Crime and Punishment in Genoa
Himal, August 2001
Even the grand statesmen of the West assem bled in Genoa on 20 July would not have liked the images of conflict that their summit left in its wake, the media that they cannot do without, had a satisfying day with some help from the city’s carabiniere. Carlo Giuliani, a young political activist (see pic.), was shot dead at the venue of the G-8 summit, hundreds were injured. The worldwide audience of television news—onlookers since three years ago in Seattle, and then successively in Prague and Gothenburg—could not but be bemused at how this gathering of the cultured representatives of the trans-Atlantic ruling class, assembled to discuss ways and means of reducing poverty, had provoked such vehement opposition, leaving one dead, still others mutinous, and people across the globe derisive of the pomp and circumstance that accompanied the summit.
The protesters with the grassroots trade unions (SLAI-Cobas) were in a combative mood and well-prepared to make the 20 July “rebellion in Genoa” a success. Among those present in the ancient mercantilist capital were delegations from Yugoslavia, Mexico, Turkey, Greece, Sardinia and elsewhere. As expected, the demonstrators represented various views and orientations—unions, political activists (including anarchists and communists), development ngos, religious and humanitarian groups, human right activists and a whole lot of others attracted to Genoa by the assembly of Big Men. The slogans ranged from the demand to withdraw NATO from Yugoslavia and the Balkans, to the dissolution of the Hague ‘inquisition’, to support for the Palestinian Intifada, and opposition to the embargo against Iraq and Cuba. However, the general theme that cut across the disparate groups was in the arena of global economics and politics—the need for “globalisation from below”, a reduction of the current Third World debt burden, and the control of international capital flows by “civil society” rather than by the international corporations and the governments at their beck and call.
Just a week after the ‘imperialist’ gathering in Genoa, a much-less-publised Anti-Imperialist Camp was organised in Assisi, also in Italy. It was dedicated to developing political perspectives for the anti-globalisation movement, which the organisers felt was at a decisive stage following the G-8 meeting and its well-publicised fallout. The violence in Genoa was seen as a signal to the movement—how to continue the protests against globalisation, establish “civic control” over the emerging agenda in the wake of globalisation, and stand firm to confront the forces that are pushing the one-way economic globalisation. The continent most devastated by capitalism was present in Genoa as it was in Assisi: Lumumbist groups from Zaire-Congo whose country is being torn apart by Western intervention; people like Dr. Bashir Kurfi, an anti-imperialist intellectual from Nigeria; and activists from Sierra Leone, Senegal, Chad, Guinea… The delegates from West Asia questioned the West’s management of peace in the context of the second Intifada, and sought lessons from the collapse of the Oslo agreement. Other activists pointed to how the Western powers were courting Turkey for the sake of its military machine even while in Ankara’s jails political prisoners were engaged in fasts unto death. In Assisi, the revolutionary women from Afghanistan explained their struggle against the Pakistan-backed Taliban, while the Filipino members of Migrante suggested the political possibilities available to Asian migrants in the West. The Mexicans warned of how the struggle for state power could be forgotten when “civil society” issues take over the agenda, as it had in their country in these times of neo-Zapatism.
Just as globalisation has many faces, so too does the protest in its opposition. The rebellion in Genoa raises a problematic. By embodying contradictory phenomena, it asks of politics a whole series of questions that used traditionally to be part of the elite domain. If the meeting of G-8 was a manifestation of international democracy at work, how could such pomp and glory presume to represent the majority of people on this planet? How could those who claim to care for the poor and the victims allow “humanitarian bombs” and transnational murders? Was it possible for the manifold nature of the Genoa protest to be rewritten in a coherent political format, making it more powerful? That is what was requiring an answer, beyond the agitation and stone-throwing.
There were many images available at Genoa, starting with the ambition of the trans-Atlantic club and the failure of its rhetoric. Then there was the desperate effort of the protesters to increase their ranks through global means, and the mob’s resolve to spit on the moral indignation expressed against the agitation by the political leaders of that club. The unreality of the agenda of the super-rich to fight poverty was mirrored in the death of the protestor on the Genoa pavement. It was a hallucinatory world all right. Just as it happened in the case of Raskolnikov’s murder of his landlady, in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the killing of the youth in Genoa has left its clues everywhere. That lone, but symbolic, death now guarantees that henceforth the protests will continue wherever the symbols of global power present themselves. The G-8 may hereafter move their annual hermitage into the deepest forest of Canada or the furthest corner of Tasmania, but it does not look like they can easily meet amidst the glass towers and wide boulevards any longer. The docile welcome of the past will be a memory, with the protestors forcing them to remember the wealth that they do represent—and not the world that they would presume to.
But an assembly of emperors away from the bustle and din of crowd—will it serve the purpose? To ask this is to ask, what precisely is the purpose? Again, in Dostoyevsky’s hands, punishment and crime were not events in sequel; they were one. Crime was punishment. The moment of commitment of the crime was the moment when punishment had begun. The long shadows outside the palaces and glass hotels of Seattle, Gothenburg and Genoa are there to stay. The protestors had meant the moments of assembly to be moments of derision and disbelief and now they have become that. An assembly deep in the forest or in a faraway island cannot attract glory. Montesquieu had reminded us more than two centuries ago, how the pursuit of glory was important for kingdoms. Modern republics, as kingdoms of today, pursue policies that promise glory, for glory brings in its wake power, wealth, and satisfaction. Hence the dilemma, how to pursue glory without murder, pomp without derision, riches without poverty, and democracy without coercion?
More than to those assembled at Assisi, this is a question to those who met at Genoa.