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September 2001 • Vol 1, No. 4 •

Genoa: An Eyewitness Account

by Stefano Agnoletto

The “Red Zone” of Genoa was barricaded with cargo containers.

The account below is an open letter circulated on the Internet from Stefano Agnoletto, brother of Vittorio Agnoletto, a spokesman for the Genoa Social Forum (a coalition of peaceful protesters who organized the protests at the G-8 meeting). The rough translation is from Giorgio Torrieri of the physics department of the University of Arizona.

Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Dear friends,

Now, I was in Genoa, I’ve seen it. Don’t believe the news you’ve seen in the press and on TV. It was something insane, a massacre. It is still difficult to tell you what happened between Friday and Saturday. To do so, I’ll use what I’ve seen together with my dear friends who were present in Genoa with me. I ask you to have the patience to read this message, it really is the chronicle of a nightmare which probably will not reach the mainstream media.

I arrive to Genoa on Thursday, after an immigrants’ rights demonstration of about 50,000 people. There are arrival camps, many thousands of peaceful people, a marvelous atmosphere (remember the Boy Scouts?). We discussed, sang and just stayed together—clergy, activists, volunteers and just normal people. On Friday we begin the issue areas in a blockaded city: The various groups participating will converge in different points of the city to have a carnival-like “siege” against the “red area” [the place in Genoa where the G8 meeting was held and demonstrations were not permitted] with street theatre, dancing and slogans. At this point, from the beach-front, members of the now infamous “Black Block” [supposedly extremist groups blamed for most of the destruction in the city] arrive. Some are seen chatting with police, others just come out of police crowds. Most of them speak German. They start to break everything. Police and Carabinieri [the Italian military police] just stand there. The Black Block tries to join in with a group of COBAS workers [COBAS is the new Italian Trade union unaffiliated with party politics]. They beat up one of their leaders, the group manages to stay clear of them with some difficulty.

Black Block, armed to the teeth

Then the Black Block heads for the first issue area, belonging to the Italian Social Centers (Centri Sociali. Difficult to translate exactly; call them Community organizations). They arrive armed to the teeth. The police go after them, and demonstrators find themselves attacked first by the Black Block and then by the police, who start to charge violently against all demonstrators.

The Black Block leaves suddenly and appears on the square were the Lilliput network is based (Fair trade, Catholic campaign groups, etc). Its members try to peacefully make them leave. The police follow and charge against everyone on the square. Truncheons and teargas are used indiscriminately. People raise their hands, shout, “Peace.” The Black Block leaves the square and starts to vandalize the city systematically.

Three to four hundred of the Black Block roam Genoa, and whoever guides them seems to know the city very well. Their path crosses every issue area, where the campaigns of our movement are located. It’s incredible. They move with military discipline, infiltrate everywhere. Some leaders shout orders which are promptly followed by the whole group. And, shortly afterwards, police and Carabinieri make their appearance. Meanwhile, in the issue area where ARCI, ATTAC, etc., (“mainstream” Italian 3rd-world campaign organizations) are located, everything is fine.

During the early afternoon we decide to leave the boundary with the red zone where we were demonstrating. People start moving towards Dante square. Suddenly, police launch tear-gas from behind our march, causing panic everywhere. Hospitals fill with wounded demonstrators, but many do not go to hospital since police seem to arrest everyone who turns up there.

Tuesday, July 24—A demonstrator holds a paper reading “ They are the Black Block “ as he takes part to a demonstration about the death of 23-year-old Carlo Giuliani in central Rome, July 24, 2001. Giuliani died on Friday after he was shot during the anti-globalization protests surrounding the recent Group of Eight summit in Genoa. A police officer alleged to have fired the shots which killed the protester is being investigated and may be charged with murder. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico (Reuters)

Like Argentina during the dictatorship

It’s evening, people are down beat, many are angry. Suddenly, no trace of the Black Block. At the old city, where the camp of the Genoa social forum is, there are about 10,000 of us. The news of the dead demonstrator reaches us. We are scared, tales of extreme police brutality are told by many people. Young men, nuns start crying. Many people are hurt. One old man is crying with a bandage on his head. He is a retired metal worker. There is Don Gallo, of the San Benedetto (Catholic) community group. There is the leader of the Mothers of Plaza De Mayo, in Argentina, those women who for years have been looking for their disappeared children: She says she is shaken at what she has seen; it’s uncomfortably close to Argentina during the dictatorship. She did not think something similar would happen here. My brother Vittorio (spokesman for the Genoa Social Forum), Luca Cesarini (leader of the Social Centers) and Bertinotti, the only politician with the courage to come here (the leader of the Italian Refounded Communist Party, sort of the equivalent of Nader in Italian politics) try to calm everyone. They tell us not to come out in small groups, not to accept violent provocations. We decide our answer will be the enormous demonstration the next day. There’ll be many of us, peacefully responding to any provocation, whether from the Black Block or the police.

