'Declaring Victory' in the fight against the mafia
Never ask a question to which you do not know the exact answer. It is the golden rule of any trial, the first lesson imparted to the young prosecutors or green lawyers all over the world. Prosecution and defence adroitly avoid asking witnesses open-ended questions – too risky. To ask whether the mafia has been defeated is, therefore, a bad question. It sounds almost like a provocation. Every day, books, articles, sentences, interviews remind us that the mafias exist. But this is not the question that was asked. Certainly the mafias kill, pillage, threaten, but the question is: have they won or have they lost? History has known numerous conflicts, at times long and cruel, in which the hostilities have continued, notwithstanding how clear it was that one side had lost any chance of victory. From 1618 to 1648, the Thirty Years War tore apart Central Europe, provoking enormous destruction and the loss of thousands of lives dispersed in clashes, famines, disease and looting. The population of those lands decreased by 15 – 20%, according to conservative demographic estimates. Also the mafia is nearing its 30th year. It is a very approximate calculation, but has a dose of reliability. Naturally, there are no solemn proclamations; neither can we indicate a precise date. The war against the mafia, as all the modern conflicts, is a war without rituals and conforms to no laws.
Not only removed from the traditional rules of the law of war, but also distant from the rhetoric solemnity of the words pronounced by George W. Bush, on the 20th September, 2001, before the Congress of the United States: «On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars, but for the past 136 years they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941»: the shame of Pearl Harbour, the only day of war on American soil in 136 years of history, a surprise attack which was not preceded by the timely delivery of the declaration of war by the Emperor of the Rising Sun.
Also the mafia began hostilities by perpetrating an ignominious surprise attack, committing a resounding ambush. The mafia Pearl Harbour took place in Palermo, the evening of September 3rd, 1982, in Via Carini, with the killing of Prefect Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa. That event marks, most probably, the beginning of the war between the mafia and the State. Victims of that aggression were not, however, men of the government, nor heads of police or courts, overwhelmed by the violence of the Cosa Nostra which, for the first and last time in its history, hit not a Sicilian judge, or a Sicilian policeman, or a Sicilian politician, but a Piedmontese Carabiniere, sent by the Government to stem the Sicilian violence of the mafia.
The declaration of war occurs on September 5th, 1982, during the church funeral service, in the presence of the Heads of the State and a frightened and speechless congregation. The formalities of the ius ad bellum are consummated by a man in the vestments of cardinal: «We are all dismayed spectators of the development of a chain of violence and vengeance all the more horrifying because, while the moves and decisions of those who must provide for the security and good of everyone, both of the private citizen and officials and authorities of the same State, appear so slow and uncertain with respect to the rapid and determined actions of those who have the mind, will and ready force to strike». It recalls and can be applied a noted phrase from Latin literature, of Sallust, in the ‘Bellum Jugurthinum: ‘Dum Romae consulitur Saguntum expugnatur’; “while Rome thinks of what to do, the city of Sagunto is conquered by the enemy”. His Excellency, Salvatore Pappalarda, Cardinal of the Diocese of Palermo, pronounces a phrase that within a few seconds enters the civil and moral patrimony of the Country and breaks through the wall of belligerence: the city is stormed by the “enemy”. On Saturday, the 11th September, 1982, the Government recognizes that the clash is inevitable and with a law decree begins the season of the fight against the “cosche”. The enemy exists and it has a name. It is called mafia. In a passage of the Criminal Code written 50 years before a ministry of Mussolini, a new article is included: the 416-bis which punishes the mafia associations. It is not only the regulations that many investigators and politicians had invoked for years, for the purpose of fighting and punishing the mafia, but contains also the “rules of engagement” to observe during the hostilities, the jus in bello.
