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The Battle of Genoa

by The Nation Monday, Jul. 23, 2001 at 5:46 PM

" Asesino, asesino," people screamed as the vehicle stopped a few yards away. A bald carabineri opened the door and glared at us.

Published on Saturday, July 21, 2001 in The Nation



The Battle of Genoa

by Walden Bello



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 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. " Asesino, asesino," 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 2500 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 Jose Bove, 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.

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