Issue 255 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review

After Genoa


John Foot reports from Italy on the emerging evidence of police brutality in Genoa and how this is creating a crisis for the Italian government
Police repression is nothing new in Italy as this picture from the 1970s shows

The shameful 'facts of Genoa' continue to dominate Italian political life, three weeks after the violence which surrounded the G8. The original government line, trotted out by interior minister Claudio Scajola a few days after the G8, that the whole event had been a 'great success', has miserably failed to convince anyone in Italy. New evidence emerges daily of beatings, human rights abuses and botched police tactics at the Genoa summit. Meanwhile a number of those arrested are still, as I write (8 August), in prison--including an Austrian theatrical group arrested on their way home and accused of being members of the so called 'Black Bloc'. Even the right wing Austrian government has complained about these arrests.

The G8 summit was organised in Genoa by the previous government, a centre-left coalition, as a favour to a traditionally left wing city--to boost tourism! Berlusconi, elected on 13 May at the head of a centre-right coalition, visited Genoa on four occasions, but was interested above all in the arrangement of flowers and banning Genoese from hanging out their washing in the street. The public security plan was interested in protecting the eight world leaders from any contact with the demonstrations, and a vast zone was declared off limits to almost everybody. This 'Red Zone' was surrounded with metal containers and huge red fences. Most of the police and carabinieri (a militarised police force) were stationed within this zone, with smaller numbers outside. Police and carabinieri were drafted in from all over Italy, including conscripts.

Meanwhile the political movement which has grown across the world since the Seattle riots, began to take root in Italy. A vast network of opposition forces organised a series of demonstrations under the broad leadership of an ad hoc group calling itself the Genoa Social Forum, led by an erudite doctor called Vittorio Agnoletto. The most important group here were the so called Tute Bianche (White Overalls), anti-globalisation demonstrators (based in 'social centres' across Italy) who vowed to break through the Red Zone, as well as numerous immigrant organisations, unions, left militants (mainly from Rifondazione Comunista) and thousands of student organisations. The moderate DS (ex Communist Party) vacillated (as ever), but many ordinary militants and some DS leaders demonstrated against the summit their own party had organised. In the weeks leading up to the summit, tensions reached fever pitch. The government first attempted a botched dialogue with the GSF, and then seemed to call for a hard line, sending more troops to Genoa than had been planned. Various schools were given over to the demonstrators for the period of the summit.

A fatal shooting

Carlo Giuliani's killer was not the only policeman shooting in Genoa. The picture above shows a pistol aimed--the photographer heard two shots. Police repression is nothing new in Italy as the picture (below left) from the 1970s shows
Carlo Giuliani's killer was not the only policeman shooting in Genoa. The picture above shows a pistol aimed--the photographer heard two shots. Police repression is nothing new in Italy as the picture (above) from the 1970s shows

On 19 July a huge immigrant march passed off without incident. Trouble flared the next day. As the Red Zone held firm (and was only breached symbolically), violence broke out in the Yellow Zone in the rest of the city. Groups which became known as the Black Bloc (which I, personally, had never heard of before this summit) organised systematic destruction of banks, cars, shops and property. Others attacked the police. The police and carabinieri responded by leaving the so called Black Bloc more or less alone--and by frequent baton charges and violence against peaceful demonstrators of all kinds. Chaos reigned in the Yellow Zone. Helicopters flew just above rooftops. Teargas canisters were fired towards people, guns brandished and heads cracked. It was during one of these charges that Carlo Giuliani, a young demonstrator, was shot dead. The latest evidence seems to show that a fire extinguisher was thrown out of a caribinieri van. Giuliani then picked up the extinguisher and made to throw it back when he was shot in the head, dying immediately. His executioner was a 20 year old conscript who had been on his feet for ten hours before asking to sit down in a jeep. The jeep driver ran over Giuliani twice in panic before driving off. Latest photos seem to show that the jeep was not completely isolated and that, for some reason, nearby troops and policemen did not intervene. It is almost certain that, under Italian law, the official who shot Giuliani will be acquitted with a self defence plea (a clause often used in similar cases in the 1970s).


Berlusconi and President Ciampi went live on television that evening to appeal to the GSF to call off the huge demonstration the next day. The GSF refused to do so. Around 300,000 people from all over the world descended on Genoa on 21 July. While 99 percent of the demonstrators marched peacefully, the tiny Black Bloc groups continued to destroy property and attack the police, who intervened, as on the Friday, against peaceful demonstrators, smashing their truncheons into upheld arms and terrifying hundreds of demonstrators. Worse was to come. With the summit over, and the eight leaders safely departed, the police took their violent revenge. At midnight on Saturday hundreds of helmeted and armed policemen stormed the headquarters of the GSF, beating people (who were mostly asleep) systematically--62 were taken to hospital in a long and shocking train of stretchers. No search warrant was shown. Journalists were also beaten, film destroyed, and the hard disks of the GSF's computers (which contained evidence of beatings) were taken away or smashed. A total of 92 people were arrested.

