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Vittorio Agnoletto on the legacy of the 2001 Genoa demonstration

This article is over 15 years, 6 months old
Thousands demonstrated against the G8 in Genoa, Italy, five years ago. Vittorio Agnoletto, one of the protest organisers, spoke to Tom Behan
Issue 2009
illustration by Tim Sanders
illustration by Tim Sanders

At Genoa we rushed headlong into the creation of a movement. But the movement had already been sinking roots for several years.

The strength of what happened was the realisation by hundreds of groups and associations that they couldn’t reach their objectives without working together.

I was then president of Lila, an anti-Aids group in Italy. We had been fighting for people to gain access to low-cost drugs, particularly in the Global South.

But it had become increasingly clear to us that we couldn’t win unless we broke the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) monopoly on prices and patents.

The other important realisation was people understanding that many decisions were no longer being made by national parliaments.

They were being made by what I call the “holy trinity of evil” – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the WTO. For many people at Genoa, it meant discovering in detail what these unelected organisations were all about.

Genoa came straight after a major demonstration in Gothenburg, Sweden, where police shot a protester in the back.

Six months earlier the first World Social Forum had taken place in Porto Alegre, Brazil. All of this was just 18 months after the US anti-WTO protests in Seattle.

The repression in Genoa, where protester Carlo Guiliani was killed, was an attempt to sweep the movement off the streets, before we were able to grow into a European movement.

There was also a new right wing government in Italy, and it wanted to smash the left. In parliament the opposition was dead on its feet – prime minister Silvio Berlusconi saw the movement as his only opposition.

There was a huge media campaign to criminalise the movement, and to encourage it to react violently to provocation. But we were mature enough to resist this temptation, and to engage in counter-information.

One result is the dozens of policemen currently standing trial. But it is rank and file police officers on trial, not their commanders. It seems that the new centre left government won’t sack Gianni De Gennaro, the police chief in charge in Genoa in 2001.

In my job I travel a lot, and around the world I see a movement that is growing. Nobody can deny the importance of recent events in Latin America, for example.

I am closely following preparations for the World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, and they’re going great. The fact that hundreds of thousands of peasants in east and central Africa are joining Roppa (a rural joint action group) is absolutely fascinating.

But in Europe there are some problems. One of our key difficulties is that we’re influenced too much by electoral trends. In Italy at the moment we’re encountering difficulties in organising protests against the centre left government voting to send a military contingent to Afghanistan.

Even though we shouldn’t be indifferent to electoral results, we have to be independent from them. It’s not enough just to express solidarity with the Global South, we have to create continent-wide disputes of our own.

In the recent past one of our better moments was the campaign against the Bolkestein directive. But we need to identify other issues – such as the privatisation of public services and the defence of water resources.

The World Social Forums and so on should no longer be just meeting places. They need to focus on the concrete organisation of ongoing campaigns.

I can think of three slogans:

  1. The right to life – so we need clean water, campaigns against subsidies for agricultural exports and for the cancellation of Third World debt.
  2. The right to live well – so access to affordable drugs, and campaigns against structural adjustment programs.
  3. The right to live long – so decent state pensions, campaigns against arms production and wars.

Each campaign needs to be developed according to the situation in each continent, we also need to think about a series of secondary targets.

The G8 in Russia will largely be a discussion about energy supplies. Its focus will be how to get hold of these limited resources.

Today war represents the method by which the world economy can be controlled. And at the moment, all roads pass through the Middle East.

The world’s current scale of consumption means it needs huge energy sources. There are massive clashes over oil and gas fields.

Once upon a time discovering oil in a poor country was seen as a good thing – now it’s a curse. All the world powers start eyeing you up greedily.

The choice we have to make is to be against all wars. This isn’t a tactical question – the whole future of the planet is at stake.

Vittorio Agnoletto is a Member of the European Parliament for Rifondazione Communista

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