To be effective, any conflict requires, first of all, that the enemy is identified and described with the maximum possible accuracy and Article 416-bis fulfills this task: «the association is of a mafia type when those who are part of it, exercise the force of intimidation of the mafia membership, the condition of subjection and the code of silence from which it derives, to commit crimes, to acquire directly or indirectly, the management or, however, the control of economic activities, concessions, authorizations, contracts and public services or to realize unjust profits or advantages for themselves or others», and ten years later – a few days before the Capaci massacre and a few months from the murder of the Honourable Salvo Lima – the following is added: «or else, with the purpose of impeding or hindering the free exercise of the vote or to procure votes for themselves or others in occasion of electoral consultations»,
Let us omit any legal assessment on the syntax adopted in the writing of the new crime of “mafia-type association” and let us also put aside any consideration on the influences that a certain sociological and anthropological vision of the mafia have exercised in the drafting of the legal text. Rather, let us concentrate on the fact that the Article 416-bis is not limited to punish the Mafioso, but also wishes to define the mafia, to clarify the criminal and social objectives, to unmask the hegemony project over the Sicilian society, and the South, in general. This last portion of the Country bears an explicit mention in the last part of the text, where one reads «the provisions of the present article apply also to the camorra and to other associations, however, locally named, which exercising the force of intimidation of the mafia membership, pursue objectives corresponding to those of the mafia type associations». The perfunctory corollary dedicated to the camorra et similia, allows us to understand that the principal preoccupation of the State was that of challenging the most formidable and ferocious adversary. The new crime is directed, principally, against the Palermo Cosa Nostra. To indicate what the mafia is and, therefore, who the mafia are, is the first step against omertà, (the code of silence) and intimidation, also that suffered by the Institutions which, in the preceding ten years, had even denied the existence of the mafia. The element of fear is the real objective of the Art. 416-bis, the object of all attention. The obsessive and paralyzing fear, that which renders the Institutions distracted or accomplices, that fear which forces the Sicilians to turn their heads the other way. It is necessary to face this fear clearly, without hesitation or reticence: omertà is the fear of admitting that one is frightened.
«I will boast then, most willingly of my weaknesses. Hence, I am happy in my infirmity, in the outrages, in the necessities, in the persecutions, in the agonies suffered for Christ: when I am weak, it is then that I am strong». (St. Paul, II letter to the Corinthians). It is necessary to transform the weakness of fear from an instrument which is firmly in the hands of the mafia, into evidence to use against the new “unnamable” enemies, during the course of the trials. Every time a witness remains silent or lies, there is an element to retain that the accused is indeed a Mafioso – it is this very silence that begins to tell something about him and his organization. At this point, everything could be revealed: the method, the scopes, the will to dominate, means adopted and resources at his disposal. «…rapid and determined actions of those who have the mind, will and ready force to strike”, had thundered the voice of Cardinal Pappalardo and the State writes the Article 416-bis admitting that the Nation is pervaded by men who, not only jeopardize the lives and goods of the citizens («to commit crimes»), but exercise («the force of intimidation of the mafia membership, the condition of subjection and the code of silence from which it derives»), threatening to take-over «the management or, however, the control of economic activities, concessions, authorizations, contracts and public services», to secure for themselves «unjust profits», and even to «impede or hinder the free exercise of the vote».
The prisons are not sufficient to stop such a warlike and ferocious force. We need to deprive it, not only of men, but also of resources: the confiscation will be the other instrument employed in the field of this conflict, which began in 1982. Just as in any other war, victory is possible on the condition that the wealth that supports the adversary is crumbled, also the mafia must see the erosion of their riches and accumulated capital, since the ‘cosche’ (mafia gangs) do not limit themselves to infiltrate the legal economy, but are moving to occupy the society.
Thirty years on, and uncountable deaths and atrocities, the history album gives us a vague similarity between Bernardo Provenzano, the last head of the imperial mafia, captured after 40 years in hiding, and Leonida Breznev, the last head of the imperial Soviet Union. The destiny of Soviet communism has, by now, assumed a paradigm of the dissolution that is incumbent on a power without legitimization; it could be asked whether the same parable could be tied to the destiny of the mafias. Perhaps in the last decade, the clans have undergone a silent implosion, caused by the clamour of complaints and the horror still fresh in the memory of the population. «As all things human, the mafia had a beginning and it will have an end». Giovanni pronounced this phrase a short time before he was killed.
Those words have become a slogan for all the anti-mafia movements and remain one of the most visited places in the collective memory. At a distance of thirty years, it seems the moment has been reached to ask ourselves, apart from any emotion and despite appearances, whether this prophesy has come true.
Can the mafia be added to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall?
