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Genova and the Antiglobalization Movement: George Caffentzis of Midnight Notes

Anonymous Comrade writes: "The following article was written by members of the group Midnight Notes. Originally, it was published on A Infos a week ago, but as a result of its coincidence with the events in New York and Washington, it disappeared. Nonetheless it treats matters which should be of interest to many attracted by contemporary radicalism.Because of the length of the piece, it has been posted in two parts.

Genova and the Antiglobalization Movement

by George Caffentzis

A Citizens' Arrest

These are some reflections on the demonstrations in Genova during the G8 meetings and the post-Genova debate. We were not in Genova on July 19-21, 2001 and were not involved in the process of preparing the demos; thus, there are aspects of this debate we cannot comment upon. We are responding, however, to the widespread realization that the July Genova days were a turning point for the antiglobalization movement and there are important lessons we in the movement must draw from it.

Two things happened in Genova that signal the development of a new political reality. First, 300,000 people from every part of Europe came together to challenge the legitimacy of the G8 meeting and practically attempt a citizen's arrest of it. On the first day of the demonstrations, moreover, 70, 000 immigrants and supporters marched-an unprecedented feat in Italy where immigrants politically are still relatively invisible.

What also happened in Genova is that in response to this challenge the Italian government and (more hiddenly) its G8 partners declared war on the anti-globalization movement, first by brutally attacking hundreds of peaceful demonstrators, and then by staunchly defending these attacks as perfectly legitimate, thus de facto backing a strategy of terror, and the abolition of all legal, civic, and human rights.

In the days and weeks following the Genova events, the Berlusconi government has not spared efforts, with the assistance of the many TV channels and newspapers which it now controls, to blame on the anti-global protesters the violence unleashed on them. Scenes of stone-throwing demonstrators confronting the police or methodically destroying shop-windows or putting cars on fire have been broadcast over and over, while the unprecedented sight of the hundreds of thousands who marched with chants and banners, have been censored. The goal has been to whip up a wave of moral indignation against the protesters high enough to make people forget the brutality and illegality of the treatment meted out to them.

Thus, it is very important for us, as we reflect on the meaning of the Genova demonstrations on the fate of our movement, to be clear on one basic fact: what happened in Genova reflects a pre-meditated institutional plan to repress and terrorize the demonstrators, convince them to never again participate in such protest, and this plan was not shaped by how activists behaved.

This could be seen by the shape of the events. The three days of demonstrations against the G-8, July 19-21, were planned, on the one side, by the new Berlusconi government and, on the other, by the Genoa Social Forum (GSF, a network of more than a thousand Italian and international antiglobalization associations, organizations and groups) and the Tute Bianche, an Italian organization that has specialized in non-violent blockades of meetings of the global "leaders." There were a number of meetings between the two sides that supposedly laid the ground rules for the confrontation. Three days of protest were planned. On the first, July 19, there was to be an international demonstration of immigrants, the second day was to be one of non-violent civil disobedience, and the third day was to be an international mass demonstration.

Even before the first demo, however, it was clear that the government was doing its best to create a sense of panic among the population to prevent people from going to Genova and to build the image of the anti-globalization demonstrators as terrorists. First there was a media-driven "bombs strategy". For a couple of days before the demonstrations newspapers and TV news shows were filled with reports of bombs and/or mysterious packages being found in several parts of Italy, especially in Milan; then letter bombs arrived at the office of the Director of TV channel 4, which was owned by Berlusconi, and other companies. All in all, there were about 60 reported bomb scares in the run-up to the Genova demonstrations. Though no person or group claimed responsibility for most of these scares and parcels, the media implied totally unjustifiably that they were the work of people allied to the antiglobalization movement.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people were refused entrance at the borders (686 by July 18), a move made possible by the fact that, for the duration of the summit, the Schengen Treaty (which guaranteed EU citizens freedom to cross all EU borders) was suspended. All those who arrived were meticulously screened, three buses of Greeks activists, with one of the organizing committees, was prevented from landing from the ship in Ancona. In addition, the gathering places in Genova were raided, innocuous, defensive material was confiscated and displayed on TV as if they were weapons; airports and train stations were closed.

But the most telling sign of what was to come was what was done to Genova. By the 18th, Genova was a ghost-town as the area in which the G8 were to meet -the Zona Rossa--was enclosed in a true iron cage and people were practically forced to leave the city. It is now clear that the government did not want to have witnesses for the "action" planned. As in Prague, workers were forced to take their vacations during the summit, shop-keepers were told to keep their shops closed and leave because "vandals were coming"-one Genovese out of three abandoned the city--in the end the only people left, especially in the Zona Rossa, were some elderly who had nowhere to go and could not even get to the streets because police patrols would push them back inside; interviewed by the press they looked disoriented, disbelieving. "We look like tigers in a cage"-one said-"not even in time of war we have seen anything like it." Others noted the eerie silence only broken by the buzz of the helicopters and the sound of the boots of the cops on the pavement-"the silence of a city after a coup d'etat," a paper wrote.

