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Dispatch From Genoa: Terror, Rumors, and Propaganda

by Eddie Yuen

on coverage of Genoa police violence
(Wednesday, July 25) I've finally escaped to what appears to be a safe place to try to describe what I've seen in Genova. I say "appears" because its not at all clear that the repression is over. The police are hunting down activists all over the country, picking up 30 "suspected" anarchists in a small town on Monday, beating and arresting people in Parma yesterday while yelling "this is the end of your communism," and raiding the homes of people's families as far away as Napoli. A van with a radical theater troupe was stopped and weapons and bombs "discovered" on Monday, internationals are being detained while trying to leave the country and bomb scares continue across Italy (obviously orchestrated by the government and their neo-fascist allies). This repression has not been seen in "democratic" Europe since the 1970s in Italy, and in fact it reminds many people here of precisely that era.

It's very important that everybody wherever they are help to put pressure on the Italian government to end the terror and release the prisoners. One of the most disturbing things going on is beatings and torture of prisoners. People being relased now are leaving the jails covered in blood, with tales of being forced to stand for as long as 12 hours in groups and being beaten if they attempted to sit. Police spit in their face, threatened to kill them and told them that they had called their parents and told them they were dead. This has all been reported on Italian radio this morning. There are approximately 200 people unaccounted for, so it is very important for activists to find out if all of their comrades are safe, since the police have been commiting their worst atrocities when they feel no one is watching. Among the unaccounted for are several reported fatalities and at least two women said to be in comas which the media has stopped reporting. Some people think that the government will only release the injured when they don't look as brutalized and announce the dead when the situation has "cooled off."

Right now the situation has not cooled off. More people marched in the streets of cities around Italy than participated in Genova. This is a good sign that the terror and propaganda have not intimidated everybody. Nevertheless, the only person who has had to resign his post so far is the head of the Genova Social Forum (the protest umbrella group) who was head of the Italian AIDS association, the police commander and secretary of the interior are still in power despite the demands of the left. It remains to be seen what will happen, but it is clear that if the state and the G8 get away with this a terrifying threshhold has been crossed.

The raid on the school on Saturday night has become more controversial for the Berlusconi regime than the police murder of Carlo Giuliani. Carlo has been vilified as an anarchist-squatter "punka-bestia" (beast punk) by the Italian press and a "ne'er do well who lived on the street with his dog" by the Financial Times. Since he was attacking the police when he was shot his killing is considered "justified" and his life expendable. The state was hoping that they could also get away with the terror at the school, but it appears they may have gone too far. The Diaz school was alleged by the police to be the headquarters of the the "international black bloc" and thus fair game for reprisals. In fact, it was one of many spaces donated by the city at the last minute to house the tens of thousands of protestors in Genova. While it may be true that some real black bloc were there (more on this later), it is important to remember that anyone (myself and everyone I know included) could have been there when the bloodbath began. I saw on TV one young man with a Catholic anti-debt shirt being taken out, a 62 year old man who was inside on an errand was beaten, and a reporter for a conservative Italian paper had both arms broken. The government probably thought that after all their propaganda about the black bloc that the public would accept this treatment, but since the police violence was indiscrimate as it always is it is more controversial.

The school assault was an attempt to critically injure and perhaps even kill a group of dedicated activists who have been relentlessly scapegaoated as "violent anarchists." There is no other way to explain the viciousness of the assault.

Police were allowed an entire hour to beat people while the media and rescue workers were kept outside. I will mention just a few things which may not have been in the media:

  • As of this morning 30 people are still in intensive care, at least three of whom are in serious and one in critical condition.

  • Some activists insist that one of the two body bags brought out for psychological warfare actually had a body in it, but this is unconfirmed.

  • It is very possible that the police were seeking out certain people identified by the inteligence forces of various countries (some German undercover officers were recognized by German activists) who were then singled out for crippling injuries.

  • Some 42 of the 92 arrested were German, with the others from Spain, France, and other countries (3 from the U.S.).

  • The alleged "leader" of the British black bloc is surrounded by four police officers around his hospital bed and three others outside the room.

  • Those seriously injured are being given tranquilizers against their will under a law dating back from the draconian Emergency anti-terrorist laws of the 1970s.

  • Police tried to wash the blood off the walls, floors and radiators but couldn't get all of it, and this has made for bad PR with the media here.

  • Everyone hospitalized (throughout the city) is also under arrest and those in the school are being charged with resisting arrest and belonging to an illegal organization (another 1970s law -- I'm not sure the wording).

