Friday, 22 July 2011

Genova 22nd luglio 2001

Whilst the morning newspapers were obviously full of stories of violence, news was filtering through of something which had happened during the night.

Many consider the police attack on the Diaz School the darkest moment of recent Italian history.

The Diaz, right opposite the GSF media centre where I had been working, was being used as a dormitory and meeting point for foreign protestors and journalists who didn’t know the city. Almost 100 of them were sleeping there that night. Later, with the excuse that they believed Black Block were inside, the police raided the school and savagely beat the sleeping people. In the meantime those watching in horror from the media centre opposite phoned ambulances.

Many of those inside were carried out on stretchers, 63 people were hospitalised with serious injuries, traumas to the head, broken ribs … one lost sixteen teeth in the attack, an English journalist- Mark Covell- was beaten to within an inch of his life, and another was in a coma for two days.

Those not taken to hospital were taken away by the police where they were beaten, tortured and humiliated for five days in prison.

This amateur video was taken from the media centre opposite the school. Luckily it doesn’t show the full brutality of the situation. The photos do, however.

The police justified their actions by saying they had proof that those inside the Diaz were members of the Black Block. They showed Molotov cocktails as proof. These were later proven to be false, planted by the police themselves. Unlike the British police, the Italians have no identification number on their uniform and, dressed as they were, it was more or less impossible to identify them. Nobody accepted responsibility; some officials were charged, then let off… then moved to cities where they weren’t quite so infamous and promoted.
I don’t know where this clip comes from but it’s an English commentary on the Diaz attack.

An English journalist said, ‘that the police could carry out such a brutal act openly means that they did not expect to be held accountable for their actions. Which means that they had support from higher up, more powerful politicians. That those politicians also did not expect to be condemned . . . means that they too have support from higher up, ultimately, from Berlusconi"

I started my 3 day account remembering the dramatic fact that Berlusconi is still our Prime Minister.

Tomorrow in Genoa there will be another demonstration to remember the G8 that our city suffered 10 years ago. This time the police have promised that they will warn us if they plan to attack, just to let the goodies run away first and they can have it out with the baddies! Tactics are obviously a lot more sophisticated after 10 years. If anything interesting happens I shall let you know.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Genova 21 luglio 2001

Despite the violence and the death of the day before it was decided that the third demonstration would go ahead. The strategy, agreed by representatives of the various movements involved, was to isolate Black Block infiltrators by linking hands around groups of peaceful demonstrators. In doing so it would be clear to the police who was who and, if destruction of the city continued by the BB, in theory there would be no confusion.

200,000 people took part. Terrified by what had happened the day before but somehow still able to believe that there had been a ‘misunderstanding.’ Young families with children, old people with walking sticks, farmers, monks, people dressed in colourful carnival costumes, music, singing and dancing. 200,000 people convinced that they coul prove that their protest was peaceful! The day was hot and sunny, the route led down the wide palm lined Corso Italia right next to the sea… What could go wrong?

The story is long and painful. Here are some of my most vivid memories.

- The sudden deafening sound of police helicopters descending on the dense crowd and launching tear gas (later discovered to be an illegal toxic gas) right into the middle . The smell of it hung in the air for months afterwards.
- Screams as the police attack advanced against the people at the head of the procession and the ensuing panic as they turned back and tried to escape into the advancing crowd.
- Blood covered people lying at the side of the road and police massacring them with their truncheons (later, the photos showed that they used their truncheons the wrong way up so that the metal part would cause more damage)
- Doctors (easily identifiable by the official ‘red cross’ T-shirt they were wearing) with battered faces, covered in blood after having been attacked by the police. I later read about an ambulance stationed in a side road in case it was needed (!) People being treated by the surviving doctors were being dragged out of the ambulances by the police and beaten again.
- In an attempt to escape people were jumping over a pretty high wall which led down onto the beach… only to find that police dinghies came at them from the sea, again shooting toxic gas. There really was no escape.

One of my strongest sensations was that of a sort of primitive survival instinct. I’d never before been in a situation where I literally did need to ‘run for my life’.

One journalist said, “The Black Block was not the source of the problem in Genoa. The problem was state, police and Fascist violence. In Genoa we encountered a carefully orchestrated political campaign of state terrorism. The police planned to attack the march and by blaming the Black Block has effectively let the state off the hook.”

