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“…the best ravioli I’ve ever eaten”: Genoa 10 years on


G8 GenoaThe 27th G8 summit took place in Genoa, Italy, in the hot summer of 2001. While the 'world leaders' met on a luxury cruise ship in the port guarded by thousands of police, huge protests took place across the city (and the world) and attempts were made to storm the 'red zone'.

On July 20, a 23-year-old activist Carlo Giuliani of Genoa, was shot dead by Mario Placanica, a Carabinieri officer, during clashes with police. Later that night, police raided the Diaz School where sixty people were hospitalised and these and 30-odd others taken into custody.

One of the people arrested was Wellington anarchist Sam Buchanan. Below is an interview with Sam, looking back at the events of 2001.

Links: Gipfelsoli | wikipedia | Carlo Giuliani | Genova 2011 | People's Global Action

In the late 90s and early 2000s, a huge anti-capitalist street protest movement was visible across the world, only, it seems, to disappear again as fast as it emerged. Where did it all go?

That’s a large and complex question, which also raises the questions of whether the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement was anti-capitalist, and whether it has actually gone away.

So far as I know, what came to be called the ‘anti-globalisation movement’ was spawned in the late 1980s as an extension of solidarity work with activists in poor countries. There had been movements dealing with similar issues in poor countries for yonks.  The ‘international anti-globalisation movement’ (i.e. the rich-world movement) emerged when rich-country social democrats felt unable to ignore the poor country movement and joined the protests of the small, radical rich-country solidarity movement. So to a large extent it was an uneasy alliance of reformist and radical elements, rather than an anti-capitalist one.

This vanished for a number of reasons – many activists turned their attention to anti-war protests. Marxist groups saw the anti-war movement as a better recruiting ground, and had never much liked rubbing shoulders with the anarchist anti-globalisers who tended to upstage them. Some were put off by state repression, particularly as the ‘War on Terror’ agenda took hold and provided an excuse to crack down on dissent. The large scale ‘summit protests’ became increasingly difficult to organise as meetings were moved to highly defended sites and to places under the rule of dictatorial regimes.

It was noticeable that, in the aftermath of Genoa and other protests, rich countries did temporarily back down on some of the more outrageous demands they were making of poor country governments. As soon as this happened, the social democrats largely jumped ship. The state public relations machine kicked in, trumpeting false promises of aid for Africa or the potential gains for poor countries from the WTO ‘Doha Development Round’. Most of the aid never turned up and the WTO quickly returned to the normal neo-liberal agenda. But social democrats generally prefer the company of the rich and powerful and it didn’t take much for them to give away the rather uncomfortable relationships with anarchists and poor country farmers and go back to mixing with politicians, rock stars, capitalists and some rather good hors d’oeuvres.

Outside of rich western countries protest continues. I’m no expert, but in Central America and the Andean region, the ‘anti-globalisation’ agenda seems to still be influential and is creating institutional political change. The overt state repression in Mexico dubbed the ‘War on Drugs’ is protested by huge numbers – maybe the energy previously devoted to the economic concerns of the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement has moved to this very immediate issue. In South Korea, huge protests against free trade agreements continue. In India, massive farmer protests against land seizures, genetic engineering and free trade policies are frequent. The Greeks protest the IMF austerity measures. It’s only the relatively wealthy that have laid down their banners.

You were in Genoa (Italy) 10 years ago during the huge protests against the G8 summit. What are some of your memories now of those riotous days that could be described as the climax of the 'summit-protest-movement' that started in Seattle (and please don't only talk about the yummy food ;-))?

It didn’t start with Seattle - the first summit protest in a western country I ran across was in London in 1989, Seattle was just the point when the capitalist media noticed (or couldn’t ignore) what was going on.

Italy was lovely – Genoa’s a gorgeous city in a slightly ‘crumbling grandeur’ sort of way, with nice people. Old ladies waved to the protestors from their balconies. The farmers union ran a fantastic cafe with local sausages and the best ravioli I’ve ever eaten. Apart from that there were lots of cops, armoured cars, tear gas, planning meetings in four languages, a Manu Chao concert... all the usual stuff.