Everyone looked dismayed as scores of welders enclosed the Zona Rossa within a gated iron net. "Here democracy ends", "zone with limited rights" read the posters placed on the bars by some activists (and quickly removed by the police). So the signs what was to come were there.

The next day, July 19th, however, passed without incident. In fact it was a glorious day. Immigrant organizations from all over Italy and other parts of Europe marched to protest the treatment meted out to them by the Italian government and the EU, and to present their demands: legal recognition, asylum rights, housing. It was a great event, in an Italy where immigrants are treated like pariahs and made object of a constant persecution, to see immigrants and Italians occupying the streets together, saying no to racism, demonstrating in their lives and struggles the effects of globalization and the political possibilities their presence in Europe opens up. (On the day before in Genova, a meeting of trade unionists from all over Europe was held, this too a first, and a sign, perhaps, that the trade unions may be beginning to realize the importance of international solidarity and coordination, even though the CGIL-a left-wing union confederation--has refused to take a position against globalization. "Globalization must be agreed upon (concertata)"-- they said-"not fought against.")

The "war" started on Friday, July 20th. By this time, despite the raids, the panic disseminated with the bomb "attempts"- (a bomb was placed near the entry of the Carlini camp, where the Tute Bianche and other demonstrators had gathered), despite the high number of people rejected at the borders, the long checks to which individuals and busses were submitted, about 150, 000 had assembled. As in the anti-IMF/World Bank demonstrations in Prague, they were to demonstrate in different blocks, coming from the different gathering spots to then converge in the center of the town, where some groups had announced they would try to enter the Zona Rossa. But no one from the main demo made it there. From early in the morning a scenario started unfolding that continued through the next day. Demonstrators presumably belonging to the Black Block clashing with the police were chased in the direction of the other demonstrators, and soon policemen were attacking with tear gas and batons the whole march with a determined, almost murderous.

This is no exaggeration and I urge people, everywhere, to read as much as they can from testimonies and reports to verify this statement. Thousands of people, of all ages, peacefully marching were beaten, Rodney King style, while strange demonstrators, clad in black, moving and acting paramilitary style were given free reign, for hours-allowed to move from place to place, allowed to destroy things on their way, cars, windows; when the police charged them their goals was to push them towards the march, and in fact, through this tactics, the bulk of the demonstrators were assaulted. It is now agreed and documented that there were provocateurs and members of right-wing, nazi groups among the "Black Block" and the other demonstrators. As we heard over and over, a few hundred belligerents were free to move from place to place, rarely pursued by the police, while the mass of the demo was savagely attacked.

That afternoon a policeman in a van shot Carlo Guiliani, a young demonstrator from Genova in the head and in the effort to get out of the hands of the furious crowd the driver of the van ran over Carlo's body twice.

As the news of Carlo's killing moved through the streets of Genoa the battles, beatings and arrests continued. The arrested were sent to a number of jails for booking. One of the most infamous was Bolzenato which was, as one inmate put it, "truly a hell." The police in the prison had been a special mobile police officers sent from Rome who were trained to put down prison revolts. Cages for torture were built especially for the demo and those arrested were forced to sing fascist songs or little ditties like "1, 2, 3…viva Pinochet/ 4, 5, 6…kill the Jews/7, 8, 9…I don't care about little black kids" (it rhymes in Italian). People who had arrived already wounded were further attacked and women were threatened with rape. Those with dreads had their heads shaved and those with piercings had them ripped out of their flesh.

The next day was scheduled to be the day of the international mass demonstration. The parade route had been previously announced and no attempt to penetrate the Red Zone had been organized for that day. Most estimates put the number at about 300,000, one of the largest demonstrations in recent European history. The news of the savage Chilean-style attacks on peaceful demonstrators as well as Carlo Guilaini's killing had spread fast enough so that many Italians who had previously planned not to take part in the demos came to protest what had happened the day before.

The GSF organizers were conscious of the danger of the police using the relatively marginal presence of the black block as an excuse to attack the mass demonstration. They attempted to distinguish the peaceful demonstrators from the black block by assigning a large number of clearly designated marshals to keep the ones intent on throwing stones at the police and smashing bank windows away from the cortege. This was not an empty gesture. There were times that people in the black block and the marshals clashed physically.

But these precautions and the previous agreements with the government did not help. The police literally pounced on the demonstrators. Thousands were attacked in the streets, tear gas was dropped on them from helicopters and even launched from boats. Mayhem was the police's order of the day.

