Globalization, Chaos and Teargas
The Experiences of Genoa will Give New Impetus to Globalization Critics
By Toralf Staud
[This article originally published in: DIE ZEIT 31/2000 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.zeit.de.]
The blood of Carlo Giuliani on the asphalt of Plazza Alimonda was not yet dry when the street sign bubbled over: Plazza Carlo Giuliani. Two days after the 23-year old was shot dead, there were posters in Genoa with the picture of his corpse. Only four days later there was an arson attack in Athens associated with a group Carlo Giuliani.
Globalization critics celebrated their first martyr. The son of a union official perfected the fable of good and evil which no poet could have dreamt up better. The most powerful eight men of the earth met. Because the people did not approve, they went in hiding in a citadel. Outside the good ran against the walls and a brave youth was killed by the guards of the kings.
The truth is more complicated than the good want to hear. Bernard Kouchner, the former chairperson of the organization Doctors without Borders and present French health minister believes: "another May 68 was launched there"" Genoa 2001. Was that the birth of a new radical left movement or a new red army faction? One doesn't need to go so far. Still the events of Genoa have clearly united and strengthened the globalization critics.
Protest movements need two things alongside a common goal. They must be able to mobilize the most different people for collective action which is helped by a front against a common adversary. Secondly, they need experiences of success - even if only imagined - to give stimulus and support to their movement. The G8-summit of 2001 brought both.
Collective experience: According to estimates, 200,000 demonstrators from all of Europe gathered in Genoa. The summit will enter the movement's treasury of legends. Do you know how we had to wait five hours at the border on the bus and couldn't get off? Do you remember how we forced back the police chains with raised hands and through our mass alone? How crass that they shot at us with tear gas from helicopters! What a "we are the people!" experience.
In Genoa, the diffuse movement was one. The violent street fighters who put their stamp on the protest did not change that. Those demonstrators who refuse militant actions were speechless when they heard that Carlo Giuliani was shot dead and run over from behind by a police jeep. The excessive state violence against peaceful summit opponents, above all the brutal storm of two schools on Saturday night, closed the ranks against the common enemy. A demonstrator critical of violence wrote in an Internet forum: "This attack is typical because it makes clear again that the state answers successful resistance in any case with violence. Whether the resistance is nonviolent or violent, legal or not, doesn't matter."
Success: On Saturday night after the large demonstration in the German camp, the tents were taken down and the mood was cheerfully relaxed. A young woman was effervescent at how the mood was "full of solidarity". The news reports that the next G8 summit will take place in a more modest setting. Someone read in FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper) that Berlusconi will invite the unions to the meeting table in the future. People agreed that the protests were worthwhile.
Since the collapse of command socialism in 1989, the neoliberal economic theory set the tone almost unchallenged. Asking about the shady sides of globalization, flexibility and rationalization was not trendy or in style. Now a leftist anti-capitalist discourse establishes itself with a broad sympathy in the population. In torrid Genoa, residents offered water bottles to the demonstration procession after the "black block" devastated whole streets lined with houses.
In Germany, two-thirds of the population took the side of the protestors in an opinion poll... Gerhard Schroder - well-known for his fine sense for public opinion - recently demonstrated his aversion against "American conditions" on the German labor market from the "knowledge that this is not good".
Four weeks ago, Der Spiegel titled a text about globalization critics with the judgment: "They have no concept". Last Monday the magazine made the struggle around global capitalism into the title theme. Above the main text, we read: " A new truly international protest generation rightly turns up the heat for politicians and CEOs."
Globalization critics are given fresh strength and the radical wing has brought its desires and interests into the headlines. Does anyone still remember the world economic summit two years ago in Koln? At that time 40,000 protestors had peacefully demonstrated for the same goals as now in Genoa. They were not given great attention. Five months later just as many people took to the streets in Seattle. Serious excesses occurred. As a result, Seattle went into the history books as the birthplace of the anti-globalization movement. Burning cars always fascinate the media. Plundered bank branches generate political pressure. Violence, not a legitimate means in political conflicts, has often advanced the mobilization of social movements. The ex-squatter Joschka Fischer and the ex-nuclear power adversary Gerhard Schroder could tell much about that dynamic.
Since Genoa, the question of violence is debated more intensively than ever in the movement. On the Internet there are dozens of newsgroups on the theme. The movement has created a central organ with www.indymedia.org. During the summit days, one could read which demonstration moved where and where the police approached. Everyone can give a commentary and the waves between radicals and the less radical strike higher. A Canadian sociology professor compares the Italian police with the SS. Andreas Baader is quoted and a poem by Bertolt Brecht...