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Walden Bello's comments on Genoa

"The preemptive attack on the peaceful march at the Corso Torino, over three kilometers away from the wall of steel around the Palazzo Ducale area, illustrated this"

"I also don't think it's appropriate to denounce people who say they are on our side but with whom we may have disagreements over tactics"

"I agree that many of the provocateurs were police. The visual evidence gathered so far by the Genoa Social Forum confirms this. However, I think it would be a mistake to say that all of them were police."

"Several times, when some Bs would want to smash a window or overturn a car, groups of marchers would plead with them not do it. Sometime moral suasion worked. Sometimes it did not."

"2. Organize our ranks so that teams can be deployed when needed to engage in peaceful moral suasion of Bs engaged in violent activity;"

Walden Bello, Focus on the Global South


By Walden Bello

(The following account was filed hours after the now infamous raid by Italian police of the Genoa Social Forum press center and the Batisti High School opposite it shortly after midnight on Sunday, July 22. It was posted on the websites of The Nation (New York) and Focus on the Global South and circulated on many listservs. While some details–like the number arrested at the Batisti–are now dated, the account remains accurate and the analysis valid–Ed.)

GENOA, 22 JULY 2001: 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 last Friday, the day seemed to be relatively peaceable...until midnight. At around 12:30 a.m., 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 20 young people suspected of being members of the so-called “Black Bloc.”

Still things were less chaotic than the day before. I will never forget Friday, July 20.

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 flatten myself against the wall and it misses me by about two feet. Another six inches, and it would have hit the man running ahead of me. "Assassino! Assassino," protesters scream as the vehicle comes to a halt a few yards away and a bald carabinieri steps out to glare at us.

Everything happened so quickly. Just 25 minutes before, at around 2:15 p.m., a column of about 8000-10,000 people, led by the famed Tute Bianchi ("White Overalls") specialists in civil disobedience, were marching peacefully down the Via Tolemaide, with marshals using megaphones announcing, “This is a non-violent march. We believe in non-violence.” The goal of the marchers was to reach the 20-foot high wall of steel that the authorities had erected around the Palazzo Ducale, site of the G8 meeting, about three kilometers away.

They never reached the wall. At the foot of the hill, at the intersection with Corso Torino, carabinieri hidden in a side street started firing teargas in an unprovoked attack that scattered the advanced ranks of the march, where I and a good number of reporters and television crews had placed ourselves.


Throughout the next four hours, the struggle swirled around the narrow side streets and normally pleasant piazzas in the Corso Torino area. The battle lines shifted several times. The police would attack with teargas, vans, and armed personnel carriers. Hundreds of protesters maddened by the police attack would fight back with stones and bricks ripped from the pavement. Large garbage bins were turned over to serve as barricades. "Genova Libera, Genova Libera!" would erupt from the crowd each time the police were forced back.

At around 4:20 p.m., I had my first glimpse of a casualty, a man with a head wound being led away by the Tute Bianchi first aid squad. It was around the same time that one protester, Carlo Giuliani, was shot in the head and killed by a carabinieri as he was about to throw a fire extinguisher at a police jeep. Ambulance sirens rent the air non-stop all afternoon. I learned later that some 150 people suffered injuries–about 50 of them members of the media.

I also learned later that there were acts of civil disobedience throughout the day. Perhaps the most dramatic was that of a young woman who climbed the wall to place grappling hooks, only to be hosed down brutally by police before she could reach the top. Police were less quick to react when roving groups of anarchists--the so-called "Black Bloc"--engaged in a spree of property destruction that was quick to draw the attention of TV cameras. Anarchists burned several cars, including an Alfa Romeo, with impunity. They also moved down the beautiful seaside boulevard, the Corso Italia, smashing windows--though it seemed only the windows of banks and car companies were targeted, with unprotected restaurant windows left unmarked by the mayhem.

The anarchists' acts are the subject of impassioned debates among the mainstream demonstrators when they filter back to the Piazza Kennedy at dusk. Pam Foster, coordinator of the Halifax Initiative, a Canadian NGO, asked: “Why did the police go after peaceful demonstrators while taking their time dealing with the anarchists?” Fabio Bellini, a 25-year-old Genoese, tells me, "It's 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."

There are suspicions that the police and the anarchists might be working together. Han Soete of Indymedia Belgium says that, "There are reports that instead of arresting anarchists, the police were escorting them to critical areas. I heard the same thing in Prague and Barcelona.”

Many Italians and non-Italians, however, reserve their greatest anger for the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "How do you find the truth about this mess? Who provoked whom? But a large part of the reason is this man, who does not have the capacity to lead." Berlusconi is widely regarded as having militarized the G-8 situation, going against the efforts of the local government to accommodate the Genoa Social Forum that coordinated the protest activities. Perhaps the most telling statement came from a former Italian general who commanded a UN peacekeeping mission in Beirut. He said he could not understand why Berlusconi needed to send 20,000 carabinieri to Genoa when he needed only 2500 troops to secure Beirut during the height of the Lebanese civil war in the 1970's.

As in Seattle, Washington D.C, Prague, and other sites of anti-globalization demonstrations, the organizers of the Genoa Social Forum worry that the critiques of corporate-driven globalization and discussion of alternatives to it might be overshadowed by news about the militant confrontations. For over a week now, the GSF has held marathon symposia on topics ranging from "Mechanisms of Global Democracy," to "Environment and Social Debt of the North," to "Who Needs Trade Liberalization?" Among those who delivered talks were anti-globalization gurus Susan George, a critic of neoliberalism, and Jose Bove, better known as the man who dismantled a McDonalds restaurant.

It is unlikely, however, that the G-8 will listen either to the protest or to the ideas of the counter-forum. Berlusconi issued a statement deploring the death of Giuliani, but he suggested that it was unconnected to the G-8 meeting in Genoa. The G-8 leaders, for their part, urged the launching of a new round of trade negotiations at the WTO, something that the tens of thousands in Genoa came to oppose.

By turning a deaf ear to the protests and doing nothing to address the crises brought about by globalization, however, the G8 may be rendering itself irrelevant to the world at large.

* Walden Bello is the executive director of Focus on the Global South


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