The anti-globalisation ideology was based on non-systemic left-wing or left-anarchist ideas. But this boom of leftist protest, paradoxically, as a model, had a stimulating effect on the growth of non-systemic right-wing protests in many countries. These were also based on the ordinary man’s distrust in the elites and the authorities, but the emphasis was on preserving national identity, on its erosion in the context of globalisation and on global migrant flows, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Oleg Barabanov.
Twenty years ago, on July 20-22, 2001, the annual G8 summit took place in Genoa, Italy. It seemed like just another summit of many, so why should it be remembered? In the history of the anti-globalisation movement, it was the fateful date when the first death among the protesters occurred. Carlo Giuliani, 23, was shot dead by carabinieri during the protests. Yes, he was killed while trying to throw a fire extinguisher into a police car, and yes, during such street violence everything is understandable, but nevertheless, for some time he became a symbol of the anti-globalisation movement. There was a huge demonstration in his memory in Genoa itself, and there were demonstrations in other European cities.
A trial began, but didn’t lead to anything. Even the European Court of Human Rights, for all its stereotypical reputation as the defender of the individual against authorities, issued a ruling acquitting the carabinieri and recognising that the policeman had fired at Giuliani in self-defense. Let us note, by the way, how this court differed in its reaction to the Giuliani case from the one which condemned George Floyd.
We have to agree that in twenty years a lot has changed in this world. Yes, it is understandable that a racial factor played a key role in the conviction of the police officer who killed Floyd, which was by no means present in the Giuliani case. But nevertheless, the Floyd case demonstrated the readiness of the judiciary to respond to public inquiries and civil pressure, and it probably would not have been possible without twenty years of civil protests in the world, which began with anti-globalists and the death of Carlo Giuliani.
The anti-globalisation movement itself, in its original form, has already become part of history. Originally born as a left-wing intellectual trend in the 1990s, it shifted to street protests and “direct action”, starting with the WTO ministerial conference in Seattle in 1999. And then within a few years, virtually each summit of the G8, WTO, IMF and NATO was accompanied by anti-globalist protests. Genoa 2001, due to the tragedy with Carlo Giuliani, was only the culmination. But by the end of the 2000s, the anti-globalisation movement had ceased to exist in its original form.
At the same time, it gave rise to new forms of alternative civil movements at the global level. The first of them was a kind of “anti-Davos” — the World Social Forum, openly opposed to the famous World Economic Forum held at the Swiss mountain resort. These social forums, both globally and regionally, have been held for many years, at least up until the pandemic. They reinforced the anti-elitist sentiment established by anti-globalisation protests and quite clearly recorded the polarisation between elites and civil society as the basis of social dynamics in the modern world.
Another antiglobalist legacy that had a major impact on subsequent movements is the “think globally — act locally” principle. It led to the spread of civil protests, when common goals and values were embodied in concrete projects “on the ground” against certain actions of local authorities around the world that were unacceptable to society. This sense of global solidarity has played an important role in intensifying local protests. The anti-corporate and anti-brand values of anti-globalisation have been transformed at this level to support for local industries, farmers, etc.
The turn of the 2000s and 2010s led to the transformation of the global civil protest movement. Its main focus has shifted from international institutions to domestic elites. This stage was symbolised by the Occupy Wall Street protests in the United States and the activation of left-wing progressive and/or anarchist movements in Europe (Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, the Five Star Movement in Italy, etc.). In several European countries, growing civic support for these protests led to the electoral success of these new movements. These protests were then continued as part of the yellow vest movement in France. All these new protests were based on the same notions introduced by the antiglobalists: the isolation of elites from society and polarisation between the authorities and citizens. This largely actualised the distrust of civil society in the authorities, which had existed before, but hadn’t found political channels for its expression. Therefore, the value influence of antiglobalism on the progressive left movements of the 2010s is quite obvious.
It is clear that the anti-globalisation ideology was based on non-systemic left-wing or left-anarchist ideas. But this boom of leftist protest, paradoxically, as a model, had a stimulating effect on the growth of non-systemic right-wing protests in many countries. These were also based on the ordinary man’s distrust in the elites and the authorities, but the emphasis was on preserving national identity, on its erosion in the context of globalisation and on global migrant flows. Trump’s victory in the US presidential election, to some extent the Brexit vote, as well as the popularity of Marine Le Pen in France and the electoral rise of Alternative for Germany were all direct results of this process. The Valdai Discussion Club has already analysed in detail these global “leftist revolt” and “rightist rebellion”.
The pandemic has changed everything, too. The main civil protests that are now taking place (if you take out the BLM) are no longer associated with a general opposition to authorities among citizens, but with “medical totalitarianism” associated with the violation of human rights implicit in lockdowns, restrictions and mandatory vaccinations. In some places it takes the form of open protests, while in others it transforms into deaf discontent and the growing alienation of society from the elites. But it is based on the same fundamental mistrust between man and power. If the authorities deceive us all the time, then why should we obey their quarantines and believe in their vaccines? The logic here is simple, but twenty years of protests have led to the fact that it also has its right to exist. It is this distrust of the citizen in the authorities that antiglobalists emphasised as a key element in everyday political practice. Therefore, on the twentieth anniversary of the tragedy in Genoa, we can say that this mistrust has not disappeared anywhere, and the authorities of many countries have not been able to change the situation. Therefore, the anti-globalisation cause lives on and will live on in the medium term.