A New Year in Casale Monferrato
On January 1, 2012, Italy's Minister of Health Renato Balduzzi held discussions in Casale Monferrato in an attempt to resolve the political and civic dissension caused by a proposed deal between the local authority and Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, accused by Italian prosecutors of crimes related to the asbestos deaths of thousands of Italians. The deadline for the tombstone agreement, which had on December 16 been accepted by a majority of the town councillors, was December 31. Had this deal been finalized, Casale Monferrato would have been barred from bringing asbestos-related claims against Schmidheiny. The vote of December 16 was like an explosion; townspeople were dumbfounded by what they saw as a betrayal by one of their key allies in their thirty-year campaign for justice.
Speculation is rife about why Mayor Demezzi did not sign the agreement. The fact that local priest Don Paulo Busto held a mass in memory of the asbestos dead in a church directly across from the town hall and that Alceste Catella, the Bishop of the Dioceses of Casale Monferrato, implored the Mayor to lead the city in this moment of great suffering do something that will prove your respect for the suffering of so many of our citizens, would not have gone unnoticed. The phone call the Mayor received on December 21 from the Italian Minister of Health would, one suspects, have made it crystal clear that the pact with the Devil, had achieved national prominence.
The discussions which took place during the afternoon on New Year's Day provided a welcomed opportunity to find a way through the impasse that had been reached. Scheduling ministerial meetings on a national holiday was in itself highly significant; in Italy, as elsewhere, such days are considered sacrosanct. Having previously praised the leading role played by the Casale town council in the long and hard social struggle for justice, on January 1 Minister Balduzzi reaffirmed the Government's concern for the citizens and support for the town during his talks with Casale's Mayor and Town Councillors. The response to Italy's national asbestos emergency, would, the Minister promised, be spear-headed by Casale Monferrato, the country's anti-asbestos capital.1 Recognizing the wider implications of the case against the Eternit executives, Minister Balduzzi spoke of the continued production and use of asbestos in Europe and the symbolic importance of Casale's struggle at home and abroad.
At the second meeting on January 1, Minister Balduzzi impressed leaders of the asbestos victims group AfeVA and trade union campaigners with his in-depth knowledge of the 'asbestos emergency' as a national and global issue. He laid out a detailed approach to the problem which included meetings in Rome with leading stakeholders such as representatives of the Ministries of Health, Environment, Economic Development and Labor to plan a coordinated response by national agencies, local authorities and federal bodies to the asbestos scandal. AfeVA leaders highlighted the important role of the Italian Workers' Compensation Authority (INAIL) in this process; it is hoped that INAIL will provide funding for medical research and decontamination work. The campaigners also drew the Minister's attention to the calls for a national Fund for Asbestos Victims which would make compensation available to people who suffered from environmental exposure to asbestos.
On January 7, a day of civil action will take place in Casale Monferrato under the banner: Nessun Dorma (let no one sleep). With their banners, white roses, songs and speeches the activists will rededicate themselves to achieving the goals they have been pursuing for the last 30 years: justice, research and decontamination.
January 4, 2012
1 Mossano S. La capitale anti amianto (The anti-asbestos capital). La Stampa. January 2, 2012