Senator Malabarba tells us he was at the police station. He saw strange people who dressed like the demonstrators, they spoke German and other foreign languages. Most of them came out of the station after exchanging a few words with the police. Suddenly, there is a fire at a bank close to the old city. For 40 minutes, helicopters circle us, but no firefighters or police arrive.

At night, one of the camps where we are sleeping, the Carlini, is surrounded by police. They go in and search, doing what they want. People cry. They ask that the brutality stop. Police enter, but do not find anything in the camp.

Saturday, the demonstration starts, a thousand colors. People from all over the world—farmers, NGOs, workers, people from Kurdistan, all singing, dancing, waving all sorts of flags. On Kennedy square there is no violence, in fact there is no one there. Suddenly, the Black Block appears. Police, with no warning or reason given, divide the demonstration in two parts. A real battle begins. Charges everywhere, people being beaten with truncheons. It seems cops have gone crazy. Metal workers, the youth wing of Rifondazione (the Italian left wing party), are charged. Groups of demonstrators flee and are followed by police. Whoever is isolated is pursued and beaten. Many people are telling of being beaten only for being recognized as demonstrators. Even the Italian correspondent of the Sunday Times is beaten (in today’s issue of the paper he tells of his adventure). In a part of the march which so far was quiet, by the sea, suddenly tear gas is fired from the roofs. Panic ensues as people cannot breathe. The Black Block appears and disappears; no one stops them. They attack a youth from Rifondazione, wreck his flag, beat him. They throw stones at the spokesman of the Genoa Social Forum. They wreck stores, set fire to buildings. Many are armed to the teeth. How on earth did they manage to come to Genoa with soldiers controlling every car?

Panic everywhere

At the head of the march, things are still quiet. The Genoa Social Forum invites everyone to leave calmly, and stay together. We are being led to Marassi, where there are buses with everyone who arrived this morning. We stopped there, and could not go further. On Kennedy square, there is a war. There are many of us just sitting there. Suddenly, tear gas is used, panic everywhere. We try to get back to the camp of the Genoa Social Forum. Police trucks pass us by, and policemen in them shout: “We’ll kill you all”. The second part of the demonstration never arrives to the square. They are charged by police. Many flee to the small streets, towards the hills, where a real man-hunt starts.

Saturday night. The demonstration has ended hours ago. The police enter into the press-center of the Genoa Social Forum. They beat up everyone they encounter, with shocking brutality. All they seem to be after are documents (paper, video, pictures etc.) that tell of what happened in the previous two days. Many of these documents, computers, disks, are simply destroyed. The lawyer who coordinates the forum’s legal team is arrested. Among the destroyed materials are the documents this legal team put together as part of the defense of those arrested. Now, even the motives for their arrest are not known. During this “search”, with no legal mandate, members of parliament, journalists, lawyers, and even doctors are not let in the building. None of us have ever seen the famous weapons shown at the press conference yesterday.

Fri, Jul 20. A protester tries to help a friend who lies dead on the road after being shot by Italian police during rioting in central Genoa, July 20, 2001. Police fired live rounds, tear gas, and used water cannons in an attempt to disperse the thousands of protesters. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez (Reuters)

Police depart, leaving us with only those wounded and arrested. No one knows what happened to the Black Block.

To sum it up, two nightmare days. Both the Black Block and the Police knew what they were doing when they committed this violence. All along, from Friday, they insulted and verbally abused us as they did what they did. Someone seems to have brainwashed them. And today, we look at the TV and read papers. My god, it seems like a dictatorship. Did everyone miss what we all saw? When I think that many will read this and say, “You violent protesters just talk bullshit,” I go mad.

Please, don’t let anyone fool you. Find the courage to put your faith in “our wonderful police and democratically accountable institutions” to question. What happened in Genoa beggars belief. Some inauguration for the new government. Just to give you a flavor of the spin control effort, do you know what the first version of the official investigation into the death, before the videos appeared, was? “Killed by a stone launched by the demonstrators.”

If you think that many of the documents put together by witnesses have been destroyed during the “search”...the only version left to the public is that, “uncontestable”, of the police. Please, forward, print, talk about this document. To everyone, friends, relatives, colleagues. The truth has to come out. I beg you, don’t look the other way. Thank you.

Stefano Agnoletto

P.S. My brother Vittorio (the spokesperson of the Genoa Social Forum) is destroyed. He told me: It’s crazy, it seems we are in Latin America during the ‘70s. Maybe even he did not realize fully with whom are we dealing here. The truth has to come out.

Translator’s note: This is my quick and dirty translation of an open letter type account of the Genoa demonstrations, written by the brother of the leader of the Genoa Social Forum (the coalition of peaceful protesters there). I cannot vouch for everything written, but it fits remarkably with my own impressions (I was in Genoa for one day. At least, the part of the police acting with random brutality, but remarkably leaving alone the people doing the vandalizing I can confirm). The original is at www.arengario.net/piaz/piaz602.html





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