The third and last demonstration had been a complete massacre. Corso Italia was littered with wounded bodies and terrified people…

It ought to have been the end. The programmed ‘events’ of the G8 were over. But the police brutality wasn’t. Two of the biggest episodes of state violence were still to come.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Genova 20 luglio 2001

Since I’ve lived here, Italy has hosted 3 G8 summits; 1993 in Naples, 2001 in my city of Genoa and 2009 in L’Aquila. Britain was represented by John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the USA by Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barak Obama, Italy all three times by Silvio Berlusconi !!!

If you have the patience, read through to the end and watch the video links. What happened at Genoa 10 years ago this week was condemned in a report by Amnesty International as

The most serious suspension of fundamental rights in a Western country since the end of the second World War’

The week preceding the summit, I had been working as a volunteer translator and interpreter at the Genoa Social Forum media centre. The GSF was an umbrella group encompassing most of the anti G8 ecological, political, social and religious associations taking part in the demonstrations. The media centre was the base for the hundreds of independent journalists who had come from all around the world to follow the events.

The city itself was a ghost town. Berlusconi had encouraged people to leave Genoa for the weekend. At the time it seemed the logical thing to do for many. The centre itself was off limits, ‘protected’ by an immense iron grid, the streets were literally swarming with extra police and tanks which had been drafted in and the climate of tension and fear increased every time a politician opened his mouth. Almost as though they wanted something to happen you could say.

Yet in the surreal atmosphere people continued to arrive from all over Italy and way beyond to take part in the demonstrations. To coincide with the three days of summit, three days of civil ‘protests’ had been organized.

After a sunny, successful demonstration the first day with officially 50,000 people taking part, euphoria was high. I remember that Berlusconi had warned people not to hang their washing out of their windows during the days of the summit as it gave a bad impression to the international press. But protestors shouted up at the windows as the procession passed through the streets ‘Fuori le mutande’ (get your knickers out!) and old Genovese women who were still stay in town gleefully waved their Bridget Joneses down at the singing crowd happy with their own protest. Everyone was tired but happy at the end of that first day… no one able to imagine what was to come the next.

The first sign that something was amiss were reports the next morning that small groups, dressed in black, were destroying the city. At the time I lived in an area of the city which bordered the ‘zona rossa’, the no go zone. They were talking about my street on TV! Me and the friend who was with me ran down the 5 flights to the street below and were horrified to see the first acts of violence of the day. Amidst the burning cars and general debris I saw two dark, hooded figures (later I discovered they were known as Black Block)  smashing the window of a bank. Other nonplussed observers gaped at them in disbelief. These scenes soon became ordinary compared to what we saw happening further along the road. Trying not to breathe in the smoke and the tear gas we approached the mass of people ahead of us. The helicopters which had been circling the skies for days began firing the stinking gas at us and we saw people run screaming and bleeding from the masses. A massive police attack was taking place on unarmed peaceful protestors. We ran too.. and that time managed to escape unharmed. 

What had actually happened was that the peaceful, authorised demonstration had been blocked and brutally attacked by the police whilst the Black Block, who were the ones actually destroying the city, were left undisturbed to carry on, (almost giving an excuse to the police to carry out the attacks. Vary rarely people take the time to distinguish the violent from the protestors, especially, as in this case, when their city was being burned.)

The police brutality continued. 
The day ended tragically with the assassination of a 23 year old protestor, Carlo Giuliani.

The day after the urban warfare became a war.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

560 million Up date

Last Saturday Berluska’s company Finnivest received a court order to pay out 560 million euro in compensation to his arch enemy, Carlo de Benedetti. In the court of Appeals he was found ‘jointly responsible’ for having corrupted judges, back in 1991, to rule in his favour during a struggle to gain control of Mondadori, Italy’s biggest publishing house. Silvio usually has lots of sneaky moves ready to avoid trial but this time they got him good and propper… and 560 million euro is a lot of money even for Berlusconi!!!
Although is daughter, Marina Berlusconi who is the president of Finnivest, has been making lots of high-heeled song and dance about the whole thing,  the man himself remains silent. He’s the Prime Minister, he’s been charged with very big corruption and he’s just skulking in the shadows. As well as this the Italian economy appears to be crumbling round everyone’s ankles and the country on the verge of bankruptcy. Various MPs and MPs' consultants are being very blasé over accusations of involvement in mafia scandals and Naples is sinking into the pits of the world under thousands of tons of rubbish. Berlusconi? Skulk… skulk… skulk… (bunga bunga) … skulk.
Many people think that this trial, which started just before he decided to go into politics and was just doing money, is the reason that he did (go into politics). And it does have to be said that many a law since then has been peculiarly effective in getting him off the hook. Makes you wonder.
Anyway that was just a little update. I shall keep you posted. By the way the lady in the photo is Marina B (exactly 2 months older than me I discovered!)

