Pizza, Mafia and spaghetti. For centuries, these have been the main three stereotypes of Italy as seen from abroad.
Hollywood has built a fortune by portraying padrinos and Italian-style mobsters, and one could argue that the Mafia is so inbred in Italy’s DNA that to tackle it would be like removing the original sin.
But things are changing, and even if it may sound crazy now, the fight against criminal kingdoms that dot the peninsula — from Naple’s Camorra to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, Calabria’s Ndrangheta and Apulia’s Sacra Corona Unita — could be right round the corner.
Paradoxically, the first steps towards victory can already be seen in the latest events. In Rome, a massive corruption scandal, dubbed “Mafia Capitale”, has been exposed, showing how some city hall authorities have done business with the Mafia.
And the fact that these crimes have come to light at all — thanks to an impressive investigation — is in itself a heavy blow to the Mafia and shows that it can be defeated.
So the state has the tools and the potential to fight the mob — and not the other way round. The untouchables are not so untouchable anymore, while the “wall of silence” is starting to crumble.
This is the result of many factors.
First, Italy is demonstrating a strong resilience in responding to crime.
True, the level of fraud and corruption is among the highest in Europe but so is the efficiency of the law.
This anti-Mafia battle is made stronger by the government’s new set of rules against corruption and crime and the revamped anti-corruption national agency that will boost transparency in the relationship between politics and businesses, often infiltrated by Mafia clans. And this is the crucial point.
More than 6,800 Mafia properties across the peninsula have been confiscated by authorities, many of which have been recovered to public use.
Second, it’s not just a matter of having stronger anti-Mafia laws. The crusade against the Mafia also needs a moral revolt that stems from the hearts of Italian citizens, mainly the youth who are the future of this country.
And such a revolution is already taking place.
Young people today take to the streets to protest against illegality and even party when a boss is arrested, cheering as if they were at the stadium. They write their graduation papers on the good done by the state against organized crime. All this would have been inconceivable 20 years ago when silence and terror ruled over people’s consciences.
One youth group has taken it one step further and challenged the mob by provokingly calling itself “Ammazzateci Tutti,” or “Kill Us All.”
Openly talking about the Mafia and spreading awareness of it stands as a great leap forward. Anti-mafia movements and associations have flourished, while young businessmen wanting to launch start-ups without having to fall prey to clans’ “dirty money” are being financially supported by public funds. There’s even now a tiny Silicon Valley in the south that is turning into a land of opportunities thanks to innovative firms that dream of a different future.
Third, memory plays a key role. There is no doubt that the turning point, the trigger of change, was the Mafia killings of judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992 — an event that left a deep scar.
The double homicide is still fresh in people’s minds. I was recently sitting in a bar in Palermo, Sicily, having an ice-cream in front of the cathedral. It was a normal day, no special commemorations or festivities were planned. It struck me listening to the bartender and his clients talk about the deaths of Falcone and Borsellino, that they were killings that happened yesterday.
Fourth, it must mean something — if anything at least a good sign — that for the first time in Italy’s history a Sicilian has been elected head of state. Sergio Mattarella, whose brother was killed by the mob, has pledged a crusade against the Mafia until such a “cancer” is definitely wiped out.
None of Mattarella’s predecessors ever made a similar promise with such force. If he so strongly believes Italy can be rid of the mafia, then why can’t we?