With hundreds more arrests, hundreds more wounded, the day ended in the final display of terror: the attack on the Diaz school complex, which had been reserved with the approval of the local government as a place for sleeping. 93 mostly young people were there when the police stormed in and beat most of them there, expertly, often to the edge of their lives. Some G8 leaders had clearly decided that this was to be the antiglobalization movement's Wounded Knee.

The G8's Revenge

It would be a mistake to read the police violence unleashed in Genova as the instinctive reaction of a fascistic government. True, Berlusconi's right-wing political history and the presence in his government of Alleanza Nationale, the modern reincarnation of the Mussulini's party, easily raise the spectre of a fascist coup. But it can be demonstrated that the repression carried out in Genova was concerted among the G8 leaders who were all present with their security forces during the police attacks, and well aware of it.

Our first thesis is: the attacks on demonstrators in Genoa were not the "excesses" of a fascistic government, but a well-calculated strategy, discussed and approved at the highest European and international levels.

First, the government, as mentioned before, while pretending to dialogue with the movement and expressing concern for the safety of the demonstrators, launched war against them.

Second, the plan for Genova was quite similar to that implemented in Quebec, and partly in Prague: force the local population to leave, isolate the demonstrators, fence off the meeting's zone, terrorize future demonstrators with preemptive raids, torture the arrested in the jail, scare everyone with heavy sentences and draconian laws. The government created the conditions for confrontation by treating the demonstrators as literal "plague-bearers" and transforming Genova from the lively city that it is into a military zone where police could operate with impunity.

Third, the complicity of the EU police services and US police has also been documented. We know now that three members of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department went to Italy in June to give a hand in organizing the police response in Genova. Also documented is the collaboration between the police of the EU countries and the Italian police. Lists of names were sent to Italy by other EU governments signaling the arrival of certain activists, destined, it seems, to a special treatment; Greek activists believe that the Greek police informed their Italian colleagues about the buses where the Greek Genova organizing committee was traveling so that they could be prevented from landing in Ancona.

Most important, the diplomatic protests that have been presented to the Italian government by other government members of the EU have been totally inadequate considering the gravity of the violations of international law of which Italy has made itself responsible. The behavior of the Italian police and authorities towards foreign nationals has been so abominable that, in other times, it would have been a casus belli. Not only were hundreds and hundreds of peaceful demonstrators brutally beaten in the streets, often in ways that will maim them for life-but, in violation of the Geneva convention on prisoners and the EU convention on human rights, the following occurred:

(a) demonstrators were mercilessly beaten by groups of policemen even when on the ground, and in no condition to inflict any harm or defend themselves.

(b) on Saturday evening, July 21, when the demos were over, hundreds of policemen conducted a punitive expedition, Chilean style, in the Diaz school complex where participants to the demos were sleeping. Many of them were foreign nationals. Of the 93 present, 66 exited on stretchers. Wounds inflicted included broken jaws-a young woman lost 14 teeth-- broken ribs and punctured lungs.

(c) dozens of arrested protesters, including many foreign nationals were tortured in jail physically and psychologically.

(d) arrested protesters, again including many foreign nationals, were kept in incommunicado up to 96 hours-they were literally kidnapped by the Italian state.

(e) the foreign nationals arrested were made to sign statements in Italian (a language many could not read) and beaten when they asked for translators;

(f) once released, even when cleared from all charges, foreign nationals were still forbidden from remaining in Italy; in fact, they were taken directly to the airport and put on a plane without documents and their belongings-despite the fact that lawyers and families were waiting for them outside the prisons. They were also informed that (in violation of the Schengen Treaty) they would not be allowed to return to Italy for another five years.

How could the European Parliament and the other government members of the EU have accepted this situation unless they had given it their dispensation? The G8 meeting was not some internal Italian affair; it was the meeting of a club of government leaders and each of them must be held responsible for what happened there, both inside the Palazzo Ducale and outside. Schroeder, Jospin, Bush, and Blair cannot treat the hundreds of false arrests, the torture of hundreds of others and the thousands of beatings as something that happened on Mars. Their security services were in Genova and must have given them first-hand reports as to what was unfolding. We cannot, then, assume they were pure bystanders.

Presently, some of the foreign governments are protesting and asking for explanations. But how could all of this have happened to begin with? Why is Italy not being expelled, or at least suspended from the EU? Why is Berlusconi not being denounced as a violator of human rights? And is it imaginable that the Italian government, that rarely acts in an independent fashion and always bends to the powerful, dared so openly to challenge the international agreements it has signed and threaten the lives of hundreds of EU nationals without a prior assenting nod by their governments?

