Summit protesters - rebels with or without a cause?
SWEDEN: July 16, 2001
Story by Will Hardie
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
STOCKHOLM - No summit these days is complete without hordes of protesters
roaring at ranks of riot police.
They brandish banners of Che Guevara and Chairman Mao, from Greenpeace to
the black flags of anarchy. Depending on who you ask, the travelling circus
of anti-globalisation is a rabble without a cause or the fresh new face of
Either way, the pitched battles that have made cities like Seattle and
Gothenburg synonymous with mayhem and destruction pose a riddle for summit
organisers like the G8 group of rich nations, who meet in the Italian port
city of Genoa next week.
Faith in dialogue is fading, leaving two options: tougher security or more
remote summit locations.
Both strategies confirm the diverse groups' one rallying call:
"They are not listening". And each will either exacerbate or just shift the
disruption, protesters say.
"This wave of militancy is not going to subside because it is a result of
pent-up anger that is not going to go away," said Walden Bello, sociology
professor and director of Bangkok-based anti-globalisation pressure group
Focus on the Global South.
"Protests are just beginning in terms of size and impact."
MANY FACES OF ANTI-GLOBALISATION
Keith Dowding, professor of political science at the London School of
Economics, compared today's protests with those of the revolutionary days
of the 1960s.
"Protests in the 1960s were sparked by one international event - Vietnam.
Now they are also sparked by an international event - globalisation," he
"Another similarity with the 60s is that today's protestors are middle
class. That must be worrying for governments who rely on their middle
classes to put them in power and keep their economies running."
Anti-globalisation now has so many faces and agendas, and internal strife,
that its label is something of a mirage.
Most want to defend the environment and write down Third World debt. Some
champion nation states over transnational bodies, others want to tear down
border controls. Most defend cultural diversity and some like strong
welfare systems, many with a stiff dose of socialism. Others want anarchy.
A common thread is the idea that democracy is crumbling.
"There is a widespread perception that the normal processes of
representative democracy have failed and become very responsive to the
needs of corporations rather than the needs of people," Bello said.
"Globalisation was pushed so hard as a panacea for the world's ills that,
when it created the exact opposite, people feel that they have been run
over by this process," he said.
Many see international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO),
the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and groups of rich
nations like the G8 and the European Union (EU) as doubly unaccountable.
"Most governments don't have any parliamentary debates on the positions
they take into these meetings," Friends of the Earth campaign director
Duncan McLaren told Reuters.
"They certainly aren't encouraging public debate, and the issues very
rarely get media attention. So in this sense there are two levels of divorce."
That argument gets short shrift from industry.
"I profoundly believe that democratic processes have not failed. Those who
are not lazy, physically or intellectually, will find ways to use
democratic processes to get things done," International Chamber of Commerce
(ICC) Secretary General Maria Livanos Cattaui told Reuters.
"There are some very good issues to protest. Easy ways to do that are by
looting and smashing cars. The hard way is to work in the proper democratic
processes," Cattaui said.
Anti-globalisation activists argue that protest is both a time-honoured
pillar of democracy and also the best way to influence politics in the
post-communist, neo-liberal era.
"People don't see the conflicts in society as being between left and right
but between the people and the establishment," said America Vera-Zavala of
protest movement ATTAC.
"People are really frustrated that they go and vote and the politics never
changes. People are very fed up with listening."
A high-profile meeting between Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson and
activists including Vera-Zavala on the eve of the EU summit in Gothenburg
in June failed to prevent riots in which police shot and injured three
FROM DIALOGUE TO DEFENCE AND AVOIDANCE
As the smoke cleared, faith in dialogue faded.
"People want real measures and real efforts to listen, to correct and
seriously re-examine policies rather than token meetings," protest
sociologist Bello said.
"Those that are really interested in dialogue are already in dialogue," the
ICC's Cattaui said. "(The rest) are not interested in discussion, so they
can be ignored as long as they play within the limits of non-violence."
Summit organisers are anxious to prevent demonstrations or violence
eclipsing their own agendas or undermining their institutions. But aside
from dialogue, only two strategies remain: huge security blockades or
The WTO next meets in November in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, and there
is talk of eventually holding summits in virtual locations on the Internet,
where protest is impossible.
Activists say preventing protests backfires. A huge police operation at the
World Economic Forum's annual meeting in the Swiss resort of Davos quashed
demonstrations there, but others flared up instead in Zurich and Berne nearby.
"If they try to put a can on reasonable protests it will spill over in some
other way," said McLaren of Friends of the Earth. "I hope and pray that
they will not be violent."
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