The Guardian November 28, 2001


War polarises Italy

by Clare Doyle (abridged)

Italy is the European country which has seen the biggest and most 
widespread protests against the US bombing of Afghanistan. It is also the 
only country that has seen its Prime Minister urging the population onto 
the streets in pro-war demonstrations. There is a deep polarisation as well 
as a deep radicalisation going on in Italian society. These processes seem 
to have been accelerated rather than obliterated by the onset of war. With 
or without it, Italy's workers and youth have undoubtedly taken up a 
position in the front ranks of the international struggle against 
capitalism.

Only weeks after the election last May of the billionaire tycoon Silvio 
Berlusconi as Prime Minister, millions of engineering workers were on 
strike against attempts to undermine their wages and conditions.

The burgeoning hatred for the new government undoubtedly lay behind the 
massive turnout of 300,000 demonstrators in July on the streets of Genoa at 
the time of the G8 summit.

After the attacks of September 11 in the USA on the World Trade Centre and 
the Pentagon, Italian workers and young people were among the first to show 
they would not be intimidated by attempts to paint as terrorists anyone who 
opposed capitalist governments.

They were on the streets in larger than usual numbers during the annual 
Communist Refoundation demonstration in Rome on September 29. One hundred 
and twenty thousand trade unionists, activists, school and university 
students demonstrated under red flags and banners with placards saying 
things like: "Down with the three 'B's of the Apocalypse  Bush, Bin Laden 
and Berlusconi!"

Bombing in Afghanistan

Two days after the first air attacks on Afghanistan, tens of thousands of 
students and left activists were on the streets of Italy's cities to say 
"No to War!"

In the week leading up to the traditional Peace March from Perugia to 
Assisi on September 14, transport workers had been walking off the job for 
an hour's anti-war protest, or as much as a day, in pursuit of their own 
demands against deregulation and privatisation as well as against the 
attacks on Afghanistan.

School students had been walking out of classes to express their hatred of 
the idea of war. All Rome schools had been out on Friday 12 for example.

The march of September 14 itself was phenomenal  bigger than on any 
occasion in its 41-year history, and far larger than any during the Gulf 
War or two years ago when Italy decided to participate directly in the NATO 
bombardment of Serbia.

Liberazione, the daily paper of Communist Refoundation Party, whose 
banners and flags produced a sea of red on all these occasions, described 
the event as "An invasion of peace" across 25 kilometres of the Umbrian 
countryside.

The spirit of the predominantly young demonstrators was as determined and 
defiant as in Genoa against a rotten world order. The anger felt over the 
waging of war by the richest super powers against one of the poorest 
countries on the earth's surface was intense.

This did not stop whole sections of the march from expressing the sheer joy 
of being there; they sang, danced and made merry for 12 hours apparently 
non-stop!

The only sour note was struck by the appearance on the peace march of the 
leaders of two parties who had voted in Parliament to support the US war 
effort.

Francesco Rutelli of the Margherita (christian social democratic) Party and 
Massimo D'Alema of the one-time "communist", now Democratic Left (DS) 
claimed they were as entitled as anyone to take their place on the 
demonstration! Few agreed. They were booed and whistled at in derision 
until they left the march well before the end!

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