Massive planned protests at the opening of the Expo 2015 in Milan, which Italy has been preparing to host for years, took a turn when clashes between police and some demonstrators broke out on May 1 at the city center.
Reports suggest masked “black bloc” protesters turned violent, vandalizing areas, particularly around the central Cadorna station. The violent protesters, are believed to be associated with radical anti-globalization groups across Europe. Police in riot gear, who were prepared for violence, responded by teargassing the protesters, and detaining a number of demonstrators.
The expo is running for six months and the Italian government has set aside 1.3 billion euros ($1.46 billion) for creating venues and other infrastructure around the event, which 145 countries are participating in.
To protesters, Expo 2015 is a symbol of corruption that only benefits participating corporations. Protesters claim the fair is not helping Italy overcome its financial crisis. Instead, they say, it’s a waste of money that should have been spent on economic growth and creating jobs.
The violence, was a major change from the previous day, when tens of thousands students, anti-austerity campaigners, anti-globalization activists and environmentalists took the streets to protest peacefully against the global fair on April 30.
Police fired tear gas at the masked protesters, some of whom pelted officers with stones, set trash bins and vehicles on fire, and set off smoke bombs and firecrackers in a few shops.
Black bloc used smoke bombs to blind cops, then changed clothes, dropped gear and slipped into crowd. Genius. #noexpo pic.twitter.com/2972qxCXXq
— Automnia (@Aut_Omnia) May 1, 2015
The world trade fair is expected to bring 20 million visitors to Italy by its closing date in October. Nine million tickets have already been sold.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi expects the expo to generate 10 billion euros ($11.2 billion) and Milan's Chamber of Commerce says the event will generate 191,000 new jobs for Italians over the next few months. Protesters strongly disagree with these forecasts.
#autonomous #Housing struggle & #notav bloc moving from Piazza XXIV Maggio towards downtown #noexpo #expo2015 pic.twitter.com/iXEzsSklGK
— Infoaut_English (@Infoaut_English) May 1, 2015
Earlier in the week Italian police conducted a series of raids on groups suspected of planning violent protests. They seized fireworks, baseball bats and gas masks. A German national was arrested and 26 people, including 16 French nationals, were placed under investigation. A day before the violence, The Times of Italy reported quoting police sources, “A group of one thousand anarchists from all over Italy and Europe have gathered in Milan ahead of Expo”.
Thousands of Italian police officers were deployed in the city center and security was tight.
Some Italians were frustrated at the violence taking place on the streets, following what had started as peaceful protests:
#noexpo non è distruggendo negozi e macchine di incolpevoli cittadini che si fanno le proteste. E poi dovevate protestare prima
— Silvia Scardino (@AivlisSiska) May 1, 2015
You don't protest by destroying shops and cars of innocent citizens. And you should have protested earlier
molti #noexpo2015 non sanno quello che dicono e fanno e non hanno niente a che fare con la libertà di opinione ed il diritto di protestare
— Fabrizia Emanuelli (@lucrezia68lvely) May 1, 2015
many #noexpo2015 don't know that what they say and do has nothing to do with freedom of speech and the right to protest
The No Expo Movement
The demonstration was the first in a series of panned demonstrations around Expo 2015, whose theme, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” has attracted criticism from environmentalists, anti-capitalist and anti-globalization groups.
Protestors argue that the fair’s theme is ironic, since many people have no access to food and water. Participants also oppose the inclusion of food corporations like Coca Cola, Nestle and McDonald's in the fair.
They also said that thousands of people have been exploited, and worked long hours at the exposition’s venues without getting paid.
“No #expo2015, eat the rich” #noexpo2015 pic.twitter.com/grcWaH9b5M
— Chiara Baldi (@ChiaraBaldi86) May 1, 2015
This video is from yesterday's peaceful protests:
#Italy: Clashes in #Milan as leftist students rail against Expo Milano 2015 https://t.co/SuKkeWNLEI #NoEXPO pic.twitter.com/OK0Do28B50
— th anonymous (@ori_no_co) April 30, 2015
Referring to a banner held by a protester in the picture above, Andrea Petti thinks it's ironic:
“La città è degli studenti, non di Expo”. Ah si, la città degli studenti che manifestavano solo per non andare a scuola #noexpo
— Andrea Petti (@Petti1899) April 30, 2015
The city belongs to students, not to the Expo. Sure, to the students who manifest only to skip school.
Italy and the Expo
Milan has been preparing for the Expo since 2008 when it won the bid to host it. The last expo was hosted in Shanghai in 2010. The event is part of a world fair series that dates back to 1851, and takes place in a different country every five years.
The exhibition has already been associated with a tainted reputation after several officials were arrested for corruption.
Italian press has used headlines like “The five days of Milan” or in Italian “Cinque giornate di Milano”, referring to a major event in 1848 when the first Italian War of Independence started.
Qualcuno ancora non ha capito che non è il fine a giustificare i mezzi ma sono i mezzi che delegittimano il fine. #blackbloc #noexpo
— Pietro Vinti (@piellegivi) May 1, 2015
Someone has yet to understand: the goal doesn't justify the means, but the means can delegitimize the goal.
For others, this battle over Expo 2015 has triggered curiosity:
comunque a me questi di #NoExpo mi hanno fatto solo diventare più curiosa riguardo all #Expo2015 … quasi quasi ci faccio un salto
— Emanuela B. (@billabi) May 1, 2015
By the way, these NoExpo made me more curious about the Expo2015… I may just pop in
All'Italia non serve Expo, ma maggiore impegno verso i cittadini più deboli che non hanno come amico qualche “politico per caso”. #noexpo
— Marta Pellizzi (@marta_pellizzi) May 1, 2015
Italy doesn't need an Expo, but more commitment towards weaker citizens who aren't friends with “random politicians”
The event gained a lot of buzz on social media, with many hashtags created to either support or condemn the exhibition, like #Noexpo , #Noexpo2015, and #Noexpomayday coinciding with Labor day on May 1.
Meanwhile anti-austerity protests spilled over to other Italian cities and also resulted in clashes between protesters and police.