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ISSUES OF THE DAY
Commentary and Interpretation on Global Issues by Gordon Frisch
July 23, 2001
Genoa’s Bizarre Fortress Summit
May Be the Last Siege Summit
leaders democratically elected in their countries, they are fighting against the Western world, the philosophy of the free world."
—Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
As the all-but-faded Cold War gives rise to globalization, traveling hordes of international protestors cum circus performers exemplify the birth pains of a shaky new world order. Since Seattle in December 1999, they’ve been attendant at all 8 multinational summits. But of all summits, perhaps the Genoa Summit had the most bizarre contrasts. The juxtaposition of modern and ancient, freedom and totalitarianism, rich and poor, old and new at the Genoa Summit was remarkable. Furthermore, this traditionally optimistic G8 meeting of the world’s 7 leading industrial nations (plus misfit Russia) occurred as the entire world risked a serious plunge into its first "globalized" recession, with Turkey and Argentina facing financial collapse.
Bizarre contrasts: Genoa was the city from which Columbus sailed to discover the New World; today protestors demonstrated in Genoa against the New World (Order). This modern 21st century summit was held in Genoa’s Renaissance-era 16th century Palazzo Ducale. The summit was intended by world leaders to peacefully plot strategy and solve global problems; instead it turned into a war zone as a hundred thousand demonstrators took to the streets and were confronted by 20,000 Italian Carabinieri and military armed with weapons, nerve gas kits, batons, water cannons and tear gas.
Ironically, Russia, a frequent culprit in state-sponsored terrorism, sent an anti-terrorist team to Genoa, as it feared Chechen terrorists might attempt a hit on President Putin. And the CIA station chief in Italy warned the Italian secret services that al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group, might be planning a suicide attack on the summit. Italy took security precautions seriously and placed Spada surface-to-air missiles at strategic locations around Genoa in the event of a terrorist air attack.
Security was pervasive, prompting Corriere della Sera newspaper to comment: "It is as if Genoa had been hit by a killer virus and the authorities are trying to isolate the epidemic." On a lighter note, Genoa housewives were in open revolt after PM Berlusconi forbid them from hanging their underwear out to dry during the summit. One typically Italian-spirited lady summed up everyone’s attitudes toward the bureaucrats: "Enough is enough. We have been hanging our knickers out to dry in public for generations and I don’t see why we should stop now. You wait until Saturday and Sunday, we will hang out as much underwear as we can find."
Another bizarre episode was President Putin’s arrival at the summit: Bush rode in a White House Cadillac; Blair used a limousine provided by the Italians; but Putin arrived in Nikita Kruschev’s 1963 black cabriolet Zil 111, with its gleaming chrome, leather upholstery and white-walled tires. Some saw it as symbolic nostalgia for an era when Russia dominated the world stage; others say Putin simply one-upped all other G8 leaders in the style department. We say, just enjoy the fact Russia is leading in something besides crime and corruption.
More blatant contrast: As poverty-stricken 3rd world nations anxiously awaited rich-world survival decisions on medical and financial aid, and as protestors camped in tent cities, most G8 leaders retired to the European Vision, one of Europe’s plushest cruise ships anchored in Genoa’s harbor. There they held their own private capitalist party, with a health spa, golf simulator, casino, Internet café, the finest restaurants, rock climbing wall, etc. Rock on!
The amalgam of Genoa protestors—trade unionists, environmentalists, farmers, pacifists, etc.—was mostly harmless, unfocused, disorganized, well meaning and peaceful. The Times of London said of them: "Paradoxically, they are protesting because they have little to complain about." However, a few small, well-organized, hardcore groups of modern-day "black bloc" anarchists (such as Italy’s Tute Bianche or White Overalls), yesterday’s disgruntled Marxists, and organized crime elements, infiltrated and doomed any attempts at peaceful, constructive protest. Wearing helmets, body padding, plastic shields, carrying flags with pictures of Che Guevara, and utilizing incendiary tactics of firebombs, violence and destruction, these leftwing radicals distributed thousands of copies of a special summit issue of Socialist Worker with the banner headline: "Fk Capitalism—Resist, Revolt." At times, they made parts of Genoa look like a Palestinian West Bank uprising instead of a prosperous EU port city. Unsurprisingly, police shot one of the violent protestors—who had a long criminal record that included weapons and drugs charges—on the first day of the summit as he attacked a Carabinieri van.
Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times (July 21) summed up the protestors and Genoa summit well:
President Bush gave an appropriate response when he said that while protestors claim to represent the poor, they embrace policies that "lock people into poverty and that is unacceptable to the United States." And UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said, "The issues we are discussing are in fact the very issues some of these people say they are protesting about—the environment, globalization, Africa—and we should be able to discuss those things and we shouldn’t be prevented or intimidated from doing so.
G8 nations should open a cooperative dialog with those nations and protestors who seriously seek constructive solutions to world problems. And every effort needs to be made to marginalize destructive individuals and groups, who are out to merely subvert globalization. Despite some very negative aspects of mega-corporations, globalization and lifting of world trade barriers still provide the best hope for poverty-stricken third world nations. For example, the World Bank estimates the dropping of all tariffs on goods from sub-Saharan Africa would increase that region’s income by $2.5 billion per year. Trade not aid.
It was appropriate to see G8 summit leaders pledge $1.2 billion to Africa to fight AIDS and other diseases. But what’s most needed is global leadership, the rarest commodity in today’s world. And the nation best suited to lead is the U.S.—economically, militarily and politically. George Bush knows baseball … let’s hope he steps up to that plate.
As for future summits, and at the risk of sounding "elitist," the venue needs to be somewhere away from the maddening crowds where security is easily and economically arranged … an island perhaps. The press should be allowed everywhere to cover every detail of summit proceedings. The Italian government says the cost of arranging extra security for the Genoa summit has already exceeded $115 million. That’s a huge amount of money that could be much better spent on alleviating world poverty and disease.
machine" and they should be scaled back. "This kind of siege atmosphere can hardly help us tackle humanity’s greatest and most widespread tragedies such as poverty and disease."
—Romano Prodi, European Commission President, July 19, 2001