Global protest is a force for good
The G8 leaders must listen, then act
Sunday July 22, 2001
It's all to easy to condemn the violence which has scarred the G8 summit in Genoa. A group of angry young men and women bent on violence has disrupted a meeting of elected politicians. Italian police, motivated either by reciprocal aggression or, just as likely, by fear, have fought back. A 23-year-old lies dead.
The future of such international summits is now in doubt. For G8 summits are not meetings of 'world leaders', but of a tiny group of rich world leaders. Democracies are much less starry-eyed about the purported benefits of their politicians consorting with others when we know all too well the inadequacies of men such as Silvio Berlusconi and George Bush.
And summit outcomes are all too often pathetic in relation to the challenges they face. No one would criticise last week's announcement of billion to help combat Aids and other illnesses worldwide, but the gesture represents the tiniest of palliatives to a string of global pandemics.
On Friday evening, the leaders of Nigeria, South Africa, Bangladesh, Senegal, Algeria and El Salvador were invited to join the G8 for dinner. It was a nod to the exclusion of the poor from the top table. That G8 leaders are now making gestures of this sort betrays their knowledge that the game is up for world summitry that does not command world support.
As bewildered politicians have noted, it is almost impossible to categorise the complaints of the protesters. They are furious at the failures of past summits to fulfil promises to resolve global warming or international debt.
Now poverty, prejudice and globalisation are just some of the grievances which bring them together, communicating, ironically, through the internet, the most remarkable manifestation of the globalisation of communications.
While many of the protesters' concerns are understandable, one of the less sustainable is the fear of globalisation. As capitalism colonises new territory, that territory should not be abandoned. And globalisation is not automatically damaging. Amartya Sen, the world's leading development economist, accepts that it holds a key to alleviating world poverty, if unrestrained capitalism can be regulated effectively.
One reason that international protesters show such anger is that they feel the resentment of the disenfranchised, already a local problem throughout the democratic world, writ large. International organisations are to blame. They have done all too little to relate to the people they claim to represent.
The European Union is a perfect example: vain national leaders, jealous of their own status, have failed to allow the institution to develop its own leadership which could engage across national boundaries.
We should not be shy of global protest, even as we condemn the currency of violence which is one of its faces. The challenge for progressives around the world in the twenty-first century is to exploit globalisation for beneficial ends - the promotion of democracy, consumer ethics and human rights.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001