A dramatic increase in violence at last month's Group of Eight (G8) summit in Genoa has raised the stakes for both sides in the battle over corporate globalization.
Reports emerging from Italy as protesters get out of jail or the hospital are truly horrifying. Police entered a school in which people were sleeping and brutally beat almost everyone. The British paper the Guardian says "bloodlust consumed some members of the police and paramilitary carabinieri."
The police assault took place not in the camp of the infamous Black Bloc, but in a place where the peaceful demonstrators of the Genoa Social Forum were sleeping. No one resisted and yet they were brutally beaten. More than sixty people were taken to hospital in ambulances.
One police officer spoke to the media on conditions of anonymity. He asked his fellow officers to stop the brutality. They told him, "We don't have to worry because we are covered." He assumed this meant they were given freedom by higher ups to engage in maximum brutality.
Francisco Martone, a Green party senator, told the BBC that fascists had infiltrated the police. This corresponds with reports from indymedia that people arrested were forced shout "Viva el Duce" to a picture of Mussolini (the Second World War Italian fascist dictator). It is perhaps not surprising since the coalition of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's ruling coalition includes the formerly fascist National Alliance.Nevertheless, people in power, including our own Jean Chretien, focused their verbal attacks on the protesters. What about the threat of fascism? What about the threat of extreme right groups using the cover of the police to savage left-wing protesters? What about the danger that our own police forces see events in Italy as permission to up their level of brutality? This is a much greater danger to democracy than a couple of hundred hooded protesters with sticks and stones.
However, events in Italy also raise serious questions for the anti-globalization movement. Those identified as Black Bloc in Genoa played a much more destructive role than in previous demonstrations. They engaged in wanton property destruction, overturned cars and set them on fire, broke windows in residential areas and even at times attacked other demonstrators. In Quebec and Seattle, the Black Bloc restricted their attacks to symbols of corporate power or the police.
Discussions on the Internet and reports from observers suggest these were people dressed as the Black Bloc - some of them neo-nazis - who wreaked this havoc. Whether or not fascists infiltrated the Black Bloc in Genoa, the mysterious character of the group that always dresses in black with masks poses problems for the anti-globalization movement. Because of the general attitude of respect for "diversity of tactics" among anti-globalization activists, there is a reticence to criticize anyone's tactics. If neo-nazis or other thugs dress as Black Bloc, how is anyone to know?
The spiraling violence at these demonstrations is perhaps inevitable. Any violence provides police with an excuse to use repression against everyone. More people start to fight back and then the violence escalates. A lot of people who went to Genoa or Quebec City as pacifists returned ready to fight back the next time.
The protests won't be stopped because of increased police violence or by moving high-level meetings to obscure out-of-the-way places like Qatar or Kananaskis. After the police killing of young Carlo Giulana in Genoa, 300,000 people took the streets in the largest anti-globalization demonstration yet. Alberta activists have already sent out a call for an action at Kananaskis.
There is nowhere in the world that leaders can hide from the growing movement against corporate globalization. If they continue to demonize the protests rather than listening to their demands and proposals, violence will escalate as, increasingly, young people give up peaceful means for achieving their goals. This is a scenario that none of us can afford.
Jean ChrÃ©tien should rethink the location of the next G8 and instead invite a delegated group representing all wings of the anti-globalization movement to address the G8 leaders with their concerns in a public meeting. This would be real leadership, more like Nelson Mandela than Arnold Schwartzenegger.
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