You were in the Diaz School where the ((i))ndymedia centre was located when the cops violently raided that place and you spent several days in jail after that. You went back to Genoa several times to give evidence in court against the police. What has come from all of that?

I went back twice as a witness for the prosecution, which was nice as I got to see the bits of Genoa that were barricaded off during the protests.

Their first case concerned the events at the school (actually across the road from the IndyMedia centre) which was being used as a dorm. The police raided the school around midnight and beat up everyone in the building. Sixty people were hospitalised and these and 30-odd others taken into custody.

The police claimed they were looking for members of the ‘black bloc’. There had been a ‘black bloc’ on the second day of the protests which had formed up at a park a kilometre or so to the west of the school and spent that day mostly wandering about a bit aimlessly. But with regard to the G8 protests at Genoa, ‘black bloc’ became a rather all-purpose term used by the police, political parties and media to describe anybody who fought the police, rather than any specific group of people. It’s hard to know whether the police had been misinformed, just raided the school randomly or were just totally clueless.

Most of those from the school ended up at the Bolzaneto police barracks out in the ‘burbs, where people were again assaulted and variously mistreated before being moved to a prison in Pavia.

Police put on an impressive display of vegetable knives, bits of wood and other supposed weapons they found at the school. During the trials a senior police officer admitted planting a couple of Molotov cocktails in the school, which police later mysteriously misplaced.

After lengthy court cases taken against the police by the equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service, and various appeals by the police, 44 police, civilian staff and paramilitary police (Carabineri) were convicted for various crimes committed at Bolzaneto. Most of these were originally acquitted, by those convicted appealed and the court not only rejected their appeal, but also convicted many of those who had got off – a bit of an own goal by the police. The court also paid out compensation to those who had been held at Bolzaneto.

25 police officers were convicted for their part in the raid on the Diaz school, though these convictions have yet to be confirmed by Italy’s highest appeal court, the Corte di Cassazione in Rome.

It’s unlikely that any of those convicted will do prison time due to Italy’s statute of limitations. This law normally prevents prosecutions being taken after a certain time has elapsed, but in the case of Italy, it prevents convictions being entered unless the entire court process, including appeals, has been completed, so it’s in the interest of the defence to muck around as long as possible. About ten percent of Italy’s criminal cases fail due to this rule. The nutty Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi shortened the statute of limitations to try and prevent corruption charges against him sticking. But there are moves to have this overturned.

The movement paid a high price in Genoa. One protester, Carlo Giuliani, was shot dead by police during the riots and many people suffered injuries and long-lasting trauma. Was the repression successful?

Well, with all respect to Carlo and his family, the violence in Genoa was nothing on what often happens at protests in poor/majority world countries. Many people have been killed during ‘anti-globalisation’ protests. The police violence in Genoa was only considered shocking because it happened in Europe.

I’d say police attacks on protests in many ‘western’ democracies succeed in marginalising protest, even in countries such as Italy where there is a strong tradition of dissent. It doesn’t much matter what the politics of the situation are if activism can be presented by the media as being about youths fighting the police, getting arrested or beaten and wearing scarves over their faces. Even politically sympathetic people will see it as activity that is culturally alien to their own lives and something they are reluctant to engage in.

I had the odd experience when I was in Genoa for a court case of being interviewed by a couple of British TV journalists – they came to my hotel and when I answered the door they laughed – I was dressed for court in a suit and tie and they said they “were expecting ‘an activist’”. And these were young, politically sympathetic people.

It seems in Western countries the high public profile of the ‘anti-globalisation movement’ led to ‘activism’ becoming synonymous with a small sub-culture: ‘activists’ describes people, or perhaps some sub-species of orc, who are mostly male, politically-motivated, wear black hoodies and have tattoos and dreadlocks. Obviously a movement with that image will find it very difficult to reach out to most of the working class.


interesting interview

I found this really interesting, expecially what you're saying about ongoing protest/resistance in not-rich countries.