According to the London Times, 5 of the 7 British arrested are facing 5-year prison sentences, so this should give some idea of the legal nightmare to come. While most of the Carabinieri (police) are very young and inexperienced (a point which has been used to criticize the "unprofessionalism" of the handling of the demonstrations) the police sent to the school were veteran national police. The report I sent earlier said that some of them were undercovers from the "fake black bloc" (more later) and that these were the most brutal. The entire operation was conducted with military precision, from the staged provocation to the ubiquitous helicoptors over the school and police checkpoints to round up the escapees. Simultaneous raids took place at most of the other sites associated with the Movement, with the result that thousands of people (myself included) spent a night of terror roaming the streets after having had all of our possessions destroyed at the "safe" spaces.

death penalty poster
POSTER: "Genoa, July 20, 2001 President Berlusconi reintroduces the death penalty to Italy"

The picture shows Carlo Giuliani after he had been killed and the police vehicle had driven over his body

Provocateurs in black bloc disguise
It is clear that military planners at the highest level orchestrated this event with the intent of breaking the spirit of the movement . Classical "psy-ops" tactics were used throughout. The whole thing is being justified with a massive campaign of lies initiated well before this week that the "violence" is initiated by the demonstrators (see July 23 Newsweek for example). Tony Blair's remarks before the summit, that a more "robust" response to protest was neccesary, can be seen as a softening up of the public for the planned repression. Finally, once the riots started, the media is filled with images of property destruction and very little of the violence wrought agiainst human bodies by the police. I am sure that the coverage in the U.S. is much worse, and is undoubtedly over now. In Italy, the country in the overdeveloped world which has the civil society most receptive to the Movement, Berlusconi's polls show that a majority of people think the police were too tolerant. Hopefully this will change once the truth of the police provocation comes out.

The previous article I sent documents the use of the fake black bloc provocateurs in Genova quite well. The provocation has had the desired effect of causing many demonstrators to vilify the actual black bloc and anarchists in general, while persuading large numbers of the public that the movement consists solely of violent terrorists. (Berlusoni's line is that the Genova Social Forum is a front for violent anarchists, in sharp contrst to Clinton's line in Seattle that we must separate the good protestors from the bad). The movement must now deal with the question of police provacateurs as a matter of high priority -- and this means opening up a dialogue with militant sectors of the movement which are now woefully inarticulate and dangerously isolated. The fact is that Carlo Giuliani and many of those wounded and arrested are actual black bloc and anarchists -- what a disaster if the movement were to abandon its solidarity with them because of a disagreement over tactics.

Contrary to the media and police lies, the black bloc and anarchists do not engage in mindless violence or in actions which will endanger other demonstrators. While most activists may disagree with them, the BB consistenly targets police, chain stores, jails and banks not small shops and the cars of ordinary civilians, as happened in Genova. Since Seattle, the BB in North America has defended other protesters with their bodies, not thrown rocks from the back of a crowd in a way that would endanger them. Never has a black bloc physically attacked other demonstrators, as happened in Genova. In Genova, too, it must be made clear that the overwhelming majority of street fighting and much of the property destruction was not done by the black bloc (real or fake) but by "ordinary" protesters who were acting in outrage and self-defense. All of these points are being lost in the simplistic narrative that the black bloc (infiltrated or not) caused all the violence in Genova. The truth is that the police initiated the violence in the time and place of their choosing, sometimes using a fake black bloc other times through unprovoked gassings and beatings. But in Italy, which prior to Genova did not have a U.S. style "violence/non-violence" debate, many thousands did in fact come prepared to confront the police and damage corporate property.

By not making their politics clear, militant anarchists have made themselves vulnerable to police provocation, most people in Italian or American society will believe ANYTHING about them. The spate of fake "anarchist" bomb scares over the last two weeks creates an even more frightening pretext for a crackdown on radicals.

The crackdown on radicals is already here and it will undoubtedly be global. For this reason, it is important not to abandon "alleged anarchists" to the brutality of the state even if we may disagree with their tactics. The blitz on the school shows that the G8 and capital have now unleashed Latin America or Indonesia style fascist techniques against those who it has effectively marginalized, and we must not allow this to happen. The G8 and capital are clearly counting on the movement splitting over tactical lines, with mutual recriminations and distrust between militants and the mainstream that will poison the joyful and powerful atmosphere that has characterized the last few years.

For militants, the lessons are different. The black bloc strategy is obviously finished, as it is clear that the state will continue to use provocateurs in the manner that was so succesful in Genova. It may be that de-escalation of militancy would be a wise move, now that capital has shown that it will sacrifice its figleaf of democracy in its desire to (literally) kill the movement. Nothing could be worse now than for militants to go underground, as happened in the 70s -- this is exactly what the state hopes for, what the "strategy of tension" is all about. The hope for the movement is that it has the discipline and courage to continue to grow, make connections and sharpen its analysis, as the G8 and capital have demonstrated that they have given up trying to defend themselves intelectually and have resorted to pure terror. I have seen here that, despite everything, the spirit of the movement is not broken, but a whole new phase is beginning.


Eddie Yuen, co-editor with Daniel Burton-Rose and George Katsiaficas of "The Battle of Seattle: Deabates from the Movement Against Capitalist Globalization" forthcoming from Soft Skull Press

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Albion Monitor July 30, 2001 (

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