What would happen if a major political leader were to invite anti-globalisation activists to a dialogue? Would they have anything constructive to say, or would they quickly retreat behind the barricades to shout easy slogans once again? These are no longer hypothetical questions.
While leaders such as Berlusconi, Chirac and, sadly, Blair scoffed at the Genoa protesters in 2001, Guy Verhofstadt, the prime minister of Belgium, called them a "a real breath of fresh air in this post-ideological age". Though on the centre right of the Belgian political spectrum, he invited them to explain their ideas to him, organising an international conference in Ghent in October that year.
The anarchists derided those who went as "sell-outs". Marxist revolutionary groups also stayed away from the "reformist" gathering. But the democratic, centrist wing of the anti-globalisation coalition that did attend made a positive impression. As Verhofstadt explained at the World Economic Forum last February: "I have learnt that the overwhelming majority of the so-called anti-globalists are non-violent. They are sincerely concerned about the major problems of our world." He explained: "They do not oppose globalisation as such. They oppose the one-sided economic view of it. That is why I prefer to call them by the name they choose: the alter-globalists. Their message is that globalisation needs a political counterpart, to tackle the social, ecological and cultural consequences of the world becoming one economy."
Verhofstadt said he would like to start "an alternative G8, not made out of the richest and most industrialised nations of the world, but composed of the most important regional unions such as Asean, the European Union, the African Union, et al. They represent nations bound by the same political, economic, social and cultural forces on a continental scale. They are stronger than single nations and closer to their citizens than the United Nations."
The most enduring legacy of Seattle - once the wreckers, thugs and anarchists have broken away - might well be a serious movement for global democracy.