Fascism’s Face in Genoa

Fascism’s Face in Genoa

Behind the police brutality observed at the G-8 summit in Italy lies the specter of Fascism.


While violence generated by the radical "black bloc" dominated initial headlines during the G-8 summit in Genoa, it is now Italy's men in blue who find themselves at the center of criminal investigations and political debate. Using physical evidence and eyewitness testimony, critics charge that the Italian police engaged in systematic beatings and human rights abuses, leading some to compare the conduct of the Italian police to the Chilean security forces under Pinochet. At an August 3 press conference, lead investigator Francesco Meloni said, "The reports of violence, and the identical testimony of scores of persons who passed through jails in diverse hours and days during the G-8, suggest a systematic method of torture and genuine violations of human rights."

Most pointedly, Italian magistrates, journalists and politicians are demanding to know how a July 21 midnight police raid on the headquarters of the Genoa Social Forum, organizers of the antiglobalization protests, was authorized, and who is responsible for the wide range of abuses alleged to have taken place. A police review, a parliamentary inquest and at least four judicial investigations are looking into accusations. In all, ninety-three people were arrested, and all but one released without charges. Photos taken of protesters show broken teeth, bruises and head wounds. Police are also said to have confiscated videotapes and computer hard drives that the Genoa Social Forum had been using to document misconduct.

Police justified the raid on the grounds that the Genoa Social Forum was aiding and abetting the violence of the "all blacks." Only two Molotov cocktails were actually found, however, along with a handful of sticks, iron bars and pocketknives, which strained credulity as a "cache of weapons." Many observers believe the raid was in fact a calculated reprisal against leftist organizers, blamed by police for giving cover to the violent protesters, despite the fact that the Genoa Social Forum had called for nonviolent modes of resistance. "It was probably a sort of vendetta–of a Chilean type," said Riccardo Barenghi, editor of Il Manifesto, which has been following the story closely.

Initially the new, right-wing Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi, for whom the G-8 summit was supposed to be a kind of debut, blocked calls for a parliamentary investigation. Berlusconi later changed course. The first casualties of the probes came August 2, when three top police officials were removed from office by Interior Minister Claudio Scajola, who himself had just survived calls for removal from Italy's center-left opposition. Opposition leaders want the scope of the investigations to include political responsibility for the violence. Most important, they want a close examination of the role of Berlusconi's deputy prime minister, the neo-Fascist Gianfranco Fini, who was in Genoa during the G-8 and maintained close contact with the police and security forces. For at least some of this time, Fini was actually ensconced at police headquarters. Was he involved, investigators want to know, in the decision to raid the Genoa Social Forum or in encouraging police to take a hard line?

Barenghi said he believes that the ascent of Fini's National Alliance Party, with its roots in Italy's Fascist past, helped shape the climate in which the police operated. "Certainly the most violent among the police felt themselves authorized to beat people from the fact that today in Italy we have a government of the right, which has within itself the heirs of Fascism," he said in an interview. A related issue is exactly who made up the "black bloc." Spokespersons for the Genoa Social Forum charge that some black-clad protesters were drawn from the far right and infiltrated the antiglobalization movement to discredit it. Italian newspapers have published documents revealing that police had knowledge of such plans. One high-profile observer, Italian activist-priest Fr. Vitaliano Della Sala, has said he believes that some far-right elements had tacit police support.

What impact such charges may have on Berlusconi's government, if they are confirmed, is unclear. The story has dominated Italian newspapers and television broadcasts. Three Italian bishops issued a statement saying they had not seen such violence in Italy since World War II, and that the beatings suggested that police were "punishing the expression of ideas someone doesn't like." Polls by the respected firm Datamedia show, however, that most Italians are less outraged by the police, even if accusations of misconduct are true, than by the protesters, whom they blame for an estimated $40 million in property damage. Many Italians are terrified of a resurgence of the violent radicalism of the 1970s and the Red Brigades. Berlusconi has said he is "100 percent with the police," and in a sense he may be reading the national mood about right.

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