It must be clear; the end of the mafia will not be the consequence of a defeat: the organizations have not been completely beaten by the State, and entire territories are still subjugated by the mafia. The capture, in Sicily, of Bernardo Provenzano, of Salvatore Lo Piccolo, his designated heir, or of Pasquale Condello, in Calabria, are important events, but do not concern the question the authorities intend to face. In discussing the demise of the mafia, we must not emphasize this or that success achieved by the State, but rather, verify whether the fabric of hegemony woven by the bosses over the vast population of Southern Italy has reached its twilight. The subject is slippery, indeed, it is necessary to proceed with caution; therefore, certain premises are indispensable. The phase of military and social escalation having been completed in a few decades, the Mafioso function and vocation has demanded a total hegemony over men and resources. The Italian mafias, unlike other criminal organizations, are not solely voracious structures, in other words, oriented exclusively towards the perception of illegal profit, but aim at the subjection of the social aggregations of reference. In the long campaign of control, the mafias have, progressively, involved ever increasing numbers of social groups, rendering them participants of the distribution of the stolen wealth and gaining their loyal collaboration. Where it has been necessary, they have practiced appalling violence, annihilating any resistance and smashing every obstacle in their path. In other cases, they have moved with great flexibility, avoiding any brutal contrasts and maneuvering on the side of cooptation and corruption.
Nevertheless, it is indubitable that in the backward and depressed perimeter of the Southern societies, the Mafioso organizations have triggered a formidable, as much as evil, process of social innovation. If one could follow, in parallel, the life of a Mafioso of a small Calabrian town, and that of his immigrated contemporary in Lombardy or Germany, in the 50’s and 60’s, we would note a difference that is not made of blood and money alone. The distinction would concern, in a much stronger way, the context of modernity into which the boss has been able to integrate himself, his circumstances, his associates, notwithstanding an apparent territorial immobility. For example, the drug business between Europe and America has constituted for the mafia not only an occasion of enormous profits, but also the occasion for a refined cultural and social emancipation, founded on the knowledge and the use of banking systems, commercial practices, transportation networks, foreign languages and so on. A same line of development takes place in the mafia involvement in the flows of public money intended for health, agriculture or public contracts. Also in these sectors the clans have acquired an extraordinary competence in weaving relations with the decisional centers of politics, of the Public Administrations or legal businesses. Some social strata, heretofore totally marginalized from the usual channels of political, social and economic development, have gained, through the exercise of violence, a prominence and a role otherwise inaccessible. The Mafiosi have reached objectives which would have been achieved through much slower and, probably, more selective paths in relation to the social structures involved. There has been no cooptation by the bourgeoisie, in the most part cautious and suspicious; the clans have simply subdued it, imposing their oppressive presence. In the South, there has been the explosion of substantial portions of subordinate classes, suddenly included in the network of beneficiaries of the new wealth, due to family ties or loyalties to bosses. To the clientele of the Southern political bourgeoisie, the mafias responded with the clans, the families; they had assimilated the method of the employment of power and applied it with extreme effectiveness and harshness.
The social metamorphosis which – starting from the poverty of the small Southern centers (from Corleone and San Luca) – and coming to the sharing of power with the local and national oligarchies, presents a trend of expansion which would be difficult to repeat in other scenarios.
Little by little, as the Mafioso organizations acquired a role of influence in the affairs of politics and the economy, substantial numbers of social groups recognized in the marfioso method, the ability to realize an efficient allocation of the resources and a rational distribution of power. The failure of the policies of economic support to the Mezzogiorno and the resulting inefficiency of the Public Administration have, for decades, channeled towards the mafia, the real consensus of significant segments of the population and of the Southern elite.
In many regions of the South, the clans, due to the ruthless operative efficiency by which they are known, have been able to set up a regulation system in which are confluent: the instances of protection of an entrepreneur unable to withstand the market competition; the necessities of levels of the population needy of economic assistance and of mediation with the governing classes; the anxiety of the political class to gain electoral consensus in the presence of a strong fragmentation of the representative party.
In this intermediate phase, or if we wish, pre-imperial phase, a real and proper mafia deregulation was effected, with the intention of cornering every source of wealth at the expense of any rule and with the daily sacrifice of legality. This abridgement is too eclectic and imprecise, but it serves to introduce the point of the discussion.
