The protests against the G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, in 2001 were one of the biggest and most important mobilisations in the European anti-capitalist movement.
Thousands of trade unionists, students, peace campaigners and left activists from Italy and beyond joined protests that culminated in over 300,000 taking to the streets in response to the police’s killing of demonstrator, Carlo Giuliani.
The Genoa protests are remembered both for the protesters’ huge show of opposition to neoliberalism and for vicious police violence. Police repeatedly baton-charged and tear-gassed crowds of all ages. Hundreds were assaulted, arrested and tortured by the state.
Ever since then, protesters have been campaigning for justice.
They thought they would achieve it when Romano Prodi’s centre-left coalition promised to hold a parliamentary commission of enquiry if elected. But once in office Prodi’s government reneged on its pledge.
Nevertheless the weight of evidence that has been independently published has forced the state to put policemen on trial for their treatment of protesters who had been arrested and taken to Bolzaneto barracks.
A huge amount of evidence emerged during more than 180 hearings involving hundreds of witness depositions.
In the Bolzaneto and other trials the police tried every trick in the book. Many of them were wearing helmets, so were never identified because their fellow officers said they couldn’t remember who was with them.
Much evidence was “lost”. But the most outrageous whitewash concerned the police’s killing of Carlo Giuliani.
The investigation was shelved when the court decided Carlo had been killed by a “magic bullet” – apparently the officer shot in the air and the bullet was deflected by a stone in flight, thrown by another protester.
It has taken seven long years to get some kind of justice. Only 15 officers were convicted for the events at Bolzaneto barracks, while 30 more were acquitted.
Carlo’s mother Haidi Giuliani says that even such a partial victory is important. “In essence Italian police have enjoyed immunity from prosecution up til now,” she said. “This verdict is important because it says they acted illegally.”
The judges’ verdict is indeed scathing. It states that “at least four of the five interrogation techniques used in Bolzaneto barracks constituted inhuman and degrading treatment, as defined by the European Court of Human Rights”.
Despite the mass of evidence and testimony emerging, the centre-left coalition government promoted many of the senior officers while they were on trial.
It’s not surprising that many centre-left voters refused to support their parties at the general election in April this year.
The election saw the return of right winger Silvio Berlusconi – who was also prime minister at the time of the Genoa protests. The party most associated with the Genoa protests – Rifondazione Comunista – is now in a very serious crisis, having lost all its parliamentary seats at the general election.
Vittorio Agnoletto, a spokesperson for the Genoa Social Forum – one of the organisations at the centre of the 2001 protesters – and today a Rifondazione MEP is concerned at the racist scapegoating that governments are trying to whip up.
“Neoliberal globalisation is trying to push the masses of western Europe against the masses from the Global South,” he says. “We’ll get nowhere if we don’t unite these two forces.”
The annual commemoration of the Genoa protests has always tried to look forward.
In a gesture of solidarity with the Roma people facing extreme persecution from Berlusconi’s government, Haidi Giuliani insisted that Gypsy music was played at this year’s events.