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Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Protest heritage of summit city
Barricades in Genoa
Barricades are being erected to protect G8 delegates
By Frances Kennedy in Genoa

In front of Genoa's law courts stands a statue of a young lad whose fame dates back to 1747, but who is still celebrated each time Italy's national anthem is played.

Balilla, a youngster raised in the alleys of the northern Italian port, hurled a rock against the platoon of soldiers sent to keep the peace by the distant Hapsburg emperors.

His gesture sparked a popular uprising against the Austrian overlords whose heavy taxes on bread and salt were strangling Genoa.

Balilla could be considered a forebear of the thousands of youngsters who will converge on the city to challenge the leaders of the world's richest industrialised nations and Russia - who, they claim, represent the new imperialist order.

Genoa has a strong sense of justice and social conscience. That tradition has languished of late and it's great to see that it can be mobilised again for an event like this

Genoa poet Edoardo Sanguineti
They say the G8 leaders are running the world for their own profit at the expense of the impoverished masses.

Genoa, which is hosting the summit amid intense security, has a long and rich tradition of popular protest and reminders of this are scattered around the city.

Most moving of all are the marble tables underneath the monumental overbridge that crosses Via XX Settembre. They list the names of all those who lost their lives attempting to free the city from the German occupying forces during World War II.

Despite fierce repression, they continued their guerrilla warfare and eventually forced the German commander to resign. Their sacrifice earned Genoa the gold medal of resistance, and the anti-fascist tradition was deeply ingrained.

Protesters have been "practising" ahead of the summit
In 1960, the Christian Democrats accepted the support of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), the heirs to the fascist party in the formation of their new government.

When the MSI announced it would hold its national congress in Genoa, tens of thousands of people took to the streets and the central piazza de Ferrari became a battleground. The MSI congress had to be postponed and soon afterwards the prime minister was forced to resign.

With its concentration of state industries, steel works, naval shipyards and electronics companies, Genoa had a huge working class population in the 60s and 70s.

Red Brigades

This made it an ideal laboratory for left-wing extremist movements seeking a proletarian uprising. The Red Brigades actively recruited and preached in the factories.

The first of many terrorist kidnapping victims was Genoese judge Marco Sossi in 1974. In a letter, the Red Brigades described his seizure are the "first attack on the heart of the state".

Ducal palace, Genoa
The conference venue is being closely guarded
More recently the powerful camalli, the port workers who had exercised a monopoly since the 1300s, began a long and intransigent opposition to the privatisation of the port in the 1980s. For several years, Italy's largest port was crippled by industrial action - at a cost of millions of dollars.

While there is widespread concern here about violence by anti-globalisation demonstrators, there is also a strong sense that genuine protest must be accommodated.

"Genoa has a strong sense of justice and social conscience. That tradition has languished of late and it's great to see that it can be mobilised again for an event like this," commented poet and Genoa resident Edoardo Sanguineti.

See also:

16 Jul 01 | Business
Debt issues crowd Genoa
14 Jul 01 | Europe
Global protests breed new media
11 Jul 01 | Europe
Genoese fear a summit storm
13 Jul 01 | Europe
Flashback to summit flashpoints
15 Jun 01 | Europe
Gothenburgers count the cost
13 Jul 01 | Europe
Who are the Genoa protesters?
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