New Internationalist

Back to the future, Genoa revisited

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A decade on from the G8 summit at Genoa, when anti-globalization activists were viciously mistreated by Italian police, protesters are again looking beyond national concerns and re-engaging with the bigger picture.

Photo by copyriot under a CC Licence.
Photo by copyriot under a CC Licence.

Ten years ago, in July 2001, world leaders met for the G8 summit in Genoa, a bustling Italian port city of narrow alleys and steep hills. Outside the militarized area where they were discussing the future of the world economy, 200,000 people gathered to demonstrate against them and against global capitalism.

The mobilization in Genoa was the biggest in the history of an anti-capitalist movement that was emerging at dawn of the new century. People from all walks of life marched against the idea of capitalist globalization as symbolized by the G8.

However, as clashes erupted between protesters and the police, leaving dozens injured, the violence in the Italian city also represented one of the darkest moments for the burgeoning movement.

Activists from the British group Globalize Resistance joined the protests in Genoa. Guy Taylor, one of their leaders, remembers how the protests fuelled the activists’ determination to come out and make their voices heard, despite the violence they encountered.

‘We had two people badly injured, beaten up by the police, and a couple of our members saw the murder of Carlo Giuliani,’ says Guy. ‘It was pretty bad for everyone, but on the train back to London the first thing we did was organize the picket of the Italian embassy. The turnout was massive; we had more people there than we took to Genoa. People were indignant and determined to carry on being activists.’

‘If your son is killed by your own state, and your state refuses to find out the truth, and if your son is shot dead and he’s run over twice by a jeep and then they break his head with a stone, the pain multiplies’

The activists’ indignation was the result of the heavy handling of their demonstrations by the Italian police. Peaceful marches on 19 July were followed by clashes between police and protesters the next day – when a police officer shot dead Carlo Giuliani, a 23-year-old activist.

It was the most dramatic event in the anti-capitalist movement’s history and a moment that Carlo’s mother, Haidi Gaggio, who was a primary school teacher, could never forget.

‘Some mothers say that when your son is killed you refuse to accept it, and I did exactly this 10 years ago,’ she recalls. ‘When I came home that day and I saw on television Carlo lying on the ground I refused to admit it. I phoned my daughter, saying “think about his poor mother when she finds out” and I refused to admit that that mother was me. But I already knew, in my subconscious. It was impossible not to recognize Carlo, even under the balaclava.

‘It is hard enough if your son dies of a disease or in an accident, because you keep blaming yourself. But if your son is killed by your own state, and your state refuses to find out the truth, and if your son is shot dead and he’s run over twice by a jeep and then they break his head with a stone, the pain multiplies.’

A movement of movements

A decade on, Haidi Gaggio, who was elected to the Italian Senate in 2006, and her husband Giuliano Giuliani, are still campaigning to bring to account those responsible for their son’s death.

On the day after Carlo Giuliani’s death, demonstrations continued and clashes between police and protesters erupted once again. During the night of 21 July, police broke in to Diaz school, headquarters of the protesters, and beat the activists who were sleeping there.

The death of Carlo Giuliani and the violence in Genoa left deep marks on protesters and their families, but also on the anti-capitalist movement as a whole

Lorenzo Guadagnucci, an Italian journalist who was in the school, recalls the event as a ‘punitive expedition’.

‘The police broke in around midnight. I had just woken up,’ he says. ‘They immediately started to beat everyone, although everybody was absolutely defenceless. I was beaten by two police officers armed with truncheon. I covered my head and I was wounded in my arms, my belly and my back. It was a brutal beating; we couldn’t talk to them or defend ourselves. They shouted insults and threats. Then I was carried to the hospital and in the morning I found out I was under arrest.’

The death of Carlo Giuliani and the violence in Genoa left deep marks on protesters and their families, but also on the anti-capitalist movement as a whole.

‘The movement was growing rapidly, thanks to its ability to bring together people from very different political cultures,’ says Guadagnucci. ‘Its depiction as violent and subversive after Genoa damaged its capability to attract and involve people.’

The attacks of 11 September 2001 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq shifted the activists’ target to the wars conducted by their own countries.

‘The Coca-Colas and McDonalds were the symbol of global capitalism,’ says Taylor. ‘But when it came to armies, aeroplanes and bombs you had to confront the state. The international mobilization gave immense strength to the national movements. In some ways it was a victim of its own success.’

Ten years on, the global financial crisis has put forward the same questions about the sustainability of global capitalism that were asked in 2001

Activists may have ceased to organize global demonstrations, but many argue that the anti-capitalist movement has not died out, it has just changed.

‘People called it a movement of movements,’ says Haidi Gaggio, ‘because it was made of different groups that came together. These movements continue to exist, they didn’t disappear.’

Ten years on, the global financial crisis has put forward the same questions about the sustainability of global capitalism that were asked in 2001. In July activists returned to the streets of Genoa to commemorate the anniversary of the G8 demonstrations and restart discussions on globalization.

Globalize Resistance is mobilizing for this year’s G20 in France, which takes place from 3 to 4 November.

Stefano Berra is a freelance journalist.

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