Mafia; Made in Italy

One of the most famous Italian brands, it appropriates sums allegedly equal to 9-10% of the national GDP on annual basis (while Prada earns as little as 0.16% of it). It is a reliable newsmaker, a police-tirer, a job-provider and a milestone round the economy’s neck, no wonder the locals call it an “octopus”. This year Italy commemorates an important date in its complex relations with the mafia: the 20th anniversary of the “judicide” of two eminent mafia-fighters Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone.

By Daria Voloshnikova


A scene from the Hollywood classic “The Godfather”. Mafia activity has been long depicted in film and television.

Cradle of crime. The origins of the very term “mafia” are often debated on, but two things are certain. First, it may sound cool, but it is not the way the mobsters name themselves. Second, the word “mafiusu” (mafioso) became widespread due to the publication of a piece of theatre by Giuseppe Rizzotto,  I Mafiusi della Vicaria (1863), where it was used in the sense of “tough” or “audacious”. The first systematic, though not exhaustive, description of the mafia phenomenon dates back to the late 19th century: a unified Italian state appeared only in 1861, so the king of Italy needed to figure out what was happening in his southern lands and ordered a number of inquiries on the ground.
Stereotypically, “mafia” is a synonym for Cosa Nostra and any Mafioso comes from Sicily. However, this is an erroneous assumption. Apart from Cosa Nostra there is also Stidda operating in Sicily, Sacra Corona Unita running Apulia, Camorra – the largest mob – based in the city of Naples, the Basilischi in the region of Basilicata and, arguably the most powerful today, Ndrangheta in Calabria. Moreover, the central and the northern parts of the country are controlled by two low-profile criminal organizations, respectively – Banda della Magliana and Mala del Brenta. It is noteworthy that each of them differs from the others, to a greater or lesser extent, in its organizational pattern and structure, areas of activity and outreach capacities.
The 2011 EURISPES Index of Mafia Penetration measuring the levels of relevant criminal activities for 24 provinces in 4 Italian regions identifies the provinces of Naples and Catania as the most affected, while that of Lecce is at bottom of the rating. The Organized Crime Index of the Italian Institute of Statistics reveals that the mafia in Sicily curtailed the scale of its work by two  in the 2000-s as compared to the 1990-s.
Infamous blank spots. All the romantic Mafiosi must have gone to America, serving as consultants for Hollywood crime dramas. Stern pragmatics do their everyday job in Italy. And they cope so well with it that the government decided to celebrate the Day of remembrance of the victims of the mafia yearly in March. The Lectures on Mafia series recently launched on a public TV channel permit Piero Grasso, the national anti-mafia prosecutor – a Sicilian with his headquarters in Rome, to increase the awareness of the population on Mondays. Previously, in the 1980-s, the statements by mafia defectors allowed to amaze the country with a “Maxi-trial” of Palermo with 400 Mafiosi at the bar.
According to the survey by Voices from the Blogs of the Milan University, 88% of Italians fear the mob, but in the South they are slightly braver than in the North. Many Sicilians, especially belonging to the younger generation, know about the mafia less than a Wikipedia article reads, and have never met a person more than just likely to be a Mafioso. In addition, only circa 250 deaths per year are estimated to have the mafia as their direct cause.


American Mafia 1928

Conspicuously politicized. The involvement in politics (even to the detriment of the financial profitability) is one of the distinct characteristics of the Italian-style mafia. There are many speculations on its role in the advent of the Second Republic in Italy related to the so-called “state’s talks with the mob”. Quite a bit of Italian politicians confessed having ties with mobsters and were prosecuted. The notorious Andreotti case of the former prime minister dealing with mafia was followed by the allegations that the then premier Berlusconi paid 300,000 euros of “pizzo” (kickback) per year to have his business in Sicily.
In this regard two articles of the Italian Criminal code are crucial for the mafia discourse on the peninsula: Art.416-bis defines a mafia-type criminal association, while the controversial Art.41-bis prohibits the prisoner’s contacts with the external world, thus impeding the “bosses” to perform their managerial functions. (Surprising as it may be, not all those captured are given life sentences – as they are released, they come back to the point where they were interrupted.)
Euro-trendy. The mob evolves over time: initially thriving on extortions, it switched to drug trafficking in the second half of the 20th century, and practices white collar crime today. The Mafiosi of the age of globalization are cosmopolitan drug dealers or immigrants’ smugglers cooperating with their colleagues worldwide – from Serbian to Colombian mafias. They are even reported to manage to supply Somali warlords with firearms in return for a permission to dump waste somewhere in the Golf of Aden: on the “silver lining” one can see a solution to the regular “waste collapse” strangling Naples and imputable to the mafia. A scholar named Rocco Sciarrone attributed the strengths of the mafia organizations to the social capital they possess, for the factors that make the mafia so survivable are profoundly rooted in the national mentality.
In the times of the financial crisis the mafia has the precious liquidity and the ability to lend it, so it seems to be the only enterprise that avoids recession, as an Italian communist Francesco Forgione puts it. And whereas the Bank of Italy observed a rise in suspicious transfer operations, in 2011 its president Mario Draghi argued that ostensibly the crisis had served as a catalyst for the underworld life.
The European integration process has rather favoured a transnational mafia contagion than blocked it: for instance, the developments under the Schengen Agreement lifted many barriers for the criminals without being really efficient in coordinating international anti-mafia efforts. The European policies left intact the parochial mentality of the Italian South – and it takes its toll. The scandals surrounding the EU’s funding of the poorer regions took off in the late 2000-s with vanishing euro-finances and reached the peak of absurdity with a mafia-related constructor building the office for an anti-mafia agency. Presently, a special European Parliament committee is working on the proposal to the legislation against organized crime to be rendered public in March 2013.
In the end, in the mafia story there is another case for euro-skeptics: Sicily is somewhere where the EU’s embryo formally appeared at the Messina meetings – almost two years before the Treaties of Rome were signed.


Italian Police siezed mafia goods and cash


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