| Special Report
The Battle of Genoa
by Walden Bello
Genoa; Sunday, July 23
rganizers of the anti-G8 protest in Genoa say that 200,000 people came from all over Italy and Europe to join the mammoth demonstration yesterday. In contrast to Friday, the day seemed to be relatively peaceable...until the evening. At around 11 pm, while I and several media people were filing stories, the police barged into the Genoa Social Forum press center in search of "anarchists."
"Prensa, prensa," we shouted, our hands held high, as baton
wielding carabinieri pushed us and commanded us to sit on the
floor. We were captives for the next hour, but things were worse at the
high school next door which served as temporary quarters
for people coming from out of town. About 200 police in full riot gear
crashed into the building, rounding up Nazi-style about twenty
young people suspected of being anarchists.
Still things were less chaotic than the day before. I will never
The police van came careening down the Via Giovanni Tomaso Invrea,
moving crazily from one side of the narrow street to the other in
protesters. I flattened myself against the wall, and it missed me by
feet. Another six inches and it would have mowed down the man in front
me. "Assassino, assassino," people screamed as the vehicle stopped a few
A bald carabineri opened the door and glared at us.
Everything happened so quickly. Just twenty-five minutes before, at around
pm, a column of around 8,000-10,000 people, led by the famed
in civil disobedience the Tute Bianche, were marching down the Via
Tolemaide, with marshalls using megaphones announcing, "This is a
march. We believe in nonviolence." The goal of the marchers was to
the twenty-foot wall of iron that the authorities had erected around the
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
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
lines shifting constantly. The police would attack with teargas, vans and
armored personnel carriers. The protesters would retreat, then come
with stones and bricks ripped from the pavement. Huge trash bins were
turned over to serve as barricades. "Genova Libera! Genova Libera!"
erupt from the crowd everytime the police were forced back.
At 4:20 pm, I had my first glimpse of an injured man being
away by the first aid personnel of the Tute Bianche. It was at around
time that one person was shot dead by carabineri in the same vicinity.
Ambulance sirens blared constantly. Later I would find out that about
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
the so-called "Pink Bloc" of marchers who tried to scale the steel wall
place grappling hooks on it, only to be hosed down brutally by the
when she had got nearly to the top.
Unfortunately, the anarchists--the so-called "Black Bloc"--were
around. Despite efforts by mainstream demonstrators to dissuade them
dramatic pleas for nonviolence, they went about burning a couple of
including an Alfa Romeo. They also moved down Genoa's beautiful
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
Many protesters were very upset about the antics of the few hundred
anarchists in a global assembly of about 100,000 people. Fabio Bellini,
25-year-old Genoan, told me: "It is right to demonstrate against the
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,
coordinator of the Halifax Initiative in Canada, asked: "Why did the
go after peaceful demonstrators but take their time dealing with the
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,
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
that the protesters, both Italian and non-Italian, reserve their
anger. During the struggle at the Corso Torino, Gino Pierantoni,
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
is incapable of leading this country." Berlusconi is regarded as having
militarized the situation, going against the moves of the local
which tried to accommodate the protest movement. A retired Italian
who headed the United Nations peacekeeping force in Beirut in the
summed up the feelings of many Italians when he commented that he did
know why Berlusconi assigned 20,000 carabineri to Genoa when he only
2,500 troops to keep the peace in the whole of Beirut.
As in Seattle, Washington, DC, and Prague, organizers of what has
the biggest anti-globalization protest so far are worried that the
battles and the antics of the anarchists might overshadow the message
they wanted to deliver to the G-8. Over several months, the Genoa
Forum was able to line up about 600 groups behind a pledge of
It also sponsored a week-long teach-in, involving international
with topics ranging from "Who Needs Trade Liberalization?" to
for Global Democracy" to "Alternatives to Globalization." Among those
delivered talks were anti-globalization gurus Susan George, a critic of
neoliberalism, and José Bové, better known as the man who dismantled a
The G-8, however, was deaf to the protests on the streets. While
Berlusconi delivered a carefully crafted statement saying he was
by the death of the demonstrator, he also said it was not connected to
G-8. To add insult to injury, the G-8, on the evening on July 20,
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
Organization was what had brought thousands of people from all over
and the world to Genoa.