Feature: The Italian Job - The Genoa G8 Summit
The Italian Job: The Genoa G8 Summit
by Richard Scott, images from Indymedia.org
The weekend of 19 to 21 July 2001 should have been a momentous one for the anti-globalisation movement, and for the newly elected government of Silvio Berlusconi. Over 300,000 protestors assembled in the Italian coastal city of Genoa to march in protest against the G8 Summit. 22,000 security personnel were charged with policing the event.
The Summit, with high profile attendees such as George Bush, Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin, was to have marked the Berlusconi government’s triumphal entry onto the international stage. The event was meticulously choreographed, with lemons hung from trees, and a state-sponsored evacuation and shutdown of the city.
Yet the protest marches descended into violence and the fatal police shooting of a demonstrator, Carlo Giuliano. The ramifications of the events in Genoa are still being felt at the highest echelons of Italian politics. Since the events of that weekend a raft of allegations have emerged against the Italian police. The whole unedifying catalogue of claim and counterclaim has been paraded through the world’s press and in Italian and English courtrooms, where the allegations against the police are being investigated.
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The events of that weekend have also revealed deep schisms in the anti-globalisation movement. Some claim the strategy of non-violent civil disobedience was fundamentally flawed and played into the hands of the security forces. Others have suggested that the Genoa Social Forum, a loose coalition of over a thousand Italian and international groups falling under the broad anti-globalisation umbrella, were duped in its dealings with the Berlusconi government. Central to these allegations is the belief that the Italian government broke an agreement reached with the protestors, which laid out the ground rules for the protest.
Well before the Genoa protest marches tensions had emerged in the media portrayal of the protestors. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian premier, controversially owns and controls many Italian media outlets. It has been alleged that Berlusconi wielded his influence to portray the protestors as thuggish anarchists, orchestrating media coverage of bomb scares in the weeks preceding the summit.
However, most of the fallout from the Genoa protest has focussed on the actions of the Italian police, and the extent to which their activities over the weekend were condoned by the Italian government. The allegations centre on heavy-handed police tactics in controlling the demonstration, on Giuliano’s shooting, on police brutality in the raid of the Armando Diaz School complex which housed the independent media, and on the treatment of detained protestors at the Bolzenato detention centre. The allegations relate not just to the police force’s actions over the weekend, but also in the force’s subsequent cover up and obstruction of various investigations directed to find the truth of what went on.
Much media coverage has been concentrated on the police raid of the Armando Diaz School, where members of the independent media and some protestors were billeted. Early in morning of 22 July, after Giuliano’s shooting and supposedly in response to stones being thrown from the building, battalions of riot police descended on the school and meted out fearsome punishment beatings. Over two-thirds of the 93 arrested were hospitalised. Eye- witnesses spoke of broken bones, knocked out teeth, blood-spattered walls and of heads being smashed against walls and radiators.
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Blood stains in the GSF building (across the street from Genoa IMC)where protesters were severely beaten. More than twenty were badly injured and taken from the building on stretchers.
Detained protestors fared little better. Stories have emerged of threats of rape, of body piercings removed with pliers, of sleep deprivation and of the police urinating on detainees. Beyond this physical abuse, the detentions raised serious questions of compliance with EC legislation and reveal a litany of human rights abuses, with protestors being held for days without contact with lawyers or relatives, and forced to sign statements written for them in Italian without any translation.
Faced with a number of investigations by magistrates in Genoa, by a specially formed parliamentary commission, and by international organisations like Amnesty International, the police closed ranks. In Genoa, as in London in previous years, anarchist and neo-nazi elements gravitated towards the anti-globalisation protests as a means of venting their spleen. These elements could easily be used by the police and state authorities to justify heavy- handed tactics against the majority of peaceful protestors, who marched with placards rather than with Molotov cocktails. In particular the presence of anarchists from the Black Bloc organisation was used as a means of legitimating police tactics.
Beyond merely being obstructive, the police have been shown to have fabricated evidence in an attempt to justify its behaviour. Eyewitnesses hotly dispute any suggestion that stones were thrown from the Diaz school, or that members of the Black Bloc group were present in the building. The day after the raid the police paraded a selection of weapons supposedly recovered during the Diaz operation. Two Molotov cocktails, which were amongst the recovered weapons, are now suspected by magistrates to have been planted at the school by police. The veracity of another allegation, that protestors at the school stabbed a riot policeman, has also been called into question by magistrates. The Rome daily La Repubblica spoke of the collapse of the "fragile mountain of lies" assembled against the anti-globalization movement.
Several prominent police figures, including Genoa Police chief Gianni de Gennaro, have been demoted or reassigned to other duties. Amnesty International has criticised the police’s actions. At the last count 77 police officers were under investigation by Genoa magistrates: this number includes Officer Plannica, the police trainee who shot Carlo Giuliano.
The Berlusconi government has been heavily criticised both at home and overseas for failing to charge the police personnel responsible for brutality against demonstrators. Questions remain to be answered about the involvement of public figures in the higher reaches of Italian political life, amongst them Gianfranco Fini, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the right wing Northern Alliance, who is alleged to have condoned (if not explicitly ordered) the police raid on the Armando Diaz school.
The anniversary of Carlo Giuliano’s death has recently been marked by marches in the Italian city, with an estimated 100,000 people attending.
The events in Genoa last July have not been forgotten, and the fallout continues.
Richard Scott is a lawyer turned Wellington writer. This
story appeared initially on Scoop.co.nz. It is available to
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