONAL DEMONSTRATION 30,000 people take part in a protest march from the existing base of Camp Ederle to Dal Molin, the largest the city had ever seen, despite a campaign of fear staged by the local government.
16 January ‘07: DAY OF SHAME Prime Minister Prodi announces from Romania that “the Government does not oppose the project.” Thousands demonstrate, occupying the train station for two hours. The Presidio permanente (Permanent Encampment) is erected next to Dal Molin, and has been operating 24/7 ever since.
19 January ‘07: PRESIDIO PERMANENTE TO ROME A delegation from the Presidio permanente protests in Rome at the Parliament building.
17 February ‘07: NATIONAL DEMONSTRATION More than 200,000 people from all over Italy protest in Vicenza against the construction of the new base.
8 March ‘07: MOTHER EARTH REBELS AGAINST THE WAR BASE A full day of initiatives by the women of Vicenza on International Women’s Day.
24 March ‘07: THE TRUTH IS UNCOVERED Underground ducts for new fiber optic cables near the site of the new base, being laid without proper authorization, are sealed shut by activists from the Presidio permanente.
18 April ‘07: PALLADIAN BASILICA OCCUPIED The Basilica Palladiana, symbol of Vicenza and masterpiece of renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, is peacefully occupied for 24 hours. The next day 2,000 people fill the square below, also site of the Town Hall.
1-7 May ’07: LOBBYING US CONGRESS A delegation from Vicenza takes their message to Capitol Hill, meeting with House and Senate members and strengthening ties with US activists.
8 May ‘07: POTS AND PANS FOR THE U.S. MILITARY BAND 400 people contest the decision to have the U.S. military band play on one of the most important squares in the city with “music” of their own.
3 June ’07: PRIME MINISTER PRODI CONTESTED The activists of the Presidio Permanente infiltrate a conference in Trento where Prodi is speaking and, after interrupting his talk with shouts of “SHAME” and waving the No Dal Molin flags, a representative is invited on stage to make the views of the movement known.
4 July ’07: INDEPENDENCE (FROM MILITARY BASES) DAY Thousands celebrate the first ever Independence Day for Vicenza with a festival on the main square.
8-16 September ’07: NO DAL MOLIN FESTIVAL 30,000 participate in a weeklong campout with workshops, panel discussions and 3 days of direct actions, including blocking the entrances of the existing base at Camp Ederle and planting 150 tree at the Dal Molin Airport, symbolically creating a public park.
6-8 November ’07 INITIAL PHASE OF CONSTRUCTION BLOCKED Hundreds camp out for 3 days straight blocking the entrance to the site of the new base, causing the firm contracted to begin the initial phase, which ironically entails clearing the area of U.S. bombs from WWII, to suspend the work.
14-16 December ’07: INTERNATIONAL MOBILIZATION A three-day event with activists from Italy, Europe and the U.S., which included debates workshops and a protest march of over 80,000 people.
16 January ’07: OFFICES OF PREFECT OCCUPIED On the 1st anniversary of Prodi’s announcement in support of the base, 30 activists occupy the offices of the Prefect of Vicenza.
13-14 April ’08: NO DAL MOLIN ELECTED TO CITY COUNCIL Cinzia Bottene of the municipal list Vicenza Libera No Dal Molin is elected to City Council. On April 28, center-left candidate Achille Variati, who ran on a platform opposing the base, is elected mayor in this stronghold of the right. The Mayor promised a vote in City Council on the issue of Dal Molin as well as a local referendum allowing the people to finally express themselves on the base.
20 June ’08: COURT RULES TO SUSPEND WORK The administrative court of the Veneto region rules to suspend all work on the base, citing failure to consult the local population and lack of a proper environmental impact assessment.
29 July ’08: COURT DECISION OVERTURNED Italy’s highest administrative court overturns the lower court ruling, summarily dismissing the case in record time for Italy’s sluggish judicial system.
3-14 September ’08: 2ND NO DAL MOLIN FESTIVAL The 10-day campout returns, with participation by Nobel Laureate Dario Fo and direct non-violent actions resulting in police brutality and the first arrests.
15-17 September ’08: EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT A delegation of women from Vicenza speak at European Parliament and request poll observers for the upcoming referendum in light of the campaign against it mounted by the Italian government. Special Commissioner Paolo Costa called it "anti-democratic" and Prime Minister Berlusconi went so far as to write a letter to Mayor Variati calling the referendum "seriously inopportune."
5 October ’08: REFERENDUM DAY The local referendum, initially voted and called by City Council, was suspended by the Italian courts just 4 days prior. With the Mayor’s support, a volunteer-run referendum was held – outside the polling places but with strict adherence to the rules. Close to 25,000 participate with 95% voting against the new base.
20 November ’08: POSTCARDS FOR OBAMA Citizens of Vicenza send 30,000 postcards to President-elect Obama. “Stop 2nd US Base? Yes, You Can!”
31 January ’09: DAL MOLIN OCCUPIED Hundreds occupy the Dal Molin Airport for 4 days resulting in two wins: office space to conduct an “unofficial” environmental impact assessment, which the Italian government is refusing to carry out, and talks to create a Peace Park in the former airport.
10 February ’09: CONSTRUCTION BLOCKED Activists attempting to block trucks entering the base are met with an unprecedented police presence. Reorganizing, they block one of the construction companies for over an hour. 18 activists are arrested.
20 February ’09: FINAL PROJECT APPROVED US and Italian officials announce the approval of the final project for the base; no environmental impact assessment will be conducted.
February ’09 - ??: MOBILIZATIONS CONTINUE The activists of the Presidio permanente No Dal Molin pledge to continue the protests as long as it takes.