I disagree with your closing bit about image...

I also find the 'activist uniform' you describe annoying, in that it is a uniform... annoying that it is ok to suggest someone might be an undercover cop, just cos they look 'striaght', that folks are treated with suspicion unless they fit perfectly into a cetain sub-culture and look, annoying that what is being enshrined as the right way to look has a certain amount of machismo about it - hoods and balaclavas and what-not.

But I actually think that what has been going wrong is a lot to do with focussing too much on the image, the show, with what we'll look like on TV, and I don't think we should go the other way and say that this image is why we don't have broad appeal. Does that mean we should try to look more 'normal' - whatever that would mean? 

I'm interested in this, cause I have gone down this path recently - of trying to look more normal, and worrying about the all-in-black anarchists I'm walking with on a protest, and what folks from my work or the unions or the passersby will think...  But I've got to the point where I think that it's just life... those of us who are drawn to anarchism are a rag-tag lot (though we might over-emphasise this to fit into a subculture) and i love the freedom we have to express our gender in dfferent ways, to shave our legs or not, to smell like human beings and not like air freshener...etc... and while this might terrify upstandng, churchgoing members of the working class like my grandad was, their are plenty of other folks, also selling their labour or on benefits - who are at least as weird as us.

and rather than try to change that, I would like anarchists to realise that we can't make a revolution with only with the 20 other people who share our subculture. I would like us (whatever we're wearing) to approach other human beings who are exploited and oppressed with open hearts and the willingness to cooperate and stand in solidarity, to consider their interests and how they overlap with our own - whatever they might be wearing.

It might not look great on TV, but I think that when we meet someone fae-to-face, and when the conditions of our lives and their lives mean that we are drawn to struggle, I have faith that they will often be prepared to meet us, despite our difference...  and if that isn't possible, I don't think we're gonna have a revolution anyway, or not the one I want to have.


Sam, thanks for these

Sam, thanks for these thoughtful rememberings.

I absolutely agree with your sentiments Pip. Thanks for sharing this.

Kia ora

I didn't mean to imply that

I didn't mean to imply that the image thing was the major reason we don't have broad appeal, its just one of many things. Neither am I saying we should 'straighten up' - if people want to be scruffy, straight, freaky or whatever, go for it (I don't want to have to give up my carefully selected classic 1980s post-punk 'op-shop and army surplus store' wardrobe). But we don't want to be creating environments where people feel they need to dress a certain way to fit in.

And think the 'Black Block' garb went beyond expressing individual identity or preference, or practicality, and became media theatre - and counter-productive theatre for the most part - an attempt to look macho and threatening. We need to be aware that the media will create caricatures given half a chance, and I think its good to work against that.

Besides, it's always fun to irritate the authorities by wearing a suit and being polite when they expect you to be rude and scruffy, dancing in a select committee hearing or acting like a yobbo when they expect a tedious intellectual submission.

I wore a suit once for a

I wore a suit once for a protest which was fine and served its purpose but on the way home I walked through town and saw a guy doing a lone protest about some immigration thing I think. I asked him what it was about and he looked at me and literally yelled at me and moved away, accusing me of being a cop or undercover something-or-other. I tried to explain that I don't normally look like this but he kept yelling and people started staring so I gave up.

I guess sometimes it works the other way.

True. My first reaction is to


My first reaction is to say that that guy should re-think his thing about image... but I guess it's actually pretty common for people to be freaked out by suits. Does that go beyond activist circles?

BTW, Pip, thanks for

BTW, Pip, thanks for commenting, but I'm curious as to where you think we disagee - it seems we are saying much the same thing about the cause of the problem - that anarchists have tended to develop a particular image based on what they think anarchists should look like, rather than dressing however the heck they want.

I think the media has picked up on the 'uniform' to a certain extent and have created a caricature, and that we should actively subvert this. Is it this that you disagree with or am I missing something?



