ITALY: 1 million march against Bush's war on Iraq
JILL HICKSON, documentary filmmaker with Sydney's Actively Radical TV (ARTV), attended the European Social Forum in Florence and participated in the huge anti-war march on November 9. Here is her report.
In every direction, all you could see was a sea of people with colourful banners and placards waving high in the air. Chanting and singing in half a dozen languages, hundreds of thousands of people from all over Italy, Europe and the world converged on Florence for the biggest demonstration that has ever taken place in this beautiful city.
The right-wing Italian mass media, much of it owned by Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, reported that 500,000 people took part; most English-language papers claimed the crowd was around 450,000. The headline of the British Independent said it all: "Florence engulfed by world's biggest protest against Iraq war".
The organisers, who had expected 300,000 people to attend the march, estimated that more than 1 million people took part. The march was the culmination of the 2002 meeting of the European Social Forum, which took place November 6-10. More than 60,000 people came from across Europe and around the world to participate in the discussion and debate at the conference.
The massive rejection of US President George Bush's planned war on Iraq came just a day after the UN Security Council passed resolution 1441, which imposed demands that will be impossible for Iraq to meet, and make a US-led war much more likely.
The mood was summed up by some of the people I interviewed for ARTV. A woman who travelled from France for the action declared: "I'm against the war on Iraq. More than 1 million people have come out onto the streets of Florence to say that, whether the UN agrees or not, we will stop this war."
Another woman from England added: "Bush's war on Iraq has nothing to do with a war on terrorism, and nothing to do with Saddam Hussein's regime. The US government is always ready to back regimes that are just as bad as Hussein's. It's very clear to a lot of people, not just the people here today but all around the world, that this war will be about oil. It's about the US being able to assert its power on a global level."
A Scandinavian demonstrator said that the US-led war "is just the other side of neoliberalism". An Italian woman pointed out that "this system needs war after war to cover the injustices of poverty. The demonstration was one of the biggest our anti-globalisation, anti-neoliberalism movement, the movement for a new globalisation, has ever organised... We can see how many we are, see how many people want peace and a different system".
In the weeks before, the Italian mass media had campaigned vigorously to discredit the ESF meeting and the planned march. Residents were urged to leave the city. Italy faced "another Genoa", the capitalist mass media warned. This was a reference to the protests last June in Genoa, at the time of the G8 Summit there, in which 19-year-old demonstrator Carlo Giuliani was shot dead by police. A small minority of the huge number of protesters in Genoa smashed shop windows and clashed with cops, giving the police the opportunity to attack the mostly peaceful demonstrators.
But it was clear from the white sheets (a symbol of peace) hanging from hundreds of windows, and from the sight of many local people clapping and cheering from their balconies, that Florence welcomed the people into its streets. Confetti rained down above in another show of support.
None of the predicted violence took place. Even though the Italian government had stationed 3000 extra carabinieri, the dreaded paramilitary police responsible for the shooting of Giuliani, the police were no where to be seen during the demonstration. And without the police to provoke violence, the demonstration was peaceful.
It was dishonest of Berlusconi on November 10 to thank the head of police for maintaining the peace. The police could not do anything; the streets belonged to the people.
The rally was advertised to begin at 3pm, but by 11am people were already gathering in such large numbers. By 1pm, the streets were choked beyond capacity and there was no choice but to begin the demonstration early.
There were too many organisations represented to list. It was led by international ESF participants, including Susan George and other prominent individuals. There were contingents from England (including Globalise Resistance), Scotland (the Scottish Socialist Party was prominent), France with the flags of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) flying high and delegations from every European country. The Spanish farmers with their tractors were an impressive sight.
Among the Italians and their organisations, the most visible was the huge contingent of the Party of Communist Refoundation (PRC) and trade unionists wearing the colours and names of their unions. The symbol of the General Confederation of Italian Workers (CGIL) was everywhere. An estimated 50,000 CGIL members marched. The metalworkers' union FIOM and the left-wing union Cobas also particpated.
While the marchers were overwhelmingly young, there were people of all ages. As I filmed the march, people passed chanting in many languages but the message was clear: "Bush, assassini"; "Blair, assassini"; "Berlusconi, assassini"; "Stop the war on Iraq", "No to the war on Iraq". There were chants in support of the people of Palestine and against the Israeli government's vicious war on the Occupied Territories. The universal "The people united will never be defeated" was chanted and sung in may tongues. And it seemed as if all of Florence had come out to join the demonstration or cheer it on.
The huge demonstration ended at a stadium outside the centre of the city, where those that could get inside listened to speeches and enjoyed a concert. Even as the stadium filled to overflowing, still the marchers continued to arrive in large numbers. At around 7pm, people were still leaving the starting point. It was an unbelievable sight.
From Green Left Weekly, November 20, 2002.
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