At the apogee of its vital cycle, the mafia constitutes, for all purposes, a “totalitarian system” analogous to the one usually used to described Nazism or Stalinism and, as such, acts as obsessive guardian of the status quo,and is refractory towards any innovation that can change the social order.
The conservative instinct forces the mafias to maintain a continual operation of restraint and contrast towards factors of modernization of the society and incites them against any innovation likely to unbalance the control. The Cupola (heads) of the Cosa Nostra or the summits of the ‘ndrangheta in Aspromonte, in the same way as in any other political or economic segment of the civil society, are no more than the instruments necessary for the control of the status quo; to celebrate the strength of the mafias and to reaffirm their invincibility.
According to the classical scheme individuated by Eric Hobsbawn and Terence Ranger, the mafias do not limit themselves to exercising a great authority, but have “invented a tradition”, which they can, in a certain sense, justify and perpetuate. The idea that in the hidden and intimate folds of the Southern society lurks a Mafioso sentiment – poised between rebelliousness and oppression that the mafia embodies and organizes – which is, to a great extent, the hard core of this tradition, invented from scratch by the clans and modeled on oaths, rites, ranks and ceremonies. The greatest error that was made in this scenario was that of confusing what appears to be mafia with the reality of the mafia, to convince oneself that the tradition was not cunningly invented and nurtured, but had its roots in an obscure, impenetrable “somewhere” in which one does not become a Mafioso, one is “born” a Mafioso.
So, suddenly, the fight against the clans loses its bellicose features, loses the dimension of the direct clash and suggests the idea that the defeat of the mafia demands a complete social regeneration, a profound change of the power structures tout court understood.
The ambiguous political immobility of the South is confused with mafia preservation, to the point where the vision of the one overlaps the other, constructing a single, imaginary block of power. This vision assumes the tones of an insurmountable condition and, therefore, absolute in any strategy of contrasting the mafia.
Sun Tsu said, several centuries ago, « remember: to win the battles and reach one’s military objectives is good, but to neglect to take advantage of the results, is a very negative fact, and can be defined “a disastrous negligence”». It is exactly what one part –and not always the most committed or courageous – of the anti-mafia front has done, tracing without a line of continuity, a strategic welding between mafia and power, which, instead, was only occasional and mostly instrumental.
The successes against the mafia have been lost due to a much more ample and ideological vision which, instead of aiming to dismantle the mafia, clan by clan, and ‘ndrina by ‘ndrina, now declares the necessity of changing the entire Southern society with the advent of a new cultural and political elite.
To tell the truth, it is not clear whether this error of focus was involuntarily suggested by the force of the “invented tradition” or else someone had slyly glimpsed, in the fight against the mafia and its first prospects of success in the 80’s, the way to overturn the controlling synergies which governed the South of Italy. However, the operation remains a «disastrous negligence»: rather than cut-off the lines of dialogue and understanding between mafia and power, they re-welded them, they fed the fear of judicial-political persecution; in this way, the anti-mafia became, all at once, the target of the mafia, together with a substantial part of the political and of irreprehensible intellectuals. A concentrated fire which, for a long period, was impossible to resist, and for some, impossible to survive.
It would be complex to explain the present state of equilibrium. The subtle game of mirrors in which the more militant and radical anti-mafia and the mafia continue to reflect. A game which, all in one, is political, psychological and cultural; it involves the role of the apparatus of repression of the mafia; their institutional weight, their moral suasion are able to exercise in political places and on public opinion, their professional advantages and an image connected to militancy.
Brutally, a reciprocal legitimization is at stake: only a strong and invincible mafia justifies an equally powerful and influential anti-mafia. As in the logic of opposing blocs, an ‘interminable’ cold war, at low intensity is preferred to a bloody conflict, but which might, perhaps be decisive.