Meanwhile many of those arrested over the previous few days were undergoing horrific torture in some of the holding camps set up to host prisoners, particularly at Bolzaneto in Genoa but also all over the north of Italy. Families and/or consulates were not informed until much later of these arrests. Those arrested were refused access to their lawyers. Many were stripped, beaten, forced to stand for hours, not given food or water, and threatened with rape and sexual violence. This torture was accompanied with fascist slogans ('One, two, three--Pinochet. Four, five, six--death to the Jews,' for example), and prisoners were forced to shout fascist slogans and respond to the question, 'Who is your government?' with the phrase, 'The police.' This torture went on for some time before certain judges forced the release of many of the prisoners due to lack of evidence or illegal arrests. Many of those arrested were forced to sign documents they did not understand. Others (and perhaps this is even more worrying) were not given any evidence that they had, indeed, been arrested--and were beaten and dumped near motorways. Here we have a state of affairs completely out of line with any idea of human rights or democratic legal processes.

These are the bare facts of the scandalous 'days of Genoa' (although more information emerges by the day). Why did all this happen, and what effect will it have on Italy and Italian politics? Certainly, the police and carabinieri (or certain more extreme elements within these organisations) took heart from the victory of the centre-right and in particular the presence in the government of the ex-fascist party now known as Alleanza Nazionale. The presence of AN leader Gianfranco Fini in the Genoese prefecture (the government body in the city responsible for law and order coordination) during the summit has not been fully explained. Even more strange is the information that four (extremely right wing) AN deputies (MPs) were to be found in the control room of the police services in the city on the Saturday. Other evidence has emerged of the presence of agents provocateurs amongst the Black Bloc, including policemen dressed in black with fake tattoos, and of fascist militants as well. The obvious strategy of the 'forces of law and order' and those who gave them orders was to intimidate this new and powerful social movement into silence. If this was the intention then the plan has backfired spectacularly.

The original claims of 'success' with relation to the 'management' of the summit (and the complete lack of results from the summit itself, apart from the pathetic pro-US stance of Berlusconi and others) has given way to panic and infighting on the right. The initial refusal to hold an inquest was overturned, and hearings are being held at this very moment, with eight different judicial inquests being carried out, mainly into the activities of the police, the school raid and the tortures. The moderate left was forced into radical language by the extremity of these events. Former prime minister Massimo D'Alema called the action of the police 'Chilean' and 'fascist'. Interior minister Scajola has been pressed into the sacking of three senior police officers (but nobody has yet been disciplined within the much more right wing carabinieri). Wide networks of lawyers, journalists and filmmakers have kept the issue alive. The television programme Blob, for example--a nightly (and often radical) mishmash of clips from other programmes--has continued to show film of beatings despite criticism from the right. Other programmes have been censored, and Berlusconi's channels have shown little or nothing.

No easy ride

The government is so rattled that it fears other summits. There has been talk of moving the annual FAO summit to Africa (which has been held in Rome for many years and is not even an object of criticism from the anti-globalisation movement), and the autumn Nato summit in Naples is an obvious new target for protest. The police have taken to blaming each other for the school 'police riot', and international complaints have only brought further embarassment. There is now talk within the right coalition of the eventual resignation of the interior minister.

Three conclusions can be drawn. First, the movement will not go away. The beatings and repression in Genoa will only reinforce it (and in fact the vast, spontanous demonstrations of protest in Italy, and all over Europe, in the wake of Genoa were proof of this). Second, democracy is in danger in Italy. Berlusconi is a man who is governing purely with the aim of promoting his own (vast) private interests. The first act of this government was to abolish a law for which Berlusconi himself is on trial (in three separate cases). The new law will mean that these trials will now collapse. The new Bossi-Fini immigration law looks like being one of the nastiest, most racist and most repressive pieces of legislation in democratic history, reducing immigrants to the level of virtual slaves who can be expelled from Italy as soon as they lose their job.

Yet, finally, the defence of human rights and the outrage at the 'facts of Genoa' also show that this government of criminals, fascists and racists will not have an easy ride despite its huge parliamentary majority. In this age of globalised protest, Italy should be made a pariah until it punishes not just those who actually beat, tortured and insulted hundreds of peaceful demonstrators in July 2001, but also those who gave the orders, and who created a climate where such violence was possible.

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