Fascism's Face in Genoa
by John L. Allen, Jr.
The Nation magazine, August 20 / 27, 2001
While violence generated by the radical "black bloc"
dominated initial headlines during the G-8 summit in Genoa, it
is now Italy's men in blue who find themselves at the center of
criminal investigations and political debate. Using physical evidence
and eyewitness testimony, critics charge that the Italian police
engaged in systematic beatings and human rights abuses, leading
some to compare the conduct of the Italian police to the Chilean
security forces under Pinochet. At an August 3 press conference,
lead investigator Francesco Meloni said' "The reports of
violence, and the identical testimony of scores of persons who
passed through jails in diverse hours and days during the G-8,
suggest a systematic method of torture and genuine violations
of human rights."
Most pointedly, Italian magistrates, journalists and politicians
are demanding to know how a July 21 midnight police raid on the
headquarters of the Genoa Social Forum, organizers of the antiglobalization
protests, was authorized) and who is responsible for the wide
range of abuses alleged to have taken place. A police review,
a parliamentary inquest and at least four judicial investigations
are looking into accusations. In all, ninety-three people were
arrested, and all but one released without charges. Photos taken
of protesters show broken teeth, bruises and head wounds. Police
are also said to have confiscated videotapes and computer hard
drives that the Genoa Social Forum had been using to document
Police justified the raid on the grounds that the Genoa Social
Forum was aiding and abetting the violence of the "all blacks."
Only two Molotov cocktails were actually found, however, along
with a handful of sticks, iron bars and pocketknives, which strained
credulity as a "cache of weapons." Many observers believe
the raid was in fact a calculated reprisal against leftist organizers,
blamed by police for giving cover to the violent protesters, despite
the fact that the Genoa Social Forum had called for nonviolent
modes of resistance. "It was probably a sort of vendetta-of
a Chilean type," said Riccardo Barenghi, editor of n Manifesto,
which has been following the story closely.
Initially the new, right-wing Italian government of Silvio
Berlusconi, for whom the G-8 summit was supposed to be a kind
of debut, blocked calls for a parliamentary investigation. Berlusconi
later changed course. The first casualties of the probes came
August 2, when three top police officials were removed from office
by Interior Minister Claudio Scajola, who himself had just survived
calls for removal from Italy's center-left opposition. Opposition
leaders want the scope of the investigations to include political
responsibility for the violence. Most important, they want a close
examination of the role of Berlusconi's deputy prime minister,
the neo-Fascist Gianfranco Fini, who was in Genoa during the G-8
and maintained close contact with the police and security forces.
For at least some of this time, Fini was actually ensconced at
police headquarters. Was he involved, investigators want to know,
in the decision to raid the Genoa Social Forum or in encouraging
police to take a hard line?
Barenghi said he believes that the ascent of Fini's National
Alliance Party, with its roots in Italy's Fascist past, helped
shape the climate in which the police operated. "Certainly
the most violent among the police felt themselves authorized to
beat people from the fact that today in Italy we have a government
of the right, which has within itself the heirs of Fascism,"
he said in an interview. A related issue is exactly who made up
the "black bloc." Spokespersons for the Genoa Social
Forum charge that some black-clad protesters were drawn from the
far right and infiltrated the antiglobalization movement to discredit
it. Italian newspapers have published documents revealing that
police had knowledge of such plans. One high-profile observer,
Italian activist-priest Fr. Vitaliano Della Sala, has said he
believes that some far-right elements had tacit police support.
What impact such charges may have on Berlusconi's government,
if they are confirmed' is unclear. The story has dominated Italian
newspapers and television broadcasts. Three Italian bishops issued
a statement saying they had not seen such violence in Italy since
World War II, and that the beatings suggested that police were
"punishing the expression of ideas someone doesn't like."
Polls by the respected firm Datamedia show, however, that most
Italians are less outraged by the police, even if accusations
of misconduct are true, than by the protesters, whom they blame
for an estimated $40 million in property damage. Many Italians
are terrified of a resurgence of the violent radicalism of the
1970s and the Red Brigades. Berlusconi has said he is "100
percent with the police," and in a sense he may be reading
the national mood about right.
John L. Allen Jr., the Rome correspondent for the National
Catholic Reporter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org