In his most intimate and painful text, Carl Schmitt warned one to adopt caution in indicating one’s adversary, since «defining your enemy, you define yourself» (ex captivate salus, translated in Italian, 1987). Getting closer to the subject and reasoning over the practice of extortion and the means to fight it, Salvatore Lupo writes «From a practical point of view, it is evidently extremely complex to break this network of allegiance before the Police are able to lower the threshold of impunity. …. to change the diffused perception of the invincibility of this so-called ‘monstrous octopus’, an exaggerated perception; a fabrication of the mafia itself with the insensible support of the media and, in some cases, of the same adversaries of the mafia» (L’Unità of the 31st March, 2008).
If these were the evolutionary dynamics to thoroughly understand the reasons of the decline of the clans, it is necessary, without any reticence, to get rid of the alibi of a plundered and enslaved Southern Italy, of the ideological vision according to which the Southern population lives in an apparently democratic condition which hides a world dominated by the conspirator diarchy of mafia and the corrupt elite.
The “invented” tradition of the mafia, also supported by a myopic anti-mafia, has constructed a gigantic suggestion which has fuelled in the mafia itself, the conviction to act as an invincible occupational force. Thunderstruck by the successes of the blitzkrieg of the 80’s, the Mafioso power acted as if it could profit from an almost inexhaustible human, moral and economic resource. In reality, the disintegration of significant parts of the social fabric, the loss of any collective conscience, corroded the habitat which had allowed the Mafioso phenomenon to grow and consolidate. The social ecosystem could not support indefinitely the savage plundering, no longer carried out by small portion of delinquents, but with the collaboration of entire segments of the population, which profited from the decline of legality.
Let us just take the case of the illegal building and construction in the southern regions, with millions of square meters of houses constructed anywhere, in defiance of any town planning rules or of decorum, with the illegal occupation of public areas, green or coast zones. Population, mafia, politics and businesses have stipulated, through this pillage – started in the 70’s and continuing at a steady rate for two decades – an admirable social and criminal pact. The most underprivileged classes remedied their elementary housing needs; the legal businesses and those of the mafia constructed the buildings in the silence of the local public administrations which, in their turn, from this inertia obtained staunch electoral support.
The Mafioso control of the territory was the ideal instrument to consent that no one should see and no one should operate to stem the irremediable ruination of the South.
The refuse emergency in Campania could be cited once again: the collusive agreement between politics and camorra lasted for years with the devastation of thousands of hectares of land, rivers and hillsides. Also in this case, the connivance of the local populations who gained economic advantages or business clients was discovered, and the situation lasted until the total breakdown of the mechanism and the irreversible degradation of the environment.
«Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant», warned Tacitus. The mafia, like any imperial structure, tends to squander substantial economic, social and moral resources. The liquefaction of any perception of common good, the disposal of any legal and cultural snag able to hinder the will of dominion of the mafias could perpetuate itself to a condition in which the cycle of the criminal growth is unlimited.
However, the original moral and civil patrimony of the Southern populations represent, like the financial and environmental resources, a decisive factor for Mafioso escalation, for the constituting of a “vertical” power. In lands where significant portions of the population mature the conviction of a permanent impunity of the illegal actions and of a correlative ineffectiveness of the actions of the State, the clans operate with growing difficult. It is not by chance that in the environmental telephone interceptions done in Palermo, in 2007, the bosses complained of the effects of the recent pardon and fresh upsurge of the small neighbourhood delinquents who jeopardize their business and prestige.
The speakers in the interception are Giuseppe Bisesi and Giuseppe Libreri, a newly emerging 31 year old and the head of the Mafioso family of Termini Imerese: « There’s always been the problem of thieves, not only here - all over. Now with this pardon they’ve given …. we’re in a real mess. In Palermo there’s a situation: chemists, supermarkets that don’t feel secure at night. But, we can’t have this! It’s all going to hell».
