On Sunday June 24 about 50,000 people (according to the organisers, or 20,000 according to the media) participated in a demonstration through the centre of Barcelona (Spain) against the World Bank. The World Bank summit against world poverty was originally scheduled to take place in Barcelona on June 25th to 27th, but WB officials decided to cancel it for fear that the protesters would prevent them from using it as a propaganda event. Instead they decided to call a "cyberconference".
However, the organisers of the protests (a wide ranging coalition of NGOs, trade unions, left wing parties, immigrant workers' groups, ATTAC, etc.) decided to go ahead with the demonstration. For weeks prior to the event the media and the authorities had tried to create the impression that violent riots were going to take place. This propaganda campaign had two main aims, on the one hand to scare people from participating in the different actions, but also to justify police repression in advance.
A few days before the demonstration was due to take place through the centre of Barcelona, the police decided to withdraw permission for the agreed route, which would go past the building of the Barcelona Stock Exchange, "in order to prevent violence". A last minute appeal by the organisers to the High Court in Catalonia overturned the police decision on Friday.
The demonstration took place in a peaceful and festive mood. Also present were representatives of workers in struggle (like those of the telecoms company Sintel and from the engineering company Miniwatt). A small group of masked youth dress in black followed the demo smashing some shop windows and phone boxes.
But when the demonstrators had already entered Placa Catalunya square in the centre of town two groups of police provocateurs pretended to fight each other thus giving the police the excuse to charge into the crowd. In spite of the fact that the demonstrators raised their hands and shouted "we are not violent", the police proceeded to fire rubber bullets into the crowd and began beating people with their batons. As a result 22 people were arrested and 32 were injured (including some reporters).
The use of agents provocateurs is not a new thing, but what is unusual about this particular instance is that their action was so sloppy that many people were able to realise what was happening and it was even reported in some of the media. This is what happened according to Associated Press:
"Protesters said the police staged a fight on the edge of the demonstration in order to draw in protesters and use the fight as a pretext to charge the crowd. A second charge emptied the park within minutes.
"Reporters saw a group of men and women in masks gathered on the fringes of the demonstration in the park. Some wore earphones, and though carrying sticks they were able to walk freely past police, pull on their masks and position themselves between police and protesters.
"One man in the group grabbed another and pulled him to the ground, and other members of the group began kicking and slugging each other.
"When demonstrators saw what was going on and joined the fight, the police charged into the park. The masked men and women involved in the scuffle walked through the police line and boarded vans.
"A reporter asked one of them if they were police. He at first said yes, and then said no, before walking by police to the vans." (Anti-Globalization Protesters Charged AP Sunday 24 )
Most of the Spanish papers carried front page pictures of the "vandalism" and "violence" but were also forced to admit the story about the police provocation (at the end of their articles and without giving a clear explanation). This is what El Pais had to say:
"Most of the arrests were carried out by plainclothes police agents. Some had their faces covered with scarves with the Catalan independence flag and carried extendible batons, plastic handcuffs and wooden truncheons. A spokesperson for the Barcelona police yesterday admitted to using such methods for dissuasive purposes" (El País, January 25).
This was confirmed by a report in El Mundo which quoted eyewitnesses who declared that some of those who carried out the arrests were the same people who had been throwing stones at the banks earlier. "Police provoked the fight. They were part of it," said Ada Colau, a spokeswoman for the Campaign Against the World Bank, one of the protest organizations. According to the AP report: "Jordi Pedret, a Socialist Party member of the national Parliament, said he had been informed that police undercover agents threw rocks through store windows and then arrested protesters. Pedret said he would call for a formal investigation by the Interior Ministry."
From this incident we get an insight of the level of censorship which is taking place daily in the world's media. The AP newswire explains quite clearly that violence was the result of a police provocation, however none of the media I have seen outside Spain mention the story (with the only exception of MNSBC which have limited themselves to republishing the AP story). It is quite clear that on-the-spot news agency reports often reflect quite truthfully what has happened. The main value of these on-the-spot reports lies in the fact that there can be an immediate transmission of information and there is little time to cut out the unwanted bits. But as soon as the story reaches the big newspapers and TV stations it undergoes a process of censorship in which the bits that don't fit with the line they want to feed us with are cut off.
Take for instance the Guardian newspaper in Britain. On Sunday night (24 June) it carried the AP story on its website in its "latest news" section. However by Monday morning any reference to police provocation had been removed and instead the web site and the printed edition carried a brief note the "usual story" about violence:
"Spanish march turns violent
"A march against globalisation erupted into violence in Barcelona yesterday. Fifteen demonstrators were injured and at least 10 more detained after scuffles with heavily armed riot police.
"Several marchers burned phone boxes and threw bottles and stones at the police. Jane Walker, Madrid" (The Guardian, June 25).
Notice how the police provocation has completely disappeared and also how the number of arrested and injured has diminished considerably between the actual events being reported and their writing up on Jane Walker's computer in Madrid!
We can also see a clear pattern emerging during the build up to these demonstrations against the international financial institutions. There is a massive publicity campaign before the demonstrations take place about the prospects of violence, chaos, etc. Before the London May Day rally this year we saw an amazing campaign of misinformation. Groups of violent anarchists were supposed to be descending on London intent on causing chaos and mayhem. They were supposed to have been given training in guerrilla tactics in secluded and abandoned button factories, etc. Finally, on the day of the rally, the only violence by "groups of masked people dressed in black" came from... the police themselves which detained thousands of peaceful demonstrators for more than seven hours without giving them any reason. (The Truth about May Day, London)
Similar reports are being published in preparation for the Genoa summit of the G8 in July. These are just some examples from a recent BBC news report:
"Italian authorities have ordered 200 body bags as they step up preparations for a violent confrontation at next month's G8 summit in Genoa, say Italian media reports.
"A room at the city's hospital will also be set aside as a temporary mortuary, said Italian news agency ANSA.
"The reports come amid growing concern that the G8 summit will witness even worse confrontation than last weekend's European meeting in Gothenburg. Tens of thousands of protesters - from anarchists to Basque separatists - are expected to head for Genoa.
"Italian authorities are preparing a huge force of 20,000 police and soldiers, backed by the threat of tear gas, water cannon and a formidable array of military hardware." (BBC News Online, Thursday, 21 June, 2001)
The same BBC report lists the plans of the Italian authorities as follows: "20,000 officers (against 2,000 in Sweden), Practice 'war games' being held, Tear gas and water cannon lined up, 15 helicopters, four planes, seven naval boats, Rooftop squads, hidden cameras, satellite surveillance, Presidents Bush, Chirac based on aircraft carriers"
Finally, in a bizarre twist, the same article links the "expected violence" to supposed assassination attempts on some world leaders, including one on George Bush by Osama Bin Laden (his name always comes handy when one needs to scare the public) and another on President Putin by Chechen rebels!
This is all very useful to justify the virtual state of siege which will be declared in Genoa where railway stations and motorway junctions will be closed, and flights diverted. In the city itself, the streets around the summit venue have been declared as a "red zone", and will be blocked off by dozens of armoured vehicles.
It is increasingly clear that the leaders of the Western powers are seriously concerned about this movement and will use any means necessary (repression, misinformation, etc.) to discredit it and try to put an end to it. This makes it even more important for the movement to link up with the organised working class, the only class capable of challenging capitalism in a serious manner, because of its numbers and the place it occupies in the process of capitalist production.