1963

 

 

                       

THE BATTLE OF GENOA

Gaither Stewart

 

Genoa: The phony show of the big 8 finished with the murder of a real little man dressed in black. An Italian, from the suburbs of this port city, he called himself an Anarchist. The big 8 labeled him an enemy of globalization, of the free market, an enemy of progress. He was disposable. Italy's attempt to protect the leaders of the rich world and at the same time control its opponents failed. The fable of the G-8 ended in Genoa. It was not a happy ending.  

 

      While the people of the rich world were barricaded inside the safe zone, served sumptuous meals by hordes of servants, they were busily exchanging valuable gifts that are slaps in the face of the poverty they gathered to combat. Presidents and Prime Ministers of the eight richest nations of the world discussed poverty and AIDS in Africa, issued sentences about the economies they do not control, imparted lessons they themselves do not observe, and finally budgeted the sum of 1.3 billion dollars to combat epidemics in Africa, a sum equal to about one-eighth of the annual cost of only the tests for the space shield. A few pennies for each African dying of AIDS. African leaders labeled the offer "offensive".

 

     Genoa was humiliated this weekend. This weekend Genoa was a battlefield - barriers and fortifications, armed patrols, 20,000 police troops, 200,000 peaceful demonstrators - four times the number in Seattle - from fifty countries shouting in ten languages "a different world is possible," and 1000 violent Black Bloc, neo-Nazis, Skinheads and their like. The fortified camps of the old city of Genoa are symbolic of the now visible historic failure of the G-8 itself. Perhaps only around Brezhnev's Kremlin or in the Forbidden City of Peking did one ever witness such a display of repression.

 

     Bush said the 200,000 were not authorized to represent the poor countries. Maybe not. But the numbers of anti-globalization movement are growing. Ironic that the unauthorized movement on the streets and piazzas of Genoa was much less isolated than were the eight leaders of the rich countries and their delegations inside the cages of the Red Zone. And the movement forced the G-8 to cede on the issues of the debt of the poor countries and the battle against AIDS.

 

    While inside the Red Zone cage the fearful G-8 leaders congratulated the Italian Premier for the exquisite lunch, news trickled in about the first death, the wounded and the injured, and the street battles. When the leader of leaders, President Bush heard the news, his laconic answer was that the problems of the whole world would be solved if everyone cut taxes.

    

   In the aftermath, while the rest of Europe was demanding an explanation from Rome for the extraordinary events during the July summit of the G-8, International organizations were asking about violations of human rights in Italy, and the political opposition in Rome was demanding a parliamentary investigation, the opposition has begun collecting testimony about police brutality and violations of human rights.

 

     The British journalist, Mark Covell, 33, who was hospitalized with broken ribs and internal hemorrhaging after a violent beating by policemen while doing his work on the streets of Genoa, said they made of him a human football. Every policeman in the area stopped to kick him while they shouted in English, "We kill Black Bloc."

 

     One policeman of the Mobile Division in Genoa described to us journalists in some detail the "Chilean night" of the G-8. He told of things one could only know if one had the misfortune to be arrested.

 

     "Unfortunately it's true," he says. "The reality was even worse. I can still smell the odor of those hours, that of the excrement of the arrested who were not even allowed to go to the bathroom. But that night had really begun a week earlier when about 100 agents of the GOM - Mobile Operative Group of the Penitentiary Police arrived here in Bolzaneto from Rome."

 

     This is the first of one of the many unknown backgrounds of the dramatic Saturday of the G-8. Our interlocutor admits that there is still a lot of Fascism inside the police, a subculture of police youth easily influenced, and also among those who applauded that night. But it was the GOM that executed the slaughter.

 

    "Still, we're responsible for the systematic beatings in that downtown school. Some said it was retaliation. Others said that orders arrived from Rome to arrest somebody at any cost. The colleagues of the Mobile Department from Rome, the Flying Squads, carried out the operation in the school downtown. The directors were top men of the Special Forces, the SCO and NOCS. Certainly not the Genoa police who were deprived of all authority. It was madness. For the victims, as well as for our image, and for the risks we ran of a popular uprising. That night in police headquarters, some were cursing because they feared if the news of what was happening reached the 20,000 demonstrators departing from the Brignole Station, there could be an insurrection."

 

     The transformation of the barracks in Bolzaneto into a lager began on the Monday before the G-8 opened, when the men of GOM arrived in Genoa. This is a special department organized in 1997, headed by an ex-General of SISDE, the Secret Service. As soon as they arrived - dressed in their olive green camouflage, black sleeveless vests with many pockets, black belts from which hung holsters with pistols, handcuffs and cudgels, and radio transmitters - they took over the part of the barracks that weeks earlier had been converted to a jail and infirmary for those to be arrested at the G-8.

 

     The gym was transformed into an identification center for the first arrivals. All the hundreds of arrested demonstrators were brought here. They had to show their papers if they had any, and were fingerprinted. Next to the gym, near the tennis courts, is a building that was restructured specially for the summit - it was the real jail. At the entrance there are two big rooms where from Saturday night until early Sunday morning were stationed the Deputy Chief of the Genoese Digos Special Forces, several regular policemen and Carabinieri.

 

     "That which happened in the school downtown and continued here in Bolzaneto were a suspension of rights, a violation of the Constitution. I tried to talk about it with my colleagues and they just answered: we don't need to be afraid, we're covered."

