swiss miss | 27.07.2001 22:44 | Genoa
28 July 2001
For Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister,
to claim that the Genoa G8 summit was a
"political and diplomatic success for our
country" is a measure of how inadequate has
been his response to international unease
about its policing.
Mr Berlusconi hardly needed to condemn the actions of so-called anti-globalisation
protesters who were intent on violence; that is no longer the point. The question is
whether the local and national police responded to violence with indiscriminate
brutality themselves. There is plenty of evidence, not only that they over-reacted to
the provocation of the mob, but that they then beat protesters who had been
arrested more or less at random and denied many of them access to legal
representation or consular advice.
The policing of large demonstrations that mix earnest idealists with destructive
anarchists is always a risky and difficult business, as the Swedish police discovered
in Gothenburg, and from whom the Italians should have learnt.
The administration of justice after the event, however, should be a straightforward
matter. The Italian Prime Minister's assertion that "there should be no confusion
between those who attacked and those who were attacked" risks prejudging the
issue. If there is any confusion between aggressors and victims, some of the
responsibility at least must be laid at the door of the police.
Some Italian politicians have rightly condemned the police. Massimo d'Alema, the
former prime minister, acknowledged the whiff of fascism and compared the police
tactics with those of paramilitary forces in dictatorial Chile. That may be more
difficult for a sitting prime minister to do, but Mr Berlusconi seems bent on making
the same mistake as that made by some of the police charged with restraining the
In a liberal democracy, it is essential that the authorities not only behave in
accordance with the law but ensure that they are seen to be doing so. The
meting-out of summary justice by the police on the streets or in the cells is a gross
violation of human rights – and the Italian government needs to understand the
depth of the shock felt not just in Italy but throughout Europe. An internal
investigation by the Interior Ministry is clearly an unsatisfactory response. There
must be a public, independent inquiry if people in Italy or elsewhere in the
European Union are to have any confidence in Mr Berlusconi's blustering assertion
that there will be "no cover up of the truth".