Hi Sam, good question... I

Hi Sam,

good question... I think we're actually on a similar page too, maybe it's just a difference in emphasis... I think the only sentence that I actually disagree with is, "Obviously a movement with that image will find it very difficult to reach out to most of the working class." (Although I hate the activist obsession with this image) it isn't obvious to me that our image says much at all about our ability to work with the rest of the working class. I think most meaningful interactions will happen un-mediated by the capitalist media and that it's best to worry as little as possible about it. What do you think?

I guess it took me a long time to feel comfortable that I don't have to wear an activist uniform to be serious about resistance, and although I think it's cool if folks want to deliberately subvert that caricature, I don't want to put a different kind of pressure on myself... that the best political thing to do is actually to look straight. In this I am responding not so much to what you've said, but to a wider social climate among class strugglers.


Cheers, Pip

Hi Pip,I agree that media

Hi Pip,

I agree that media caricatures break down pretty quickly when you actually have face-to-face contact with people (most of the time).

But I think I do stand by my comment - mostly based on my growing feeling that anarchists, and other 'leftists', are failing to strike much of a chord with people because most people have grown to expect so little and tolerate so much.

I haven't quite worked out how to articulate this clearly, but I reckon the first task of anyone wanting to change society is to increase people's aspirations. In the past few decades 'the left' seems to have abandoned any efforts to raise aspirations (beyond another 75 cents an hour or suchlike), and stuck to either a cynical and manipulative quest for top down power, or done useful day-to-day work addressing practical problems, but have done little to encourage people to imagine a significantly better future.

Capitalists, on the other hand, have been very good at waving images of success and happiness in front of people and getting them to imagine, against all evidence, that it provides a realistic path to attaining these goals.

Some people will come into contact with anarchists through community or workplace work or whatever, and probably find our ideas attractive. But others who might otherwise come looking for these ideas won't even start down that road if the media, or personal experience, has given them the idea that an 'anarchist' is somebody on a demo wearing a mask and looking belligerant. It's hard to connect that image with ideas of a brighter, fairer future.

I tend to think ideas are pretty important in motivating people - to me it seems ides lead people to action, rather than the other way around. I could be completely wrong - I've tended to differ from a lot of anarchists who see 'leading by example' as the main method for reaching out to people (for one thing, anarchism is about freedom to choose your way of life, and I don't want people to think 'anarchism means doing what Sam does' - or for that matter being a hippie, punk, crusty, depressed bohemian, trade unionist or activist).

That's a bit convoluted I know.

BTW, just to be clear, I'm not saying 'look straight' - I liked the image of the unicyclist that was put up with this article, but if you Google images for 'Genoa G8' you mostly get blood, violence, and politicians. Again, it doesn't lead you to much hope of a better world.



Yeah, I see what you mean

Yeah, I see what you mean about wanting to provide an image to people of an alternative. To inspire some kind of hope/ desire that goes beyond a tiny pay rise or token representation or whatever... I was thinking about when I 'became an anarchist' the other day and i think the experience of being at the G8 at Lausanne and participating in a spokescouncil was really eye-opening for me.... like OK there is another way to make decisions collectively! Once again i think it is experience rather than an idea or image that radicalised me... and i think the most best work we can do is to create experiences of solidarity, no matter how small scale. but yes i would like to see more images of alterntives too... for me these would show the relationships between people rather than individual people... (good luck getting that into the capitalist media : )... and i still don't think it would matter too much how the people look.. although it is hard to show human interrelationships begind balaclavas.

I also wonder whether a lot of anarchists even have this hope ourselves that we should be trying to inspire in others...

The U.S.A. has declared "Permanent War" on Worlds' Workers.

 With the discredited  military methods of the 'axis powers' such as 1)Might makes Right, the hospitalizing of the 60 peaceful protesters and on-going since around the world, 2)Unilateralism, going it alone, such as ignoring the anti-fascist covenants, 3) Pre-emtive strikes such as killing non-nuclear states with DU which is alive uranium etc.  Which they hope achieves their declared goal of 'Full Spectrum Dominance' globally.