Corleone, the town in Sicily that gave
Mario Puzo’s fictional Godfather his name, has become a new battleground in the
ongoing culture war between the Mafia and the law.
On August 16 Italian government authorities
inaugurated an official outpost for Law and Order called “The Legality Shop” (“Bottega
della Legalità”), on the premises of one of the many properties seized from the
world of organized crime in recent years.
The Legality Shop is a two-story building
that belonged to the family of Bernardo Provenzano, considered to have been
“the boss of bosses” and a modern-day Scarlet Pimpernel, for having
eluded arrest for some 20 years. Now the building will house various
activities, all symbolic of this historic challenge to the very core of Mafia-land:
from the sale of produce from confiscated farmlands, to exhibitions of paintings,
posters and newspaper headlines that tell the story of Italy’s struggle with
Another event epitomizing the triumph of
the law over the Mafia lords took place last February, when Mafia boss Totò
Riina’s hideout, a princely property with a swimming pool in the middle of
Palermo, was handed over to the Journalists’ Guild, to house their offices
along with a documental memorial to the victims of the Mafia among journalists
and other truth-seekers.
These are but the latest examples of an
ongoing Sicilian Renaissance, a widespread cultural rebellion against the yoke
of Mafia rule, carried on by ordinary citizens, judges, policemen, journalists,
teachers and particularly by the aggregates that have gone to work on the vast
extensions of land confiscated from organized crime in recent years, braving
the implicit and explicit death threats which defying Mafia rule entails.
The watershed between the dominant culture
of omertà, the unspoken rule according to which no “man of honour” would
ever bear witness to a crime, and the advancing culture of outspoken
fearlessness, came with the murder of magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo
Borsellino in 1992. This was the last straw and it coalesced the people of
Sicily in an open rebellion against organized crime.
However, not until recent years had the
determination of the central government produced the unremitting manhunt which
has led to the arrest of some 6,500 suspects and the confiscation of Mafia
property for almost 15 billion euros in value, in the last two years alone.
Of course, everyone knows that Italy’s
struggle against organized crime, which dates back to the 19th century, will
not be really over until even people in places like Corleone are no longer
afraid of retaliation against themselves or their loved ones. Hence the
widespread educational outreach in Sicily and the need for police and government
authorities to show up as often as possible, openly and officially assigning
confiscated property to the citizenry.
“We are not afraid!” proclaimed the defiant
banner that was unfurled against the façade of the confiscated Provenzano
property last Monday, belying the thick police protection of the official
inauguration (including snipers on the lookout from the building’s roof)
attended by Deputy Prime-Minister Gianni Letta, Secretary of State Roberto
Maroni, and Minister of Justice Angelino Alfano.
It would be rather nice if these events
would lead the outside world to now realize that Italy has never been simply
the land of the Mafia, as outworn clichés would have it, but rather a land that
has spent decades upon decades lavishing large sums and sacrificing many lives
in the attempt to overcome Mafia rule.
an Italian writer and freelance journalist. In 2007 she won the Golden Florin in the essay sector
of the Premio Firenze [Florence
Award] for her book on gender
feminism as an instrument of class warfare, La
donna a una dimensione [One-Dimensional Woman], published by Marietti 1820.