The Battle of Genoa
by Walden Bello
Genoa, Sunday, July 23
The Nation website
Organizers of the anti-G8 protest in Genoa say that 200,000
people came from all over Italy and Europe to join the mammoth
demonstration yesterday. In contrast to Friday, the day seemed
to be relatively peaceable...until the evening. At around 11 pm,
while I and several media people were filing stories, the police
barged into the Genoa Social Forum press center in search of "anarchists."
"Prensa, prensa," we shouted, our hands held high,
as baton wielding carabinieri pushed us and commanded us to sit
on the floor. We were captives for the next hour, but things were
worse at the high school next door which served as temporary quarters
for people coming from out of town. About 200 police in full riot
gear crashed into the building, rounding up Nazi-style about twenty
young people suspected of being anarchists.
Still things were less chaotic than the day before. I will
never forget Friday.
The police van came careening down the Via Giovanni Tomaso
Invrea, moving crazily from one side of the narrow street to the
other in pursuit of protesters. I flattened myself against the
wall, and it missed me by two feet. Another six inches and it
would have mowed down the man in front of me. "Assassino,
assassino," people screamed as the vehicle stopped a few
yards away. A bald carabineri opened the door and glared at us.
Everything happened so quickly. Just twenty-five minutes before,
at around 2:15 pm, a column of around 8,000-10,000 people, led
by the famed specialists in civil disobedience the Tute Bianche,
were marching down the Via Tolemaide, with marshalls using megaphones
announcing, "This is a nonviolent march. We believe in nonviolence."
The goal of the marchers was to reach the twenty-foot wall of
iron that the authorities had erected around the Group of Eight
meeting site at the Piazza Ducale about two kilometers away.
They never reached the wall. At the foot of the hill, at the
intersection with Via Corsino, carabineri hidden in a small side
street started firing tear gas in an unprovoked attack that scattered
the advance ranks of the march where there were many reporters
and television crews.
The Battle of Genoa had begun.
Throughout the next four hours, the battle unfolded in the
narrow sidestreets and the small piazzas of the Corso Torino area,
with the battle lines shifting constantly. The police would attack
with teargas, vans and armored personnel carriers. The protesters
would retreat, then come back with stones and bricks ripped from
the pavement. Huge trash bins were turned over to serve as barricades.
"Genova Libera! Genova Libera!" would erupt from the
crowd everytime the police were forced back.
At 4:20 pm, I had my first glimpse of an injured man being
carried away by the first aid personnel of the Tute Bianche. It
was at around the same time that one person was shot dead by carabineri
in the same vicinity. Ambulance sirens blared constantly. Later
I would find out that about 150 people had been injured during
the day--about fifty of them being members of the media.
I also learned later that there were acts of civil disobedience
throughout the day, the most dramatic apparently being that of
a woman from the so-called "Pink Bloc" of marchers who
tried to scale the steel wall to place grappling hooks on it,
only to be hosed down brutally by the police when she had got
nearly to the top.
Unfortunately, the anarchists--the so-called "Black Bloc"--were
also around. Despite efforts by mainstream demonstrators to dissuade
them with dramatic pleas for nonviolence, they went about burning
a couple of cars, including an Alfa Romeo. They also moved down
Genoa's beautiful seafront drive, the Corso Italia, selectively
breaking windows--breaking those of banks and car companies while
leaving those of restaurants untouched. "Capitalism kills"
with an anarchist logo alongside was painted on walls.
Many protesters were very upset about the antics of the few
hundred anarchists in a global assembly of about 100,000 people.
Fabio Bellini, a 25-year-old Genoan, told me: "It is right
to demonstrate against the G-8. It's right to fight for a better
world, and that's why I'm here. But I don't understand the window
breaking. I'm sad for Genoa." Pam Foster, the coordinator
of the Halifax Initiative in Canada, asked: "Why did the
police go after peaceful demonstrators but take their time dealing
with the anarchists?"
The antics of the Black Bloc were the subject of many passionate
debates when the protesters streamed back to the convergence center
at Piazza Kennedy at dusk. Observing one of these spontaneous
arguments, Han Soeti of Indymedia-Belgium commented, "There
are reports that instead of arresting anarchists, the police were
escorting some of them to critical areas. I heard the same thing
in Prague and Barcelona."
It is, however, for the new Italian Prime Minister, Silvio
Berlusconi, that the protesters, both Italian and non-Italian,
reserve their greatest anger. During the struggle at the Corso
Torino, Gino Pierantoni, another Genoese, told me, "I don't
know where you will find truth in this mess. But I am sure that
a great part of the blame rests with this man, who really is incapable
of leading this country." Berlusconi is regarded as having
militarized the situation, going against the moves of the local
government, which tried to accommodate the protest movement. A
retired Italian general who headed the United Nations peacekeeping
force in Beirut in the seventies summed up the feelings of many
Italians when he commented that he did not know why Berlusconi
assigned 20,000 carabineri to Genoa when he only needed 2,500
troops to keep the peace in the whole of Beirut.
As in Seattle, Washington, DC, and Prague, organizers of what
has been the biggest anti-globalization protest so far are worried
that the street battles and the antics of the anarchists might
overshadow the message that they wanted to deliver to the G-8.
Over several months, the Genoa Social Forum was able to line up
about 600 groups behind a pledge of non-violence. It also sponsored
a week-long teach-in, involving international speakers, with topics
ranging from "Who Needs Trade Liberalization?" to "Mechanisms
for Global Democracy" to "Alternatives to Globalization."
Among those who delivered talks were anti-globalization gurus
Susan George, a critic of neoliberalism, and José Bové,
better known as the man who dismantled a McDonalds restaurant.
The G-8, however, was deaf to the protests on the streets.
While Berlusconi delivered a carefully crafted statement saying
he was "saddened" by the death of the demonstrator,
he also said it was not connected to the G-8. To add insult to
injury, the G-8, on the evening on July 20, issued a statement
in which it encouraged the launching of a new round of trade negotiations
in Quatar. Opposition to a new round and the World Trade Organization
was what had brought thousands of people from all over Europe
and the world to Genoa.