On 20 July 2001, the Italian port city of Genoa was under siege, divided into security zones, with 20,000 police and soldiers patrolling its center. As host of the G-8 summit, the city had attracted 150,000 protestors from all over the world, the largest demonstration of its kind. The day would end with hundreds of injured as a result of clashes with the police, and one death: Carlo Giuliani. The violence was a milestone at a time of mass protests against the symbols of globalization that had begun in the US city of Seattle in 1999. A decade later, what remains of the movement that defined a generation but appeared to collapse in the days after Genoa? And is there any link to the wave of protests that are now sweeping Europe?
The violence of Genoa forced a rethink from the G8 and the protesters
"We predicted an economic crisis with serious social consquences"
"The G8 decided to rethink its approach to these hugely symbolic summits in the world's great cities. In Genoa, with the historic city center under siege, the impression was of a medieval battle. For its part, the protest movement reconfigured in the wake of the repression and thought a lot of things through. The idea now is to keep protests local, but from a global perspective," says Spanish activist Chabier Nogueras.
His explanation is pretty much the same as Susan George's. As the vice president of the Attac movement and president of the planning committee of the Transnational Institute of Amsterdam, she was one of the leading voice of the anti-globalization movement at the beginning of the millennium.
"Things changed. There were no more mass demonstrations after Genoa. Following the death of Carlo Giuliani, people began to think that it was impossible to expose themselves to violence. We began to work in small groups to address specific issues. But the movement wasn't weakened by Genoa, we just decided to go about things differently. Less mass demonstrations and more in-depth work on trade, feminism, taxing global financial movements, Europe, and neo-liberalism," says George.
Nogueras was in Genoa in July 2001. He had travelled there from Zaragoza with other protesters from Spain. On the night of 21-22 July, he and hundreds of others were sleeping in a school following the marches of the previous days. During that night, dozens of police stormed the premises, arresting many and injuring others in the process. An Italian court later found some of the officers guilty of assault. Noguera suffered a fractured skull and other injuries that kept him off work for 40 days.
According to Enara Echart, a researcher at Madrid's Complutense University, and the author of several books on the anti-globalization movement, Genoa marked the end of a cycle. "There was a tactical withdrawal to a strategy that highlighted ideas rather than conflict. It hasn't gone away, it has simply become more local. The anti-globalization movement needed to find ways to mobilize that were appropriate to each place," she says.
The lack of specific proposals was one of the most frequent criticisms leveled at the anti-globalization movement, in much the same way as was done more recently in the case of Spain's 15-M movement and its exhortation to "Become outraged." Echart says that as with a decade earlier, the criticism is based on a misconception.
"When large numbers of people create these kinds of movements, too much tends to be asked of them. Political processes take much longer. Mass movements are active from the get go. What is nice about them, politically speaking, is that they are transversal, as is the case of 15-M. They are not about political programs, they are about a longer process."
The media has been quick to point out the comparisons between the anti-globalization movement and the protests that have taken place across Europe over the last six months, but there are also many differences, chief among them their transversal nature.
"Sociologically speaking, the 15-M movement is transversal, which is why governments have been more cautious. They have attracted a much broader range of people. But they are asking many of the same questions that we were asking a decade ago, and there are links with groups in other countries, but it is also true to say that it is not an international movement," says Nogueras. He believes that the 15-M movement is transversal because in the face of the global economic crisis, "even the experts accept that the model has failed. And people understand this."
It is also true that the 15-M movement has a much broader support base than the anti-globalization movement ever managed to attract. In an article last week about the protests, The Economist refers to a survey carried out in June by Havas Media which says that 80 percent of Spaniards support the 15-M movement, and which defines the protesters as "the most conscientious protesters in Europe."
They don't throw rocks, but they make their demands heard, says The Economist , quoting the Socialist Party's Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, Spain's former deputy prime minister and candidate for premier in next year's general elections, in reference to protesters' emphasis on the need for electoral reform and on the problems facing hundreds of thousands of homebuyers unable to meet their mortgage repayments.
"There was no stone-throwing, and no tear gas," writes the right-wing London-based weekly about the most recent demonstration on July 19. But there were plenty of stones thrown, and a lot of tear gas fired at the demonstrations in Seattle, Genoa, Gothenburg, and other cities, with the actions of a violent minority dominating media coverage. So far, the protests of the 15-M movement have avoided violence. "But what will we do when the demands of the new protests are ignored," asks Aitor, a veteran protestor who also suffered at the hands of the Italian police in Genoa a decade ago, and who remains active in preventing the police from issuing eviction orders to home buyers who have fallen behind with their mortgage payments.
"It is true that the approach is more strategic, and is focused on non-violent direct action. But if things come to a head in a given situation, then it is difficult to predict what might happen," he says.
Vittorio Agnoletto was the spokesman for the World Social Forum, an annual meeting of civil society organizations during the protests in Genoa in 2001. He says that the protest movement of the time cannot be reproached for what happened.
"We were completely transparent, and were victims of internationally coordinated repression," he says, adding that if mistakes were made, "they were political, strategic, insomuch as we failed to capture the imagination of the general public, we failed to transmit out concerns to people, because they were issues that affect everybody.
"But in Genoa, we sowed a seed that we have seen grow: last month there was a referendum that rejected privatizing water and nuclear energy. We were right when we spoke of a development model that threatened the biosphere, we were right when we said that we were facing an economic crisis with serious social consequences. Things are much worse than they were a decade ago." Agnoletto says they have just organized an exhibition in Genoa called Cassandra, which looks at the movement of 10 years ago that failed to change the course of history.
Nogueras is in Genoa at the moment to commemorate the events of a decade ago. He says that it is important not to lose sight of events that Amnesty International described shortly afterwards as "the most serious suspension of civil liberties in a Western nation since the second world war." That was before 9/11. Since then, events have moved on, largely overshadowing the tragedy of Genoa.
In 2009, in the introduction to the latest edition of her book No Logo, Naomi Klein, a key mover and shaker in the anti-globalization movement, looked back over the 10 years since the cult title was first published. "In some parts of the world, and in particular Latin America, the wave of resistance developed and grew. In other countries, social movements grew enough to be able to merge with political parties, winning national elections and setting up a new system based on fair trade. But in other places, the movement disappeared with 9/11. But if there is a moment to remember what we learned at the beginning of the millennium, it is now," she says.