Friday, 8 July 2011

Italians and the art of queueing

There’s no direct flight from Genoa to Rhodes and so we left for our holiday from Milan, Malpensa. Apart from being very convenient for us ‘genovesi’ the airport in my city is really horrible. Must be the only place where you pay a euro for your trolley but don’t get it back when you return the trolley, where the taxi drivers invent the fee, don’t use the meter and the price goes up the more passengers there are, where the bar staff seem not to have realized that there might be foreigners around and scowl and swear if anyone asks them anything in any other language than Italian. Makes a great impression when you first arrive.
Our tourist minister Victoria Michela Brambilla is apparently working on it (she was another Miss Italia finalist in a past life but unfortunately I couldn’t find any photos… you’ll have to put up with this one.
She’s famous for showing her stocking tops during live televised debates. She loves dogs and her current ‘tourist crusade’ is to get dog friendly beaches in Italy. With a gal like her on our side you really can’t go wrong!!)
When we arrived at Malpensa the first obstacle we had to confront was the check in queue. Queue is a pretty big word to describe something which is not a natural state for an Italian to be in. A plane full of tense tourists anxiously studied the flight board to see which desk to go to and when it was finally announced… OMG, as they say… it was like a rush to get on the last train out of Hell. Old women battered children, respectable family men crushed anyone who stood in their way, anything to get to the front of the queue first. Queue: in Italian ‘coda’. It means either animal tail, traffic jam or queue. You can’t go wrong with an animal tail: either you’ve got one or you haven’t. The second two are more complicated, especially if you’re Italian.
Let’s take a simpler example: the supermarket queue. Imagine you’ve finished your shopping and move to the checkout area. You swiftly weigh up your options and aim for the check out of your choice. Within seconds an old lady, clutching one or two items, arrives at your side. That’s right, at your side. She doesn’t stand behind you but next to you, and smiles. At this point you glare, trying your best to convey that, ‘I know what you’re up to. I was here first so don’t try it on with me!’ look. She smiles sweetly back as though she’s known you since you were two and butter wouldn’t melt in her crafty old mouth. Luckily you know better than to drop your guard because as soon as the queue moves forward a little so does she. A little more than you… and before you know it she’s in front of you and not only that. Someone else has appeared at your other side. Nobody it seems feels the need to extend the queue backwards.
Not so long ago the situation was helped in the supermarket where I usually shop when they introduced self-service check outs. No pushing in there, and it means that I can do the shopping without having to argue every time. I’m sure they could think of something to help the airport check in situation too. Just put those snaky little barriers in… seems simple doesn’t it! Try telling it to the Italian airport authorities though! Maybe we can get Minister Brambilla on the case :)  

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Holiday is Over

I usually spend my summer holidays between Italy England and France: the first two for obvious reasons and the last because it’s our favourite route to get from one to the other. France is also really well organised for camping which is how we like to holiday. It’s always quite a sad moment when we gradually drive back along the Riviera towards the Italian border… a sign that the holiday is well and truly finished.
And the first sign that things are really changing is the quality of the motorway service stations and the attention to detail in the dress sense of their customers. Happy go lucky T shirts and floppy sandals are suddenly replaced by immaculate coordinating (ironed) clothes. A cashmere jumper slung in an apparently casual manner over the shoulder usually in various shades of cream, chunky gold bracelets jangle subtly at the wrist. And that’s just the men!  You would think that couples planned their wardrobe together in the morning for they always match each other. The only difference is that the woman’s tan is often slightly more orange and she wears more gold than the man. Gold belt, gold bag…even the shoes are usually gold! Be they little ballerinas or strappy sandals or more comfortable sporty shoes they are always gold. After weeks in a tent in Provence in no shoes at all the gold shoes are quite hard to take. A sign that the ball is over. The holiday is over.
I shall be returning to France (without shoes) in August but this year have been able to have an extra holiday. It’s a long story but I spent all of last week with Marco and eve in Rhodes. We’ve just come back and when I’ve finished washing and ironing the colour coordinating clothes I shall tell you all about it.