The moment in which the Mafioso method is perceived as an effective system to influence the economy, the work place, the business or on politics, the holders of the privilege lose the monopoly of the force and lose the competitive advantage. Paradoxically, one cannot say that the bosses have not perceived the risks of a widespread degeneration of the social fabric. Like men of the institutions, of the church, sensible intellectuals and shrewd businessmen, also this singular and perverse category of “social operators” has weighed the difficulty of operating in a disaggregated and stripped community
It is significant that Bernardo Provenzano or Salvatore Lo Piccolo were seriously immersed in the literature of sacred texts, or in the editing of the Decalogue of the “perfect Mafioso”. The frequent findings in bosses’ hideouts, as in the abandoned houses of the affiliates, of pages bearing hand-written formulas of initiation, the continuation, in prison, of the rites of attributing the “ranks” among acolytes, are the evident signs of a criminal culture that does not want to withdraw and which, on the contrary, claims to represent a “vertical” cohesion factor for vast social strata. It is the image of Giuseppe Salvatore Riina, son of the head of Cosa Nostra, who, on the 28th February, 2008, as soon as he is released from prison, returns to Corleone to presents himself at the Carabiniere barracks to know the Commander and “to be known”. The emperor has his rituals and does not intend to renounce them for profound reasons which, intuitively, everyone understands.
The moral, economic and environmental desertification of the Mafioso enclaves has, therefore, been reached due to a combination of many factors and has generated a troubled social melting pot which has shaken the credibility of the governing classes, including that of the delinquent establishment. From this viewpoint, the crisis of trust that grips the mafia bosses has the same roots as that impatience which has affected the authoritativeness of the power elites of the South. With the difference that while politics are able, through options of electoral techniques, or simplifications of the decisional procedures, to launch a new phase in the administration of the common good, the mafias find themselves totally lacking in alternatives respecting the strategies of social governance which have been practiced so far. In abstract, to subjugate and inculcate terror, they could resort to all out violence, for example, perpetrating sensational massacres, but the mafia, like the waning regimes of the East, knows that it no longer has any political legitimization to resort to force. In the same way as the Vopos did not open fire on the young people who were smashing the Berlin Wall, so the revolt of the shopkeepers and businesses of Palermo will not suffer any vendettas. Also the social groups who cooperated with the mafia will find the use of indiscriminate violence intolerable and will further distance themselves from the organizations.
The last chance of the mafia is a blind alley. In their impotence to use their own military arsenal, they are condemned to witness the imperium they conquered in the communities of Southern Italy dissolve into nothing.
The alteration inflicted on the Southern society has produced a social fabric poised between metastasis and regeneration. Certain unascertained factors have cracked and broken the mafia hegemony: the cessation, even in the most backward social groups, of the blind allegiance and omertà has isolated the boss, now subject of anonymous divulgations, of social envy, of impatience of wealth seen as unjust. The hope among the businesses of a growth supported by technological innovations and by quality of production, instead of scarce and infected public hand-outs; the drastic contraction of State money transfers due to the policy of budget containment; the collapse of credibility of the feudalism policy has induced the social classes that had participated in the pact of representation in favour of the mafia, to decide that the mechanism has become too costly and inefficient. The regulatory function of the clans is perceived as a dysfunction: a clutter of rules which had become incapable of reallocating the resources and to construct effective mediation in the social and economic competition, and useful only to increase the power and wealth of the bosses and their sycophants.
Naturally, like all complex organizations, also the mafias do not omit to put into effect policies to counteract the decline they perceive. To commit itself to a soft power with the contraction of the exercised violence and, for example, with the containment of the extortion racket, all indicate a yielding attitude, inclined to accept a role of influence in place of the hegemony exercised up to now. A bloody and dangerous lobby, but relegated to a marginal role in a society which does not give it decisional prestige and sees no shared projects.
The idea of an “invisible mafia” is not convincing: inclined to resort, in this phase of history, to a strategy of camouflage and submergence. This option contradicts the social and normative evidence of the mafia which, to exist as a power, necessitates continual visibility and recognizability. It is the same Art. 416-bis which – evoking the canon of omertà, of subjugation, of the mafias that claim a real and proper “social denomination” – impedes the view of the withdrawal of the social visibility of the mafia as a free option of the clans. The fugitives have ceased, for more than a decade, to calmly walk around the districts and towns. The photographic sequences of arrests and hideouts show threadbare situations, at the limit of squalid collapse, without dignity, openings between the rocks, underground bunkers, manholes, ruined country houses, wall cavities with a camp bed and pieces of food. What has all this to do with the imperial dimension, with the triumphant image of Totò Riini who, in 1993, drove around the streets of Palermo?
The battle will still be long, but as J. Fallows hoped, with reference to Al Qaeda, it is the time of «declaring victory» and also for us to report the failure of the Mafioso project.