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David Miller: Hooliganism of the 21st Century

David Miller Online

The G-8 Summit: The Hooliganism of the 21st Century

United States President George W. Bush is claiming success in behalf of his fellow G-8 leaders following their summit meeting in Genoa over the past week. Despite having to contend with differences of opinion with European nations over the Kyoto pact on global warming and the National Missile Defence shield, Mr. Bush claims that the G-8 leaders have the right to leave Genoa with their heads held high.

However, despite Mr. Bush’s sense of achievement, the summit will not be remembered for any great successes or breakthroughs. Instead it will be remembered for the violent protests that occurred throughout the past week, the claims of police brutality and the death of a 23-year-old protester; all of which symbolise a new brand of hooliganism for the 21st Century.

The scenes from Genoa in the past week have become a familiar sight whenever there is a meeting of leaders from industrialised nations, or a trade body, such as the World Bank or GATT being held. The protests demonstrate that the ideological battle between left and right did not end with the passing of the Cold War and has manifested itself in a different form for the 21st Century. The battle is now marked by anti-globalisation demonstrations, environmental issues, and, the call for industrialised nations to relief third world debt.

Debt relief has become a familiar rallying cry at such summits and for protest groups around the world, including New Zealand. Celebrity names, such as rock stars Bono and Bob Geldof, have rallied to the cause, which sees debt accumulation by poorer states as being central to their economic and social woes. The belief is that instead of trying to repay debt, which not only inhibits a country’s ability to sustain an economic growth plan and accumulates faster than the rate of repayment can account for, the money could be used to increase living conditions for those in poorer states.

The problem with such an argument is that debt relief does not provide the entire answer to the problems third world countries have when trying to keep pace with the industrialised world economically. Debt is a major impediment and measures must be set in place that can relieve the pressure, however the process does not end there. Unfortunately for developing nations, their economies and political systems are often not structured sufficiently enough to allow for sustainable economic growth to take place.

Often there is dictatorial style rule breeding nepotism and corruption, all of which saps what resources a developing nation might have. What remedies are taken to deal with these problems are referred to as ‘structural adjustment’, which is a concept that has received a bad press from those on the political left.

To many, such policies are introduced by an organisation such as the IMF, it is seen as a further attempt to increase western and capitalist influence and impose harsh economic measures onto a developing state in a bid to keep it weak. In reality what happens is that the measures are set in place to try and trade a country out of its crisis, become more economically sound and ensure that the lessons of the past are learnt. These measures involve currency devaluation, cheaper exports and increased debt repayment, but if they are not set in place then the vicious cycle of relying on borrowing begins to repeat itself.

Unfortunately structural adjustment is necessary in order to help developing states. Once a government begins to intervene in the financial markets of the state or simply relies on borrowing to further development then it either becomes isolated, thus cutting of its access to trade, funds and wealth or the growth that is stimulated isn’t real. What happens is that economic development is stimulated artificially. Once a government can no longer borrow to sustain this then the recession begins. It also means that once the recession begins to bite or there is economic meltdown, the results are far more catastrophic as the true value of these economies are realised.

The G-8 leaders failed to reach a solution to debt relief but they did agree to form a new fund to fight AIDS and called for an end to conflicts in the Middle East, Macedonia and on the Korean peninsula. They also acknowledged the need to increase ways to relieve economic pressure on developing nations and held meetings with the leaders of Mali, Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, Bangladesh and El Salvador.

However, such developments, along with the messages of debt relief, poverty, the need to combat AIDS and environmental preservation that so many wished to convey peacefully where overshadowed by violence. Unfortunately, violence was always going to be the dominant image that emerged from the summit, rather than legitimate protest messages. There have been claims that those most responsible for the violence and damage suffered by the city of Genoa had travelled to Italy solely to cause trouble.

If the events that surrounded the Genoa summit are the sign of the times, then political/economic meetings and conferences have become a target for those who seek to cause trouble and who will use what protest movements are there as cover for their activities. The anti-globalisation cause and debt relief movements will be the ones who suffer, as it is they who will be most associated with the violent activity and their cause inevitably tarnished, no matter how heavy handed the police response proves.

The death of the protestor in Genoa did throw the spotlight onto the police methods of dealing with the disturbances however the negative coverage this received is little in comparison with that of the protestors. Meetings such as the Genoa G-8 summit provide ideal platforms and occasions for protest groups to express their message and points of view, but such those messages will be forever lost if this continues to be overshadowed by the 21st Century’s new brand of hooliganism.

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