The San Marco bay, on a Friday morning in July. Normally, there are only a few vaporettos, commercial transport boats and tourist boats. But now, the G20 economy summit is taking place at the Arsenale, and the bay is crisscrossed by a patrol boat from the Finance Police, constantly wandering to and fro in a vaguely threatening manner, and a carabinieri boat that often sets off at full speed, almost in a race with the two jet skis belonging to the Police, which are darting far and wide, chasing down everything that moves.
Above, against a clear blue sky, there are two helicopters hovering incessantly, one yellow and one black. The police motorboat that guards the Rio della Tana, one of the channels leading to the Arsenale, is the quietest of all those on the scene. Every now and then, a Coast Guard patrol boat adds to the din. A hundred feet or so away, hundreds of carabinieri and policemen are guarding the participants of the G20, constantly checking the residents and tourists passing by.
On the rooftops, invisible, are the snipers and whoever else has been deployed on the scene, vying for space with those of us who live here.
Anyone with any sense will agree that this scene is the most ill-fitting one could imagine to see in a city like Venice. And yet, thanks to a City Council that won re-election from the first round in the fall of 2020, but which is completely detached from the ordinary citizens, the G20 summit is being hosted here, in the least suitable place in the world to host such events.
And this also coincides with a major anniversary from our recent history. Twenty years ago, in July 2001, the G8 summit took place in Genoa. There is no need to recount how that went: the violence, the tear gas, the mass arrests, the tortures, the “Mexican butchery” of the raid on the Armando Diaz school, the killing of Carlo Giuliani.
That event was a turning point in the contemporary history of this country. But among all the tragic legal, political and social consequences it left behind, there was one conclusion that seemed the most logical and easy to implement: don’t ever host a summit in the historical center of an Italian city. Many said it, even swore by it: never again. But we didn’t reckon with the fact that we were dealing with the most forgetful professional class in the world, often not up to its duties and sometimes acting in bad faith: the political class. Not the entire political class, mind you, but a large part of the class that is governing Italy today and that is running Venice. I’d ask the reader to find an appropriate adjective to use for those who, twenty years after Genoa, have decided not only to organize a G20 in the historical center of a city, but in the heart of the most beautiful and fragile historical city in the world.
In and of itself, the organization of these summits involves violent acts against the citizens. To be sure, it is “soft” violence, but when part of the inhabitants of the Castello district, the most populous in Venice, found the streets of their homes isolated by aluminum gratings, by real “cages” like those in the red zone of Genoa, how could they not feel that violence is being done to them, incomprehensible and absurd.
Vaporetto stops have been suspended and transport services have been moved to absurd routes that are punishing for commuters, and not only. Of course, we must guarantee the safety of those who are attending the summit, but not at the expense of the freedoms of us who live here. If one really wanted to organize it in Venice, why not choose one of the many islands? Perhaps for the usual reason: the opportunity of a nice free vacation in Venice, at the expense of whoever ends up paying. But first and foremost, at the expense of our freedoms.
I’ll ask the reader again: how are we to call those who wanted to organize this summit here? And how can we call the city council in charge of this city, which, instead of being on the side of those who live here, is celebrating and boasting about this event, with the usual nonsensical spiel about the “worldwide visibility” that the city will gain in these days? As if Venice hasn’t had “visibility” across the whole world for centuries. How can we make them understand that it’s time to stop thinking about Venice as if it were a museum exhibit? And who is going to tell the mayor and the councilmembers that, after a year and a half of the pandemic, the shop owners in the Castello district certainly didn’t need some extra days of completely useless and harmful restrictions?
As if the problems of mass tourism and the climatic emergency in Venice were not enough. This could be the beginning of a more and more outrageous use of the city as a living postcard, more and more an open-air museum and less and less a place of daily life, of living. A place to be exploited down to the bone, whose beauty is to be sold off for purposes that have nothing to do with its nature and its history. People have been talking for a long time about the increasingly marked disconnect between the political class and the residents.
Organizing a G20 summit in such a way, and in this place, is much more than a self-inflicted error. It is a deliberate act of stirring up anger, or, at the very least, an invitation for people to become even more estranged from this political class, to write it off for good.