Again, the answer must be "NO." We must make sure that the fact that the Berlusconi government is a right-wing government does not provide an alibi for the other EU countries that are equally responsible but glad perhaps to have the dirty work done by an already tainted partner. Blair publicly signaled his approval of Berlusconi's tactics before Genoa by calling for a "robust" repressive response to the demonstrators, while Schroeder called for a vigorous attack on "political hooligans" in the anti-globalization movement in the days after Genova. Indeed, the focus of the post-Genova intergovernmental discussion among EU members was of the creation of a EU-wide police body that would specialize in responding to the anti-globalization movement, and/or the creation of a special EU investigative corps, again concentrating on the anti-globalization movement-with a site in every country.

There are, of course, limits to the EU governmental complicity. Appearances must be saved, and some lip service to human rights must be given. The very use of the human rights strategy as a way of speeding up the globalization process has now created a certain degree of inhibition (at least in Europe) in the use of force. Even the Berlusconi government, after several days of undiluted praise to the police has had to make some concessions. This is why it has been discovered that some "excesses" occurred, and some heads in the police force have rolled. But, all in all, we are witnessing a great political white-wash.

Our second thesis is: the Italian state's reaction in Genova was so violent and indiscriminate with the blessing of the G-8 because the G-8 and other globalization planners have nothing to give to the protest movement-they have nothing to negotiate and can only respond with repression.

That the peaceful were treated as violently as the belligerent is a telling sign that just being against globalization makes criminals of us. The global leaders cannot afford such the movement's degradation of their legitimacy; they cannot differentiate and make concessions because they have nothing to give, nothing to concede. The only language they can speak now is that of the tear gas canisters, the batons, the kicks in the groins and cigarette burns because the anti-globalization protest is a serious political challenge to their plans on many levels. It disrupts their meetings, gives new confidence to Third World politicians who understand that globalization is a re-colonization process, undermines the New International Division of Labor, and, just a decade after the collapse of communism, it re-proposes the question of an alternative to capitalism as a matter of life and death for the majority of the world population.

The G8 cannot make concessions, since their Genova meeting occurred under the cloud of a pan-capitalist economic crisis-that is occurring not just in Asia, Russia, Brazil, as in previous times, but in the heartland of advanced capitalism with simultaneous profits collapses in the US, Japan and the EU. This is why, despite the prayers of the Pope and Bono, and despite the condescending invitation to three African leaders, the issue of the Third World debt was not even put on the table-replaced by the question of a fund for AIDS in Africa, which is nothing else than a modest donation to the pharmaceutical companies to be administered by the World Bank.

Instead, the main topic of discussion for the G8 was the "economy" in the US, Japan, and Europe. Less than five months before the introduction of monetary unification, few countries in Europe have fulfilled the conditionalities nations must satisfy in order to join the monetary union stipulated almost a decade ago-few have reduced public spending, or managed to grow within the prescribed limits. Italy in particular has been the object of much deprecation by EU and IMF officers because of its large public debt and its population's resistance to pension and healthcare cuts. Thus, barely three months after the elections, the new government has already "discovered" the public deficit is far larger than expected, and in the very days of the demonstration, as the police were beating and torturing the demonstrators, the government was preparing a legislative packet which is guaranteed to generate much protest and resistance in the Fall--a packet which decimates healthcare and reproposes the question of reducing pensions--so we can well surmise that the ferocity of the repression in the streets of Genova and the sadistic behavior displayed by the police were also meant to be a warning for the Fall when the truth concerning the price of "European unity" is going to be revealed.

Our third thesis then is: the state violence in Genova is an essential part of the devaluation of European labor that is now required by globalization.

When demonstrators in Genova said that they felt like they were in Chile or Argentina or they were being beaten like Rodney King in LA they expressed a deep intuition: they were being treated by the police as if they were poor people in the Third World or blacks in the US, i.e., people whose labor has been so systematically devalued the police have no inhibitions in killing and maiming them. This devaluation has taken place in the US and the Third World already (in the US with the quarter-century decline in real wages and the mass incarceration of black and Hispanic youth), but European capital has been hesitant to apply the same "Third World" and "American" methods to their own citizens. At best, this treatment has been reserved for the immigrants from Africa and the Middle East who have found themselves in the clutches of "Fortress Europe." European capital is now being told, however, by the IMF that, if European unification is to overcome its own economic crisis, globalization "with a human face" must end. The European working class must be dramatically devalued, and a short-cut to devaluation is to treat anyone who resists the new economic policies as a criminal. In fact, the closest contemporary comparison to the way the Italian police responded to the protesters in Genova is the violent and unprovoked police behavior against anti-IMF/World Bank demonstrations in Third World nations like Nigeria, Jamaica or Bolivia.

The killing of Carlo Guiliani in the streets of Genova must then be seen as the beginning of a long campaign intended to degrade and devalue European workers.

Go to part II.