10 years of the G8 hiding from the people
By Matthew Parsons
In keeping with the trend of recent meetings of the G8, this year’s summit is being held in the obscure, albeit luxurious, town of Deauville, Normandy – population 4,052. Why? Or rather, why not Paris, or Bordeaux, or Lyon? Historically, the summit was held in large – often capital – cities in one of the host countries, such as London (‘77, ‘84, ‘91), Tokyo (‘79, ‘86, ‘93), Munich (‘92) and Toronto (‘88). And now, Deauville. Last year? Huntsville, Ontario. In fact, the last 9 meetings have been held exclusively in small, remote towns or exclusive holiday resorts, with an average population of 14,000. The host cities of the first 27 summits had an average population of 2.7 million.
Of course, we know why. Genoa 2001 was a disaster. Hundreds of thousands of people arrived to protest; rioting broke out and the Italian police, never known for their restraint, attacked indiscriminately. 2 died, many more were injured, and dozens of police officers were eventually prosecuted for malicious, violent acts against unarmed civilians. The response at the time, from the world’s most economically influential leaders, was predictable. Silvio Berlusconi: “one must not confuse those who did the attacking and those who were attacked”. Tony Blair: the protests “distracted from the work the summit is doing”. Jacques Chirac was at least willing to actually think about what the protests meant: “A hundred thousand people don’t take to the streets unless something has seized their hearts and minds”.
However, as a group, the G8 made no attempt to address the reasons behind what happened in Genoa, and the same patterns have re-occurred again and again, both at G8 summits, and with respect to peaceful protest in general. The police presence is larger than ever, their tactics are brutal and provocative, and the ensuing, inevitable violence of self-defence is used as leverage to undermine – through the mostly subservient and lazy national media – the very ideology behind the protests.
Now the G8 and the G20 conferences have become a travelling circus, with a cast of performers intent on demonstrating their importance to the world, while they work through a phoney agenda of issues – a cartoon of a diplomatic meeting. The audience consists of anti-capitalists, anti-globalisation campaigners, environmentalists and, where the summit is close enough to a major population centre, many local people who simply don’t appreciate what’s going on inside. As always, most of the cost of a ticket to this performance goes to the security firms, and to the police overtime, and the price is only going up. After Genoa, the 2002 summit was held in Kananaskis, Alberta, in a secluded resort inside a national park. Security cost an estimated $200 million. Last year, again in Canada, the security cost was estimated at $1 billion: $30 for every person in Canada, for two days – the highest security cost for any conference in history.
Until the attendees of these meetings face up to the reality that this continual protest is not – as they would like to portray it – the work of a minority of anarchists and the lunatic fringe, but is instead the frustrated face of mainstream society, then the G8 simply can’t justify this price tag.