 

     That night. "The gate opened continually. When those kids descended from the vans, they were greeted with beatings. For hours they had to stand against the walls, some stripped naked. Once inside they knocked their heads against the wall. The police pissed on some of them. More blows if they refused to sing Fascist songs. A girl vomited blood and the bosses of the GOM just stood and watched. They threatened to rape other girls with their bludgeons. Cries of pain rang out through the barracks.

 

    "There weren't many of us regular Genoa police. Most were in the city to protect the Red Zone. But some of the police approved of what was happening, a few tried to stop it. One inspector intervened to stop a beating by the Special Forces men. There are others like me, who did little and are now ashamed. There are still many democratic policemen - but today we're afraid and ashamed."

    

What happened in Genoa were not just demonstrations. Genoa was pure violence. Urban guerrilla. The first time in Italy in the new millennium. Today the mystery remains. How did they get into the country with all their arms when frontier checks were revived and thousands of peaceful demonstrators were turned back at ports and frontier stations? How did they operate so freely in the tight police grip? Why did police and the Special Forces attack peaceful demonstrators while allowing the Black Bloc vandals to roam the city freely? The Black Bloc! Who are they? What do they really want?

                The Masked Faces of the Black Blocs

     The Black Blocs were formed at the time of the Gulf War in 1991. They took their inspiration from the German Autonomen Movement of the 1980s, which police there first called "Black Bloc." They refer to themselves in the plural - Black Blocs. There is no standing Black Bloc organization between protests. While they are not an organization, they are well organized. Their website says "Black Bloc is a temporary collection of Anarchists that represent a contingent in a protest march. The Black Bloc is a tactic, like civil disobedience."

     The flavor of the Black Bloc changes from action to action, but Their main goals are allegedly to provide solidarity in the face of a repressive police state and to convey an anarchist critique of whatever is being protested that day.

     Black is the color of Anarchism. It is the traditional color of Anarchists of the I International. Though not all wear black during a Black bloc, they usually wear masks. The main reason, they say, is to prevent recognition on police videotapes. Masks provide anonymity and also egalitarianism. They protect the identities of those who engage in illegal acts and escape in order to fight another day.

     The Black Bloc does not miss the major appointments for global protest - Sydney, Prague, Ottawa, Nice. It goes to the streets each May 1 in Washington, it demonstrates in favor of American Indians and against the genocide of Indians of the Americas. And it is always planning its next move. The next appointments are at the NATO meet in Naples in September, Denver in October "For the transformation of Columbus Day," and November in Rome for the FAO conference on hunger.

     They coordinate through a network of interconnected websites from which they launch their proclamations and appointments. The police of the world are well informed about them. Police and the secret services in Genoa had to be aware of Black Bloc plans but they preferred not to interfere. One suspects that in Black Bloc ranks were concealed German Autonomen, Parisian Casseurs, Basque extremists and English hooligans. Why not also G-8 secret police?

     At the WTO in Seattle, the Black Bloc introduced itself to the world in communiqué E9 No. 30 as "violent Anarchists" and claimed credit for the destruction of many symbols of capitalism - McDonald's, Starbucks, and Planet Hollywood. Again in Genoa, the Black Bloc attacked the police. "Because they are in the way," their website says. "The police is the violent face of capitalism," they say. "Guard dogs of the rich. The police are on the frontlines when the Anarchists arrive to pursue our class war against the rich."

     Black Bloc ideological references reach from Marcuse to the American John Zerzan to the Italian Toni Negri. The destruction of property and objects on the streets is not adolescent vandalism. It is a tactic. There is not always agreement within the Bloc about tactics but there is tolerance of different tactics. Violence however is inevitable.

     It is early to understand the real identity of the Black Bloc. Perhaps it is true, as they claim, that they are "violent Anarchists." Perhaps they are a bunch of youth looking for thrills on the back of protest for protest's sake. However, for those who experienced the European terrorism of the 70s and 80s, there is also the nagging suspicion that just as that terrorism emerged from the protest movements of 1968, the Black Bloc represents the nucleus of a modern form of terrorism, this time against globalization, but neo-Nazi inspired, and financed and controlled by secret services who use them to crush the real dissent of the anti-globals. Predictably, the new Italian extreme right-wing government is already speaking of the temptation of anti-globals to choose the route of terrorism. It links peaceful anti-global demonstrators with violence. The Black Bloc provides some of the justification.

     

One wonders also what the arrogant world leaders might have learned? Those leaders talking about lowering taxes to eliminate AIDS? What were the rulers of the world thinking while they were prisoners inside the golden cage of the Red Zone? What did they decide? First of all, they decided there would never be another G-8 like this one. But they did not decide to suspend their egotistic rite.

 

Now, as you read this, the two extremes of the Genoa G-8 and anti-globalization protagonists are farther apart than ever before. Each day it is clearer that the free market does not automatically extend the concept of western democracy to those places it reaches. At the same time, their democracy is itself divided between the American free market idea concept and the European social state.

 

     One wonders about these things. But one doubts that the leaders of the world even understand what was missing in Genoa. For what was really absent in Genoa was the rest of the world.


 

Gaither Stewart, a frequent contributor here, is a professional journalist living in Rome who now dedicates himself to writing. He could not resist the Genoa story however, and sent this exclusive to the Southern Cross Review. As the story continues to unfold, we hope that Gaither will continue to update. 


Home