The narrow streets that wind through the old part of Genoa are called carruggi in the local dialect. A police officer who must defend these dark alleys against possible demonstrators during the July 20-22 summit of eight major industrial nations calls them "perfect for hand-to-hand combat." Unlike Milan and Rome, which have wide boulevards and vast piazzas, Genoa is squeezed between the mountains and the Mediterranean. The urban geography does not bode well for safety at the G-8 summit.
Nor does the politics. The victory of Silvio Berlusconi's center-right coalition in the May elections added a combustible new element to an already tense situation. Political parties on the far left, while not espousing violence, have made it clear that they are sympathetic to the antiglobalization rhetoric of "Seattle People." Indeed, the possibility of seeing Berlusconi embarrassed has given the leftists new energy. During the Prime Minister's maiden speech to Parliament last week, members of the Communist Refoundation Party held up placards reading "No to the G-8."
In that address, Berlusconi offered the left an olive branch, claiming that "the themes we want to discuss at the G-8 are the same that drive the so-called protesters." Later in the week his Foreign Minister, Renato Ruggiero, former head of the World Trade Organization, also looked for compromise. Ruggiero said he had "learned a lot" from the protesters at wto meetings in Seattle and Prague and that there was a possibility for dialogue. While denouncing violence, Ruggiero claimed he "has the highest respect for these organizations."
As a goodwill gesture, the government has set aside $1.3 million to feed and house peaceful demonstrators. (Protesters at the recent European Union summit in Gothenburg, Sweden were not pacified by a similar offer.) There is also talk of a presummit meeting between the G-8 and leaders from developing nations, in which such left-leaning issues as debt reduction could be discussed. Any chance for dialogue will be tested this week when representatives from the Genoa Social Forum, an umbrella organization of more than 700 groups opposed to the G-8 meeting, meet with Interior Minister Claudio Scajola. The main point of contention is where protests will be allowed, and the government is not likely to let them anywhere near the proceedings. But Social Forum spokesman Vittorio Agnoletto insists on access. "We won't stand for being sent into the hills, nor for the borders being closed and Genoa turned into an occupied city," he says.
After the violence at Gothenburg, where three people were shot and wounded, a proposal was made to hold the Genoa meeting on a ship not entirely out of the question since several of the world leaders will be staying on boats in the busy port. But the government decided to go ahead with the downtown venue, the Palazzo Ducale. Only residents and those with meeting credentials will be allowed to get inside the area surrounding the Duke's Palace and the port. The residents won't even be able to take out their trash, since dumpsters will be removed as a safety precaution. Outside this "red zone" will be a "yellow zone," open to nonresidents but off limits to protests. Most local coffee bars (Genoa has no Starbucks) plan to close, but residents might have a chance to visit one of the city's four McDonald's. A spokeswoman says no decision has yet been made to close them during the meeting, though in previous demonstrations McDonald's outlets have been popular targets.
Even before Gothenburg, security forces were preparing for the worst, and Italian police were taking lessons in crowd control from U.S. colleagues. After Gothenburg, the tension has increased, with reports that Muslim militant Osama bin Laden could use the Genoa meeting to assassinate Bush. Last week, Milan's daily Corriere della Sera quoted an Italian intelligence report warning that 3,000 Spanish and Greek anarchists could team up to wreak havoc at the G-8 summit. The government has considered closing the border with France and Austria before the meeting starts.
Not everyone is worried. "I'm confident the situation will be kept under control," says Federigo Argentieri, a political scientist at Temple University in Rome. "Because of Gothenburg and the early warnings on bin Laden, things could go well." Argentieri notes that Ruggiero got the Foreign Minister's job precisely because of his wto experience, which could be useful for establishing a dialogue. "It's important to discuss and negotiate with the Seattle people, not yielding to violence but having open minds," Argentieri says. Just not open streets.