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GNOSIS 2/2008
Cosa Nostra wanes
Palermo rises again


In this article the author describes, in a terse language, effective and extremely truthful, the Palermo of today, a city more beautiful and uglier, more free and certainly a ‘changed Palermo’, In fact, in a few lines, the reader is shown the new face of Palermo, still imprisoned by the skeletons of the past, but now permeated with an irrepressible desire for change.

It seemed unchanging, suspended there at the foot of Italy. Exotic, distant, arabesque with its orange coloured domes, the palms, the scent of jasmine. It seemed, indeed, faraway. Instead, little by little, time is dissolving differences and distances. It is less obscure, less impenetrable, as if it had lost that mystery which had always made it appear so different. It is more Italian, as if someone or something had finally drawn it closer to the rest of the Country. In a certain sense, to have been “cleared through customs”.
Palermo is no longer the Palermo that became a “black hole” in our Democracy. After the massacres of 1992, it has taken a road towards a normality never known before. It is more beautiful and, at the same time, uglier. It is more liberated, and, perhaps, a little less fascinating. Palermo has changed. Also the criminality that has marked its destiny for over two centuries has changed. In Palermo, there is less “wish for the mafia” and there is less mafia.

photo Ansa
The last fifteen years have been decisive in releasing it from the prison in which it was confined. Years of little “noise” – at a first glance, colourless – but in reality, determinant for the beginning of what could be a great turning point.
A Palermo in transformation and a mafia in disarray, as never before, not even in 1963, when – after the terrible year of the Giuliette(s) of the TNT, in the war between the Greco(s) and the La Barbera(s) – many of its bosses emigrated to the Americas. Some of them even dissolved the “families”. For those who call themselves ‘men of honour’, it is even worse today. All the Godfathers of the massacres are in prison, entombed under life sentences; (the Corleonese, TotÚ Riini and Bernardo Provenzano, Pietro Aglieri of the Guadagna, the Graviano of Brancaccio brothers, the Madonia(s) of Resuttana; the only fugitive still at large is the Trapanese, Matteo Messina Denaro). Cosa Nostra is a tribe in disintegration that – more than in search of a guide – seems more in search of itself, its future and its survival.
The signals we receive from the Press every day are rather clear: of a world, inexorably, nearing a break-up. This time, Cosa Nostra is not just changing its skin or dress: it is its DNA that has altered.
From the “presence” and from the power of the old Godfathers of the “happy” years of the 60’s, who reigned over a Sicily suffocated by silence, the Decalogue of the Lo Piccolo(s) of San Lorenzo came – after the Corleonese era – those, who in 2008, were elevated to the rank of the new bosses of the great Sicilian criminality: father and son who carried over from their fugitive hideouts, a perfect Mafioso manual. A kind of ‘hand-book’: a list of the rules to be observed by the ‘men of honour’: a generational leap and a leap into nothingness. A sign of the times: that of decadence and their ruin.
The Cosa Nostra is in a serious economic crisis (a recent investigation on drug traffic managed by the ‘ndrangheta showed that the ‘men of honour’ of the Porta Nuova “family” – in the 80’s, one of the richest and most influential of Palermo – did not have the money to purchase even a rubber boat to transport a small consignment of drugs). It is also, perhaps above all, in crisis of vocations. There is no longer a queue to enter the
Cosa Nostra. It no longer creates status as once it did. If, at one time, five, ten or even twenty years of “observation” were necessary to choose a new affiliate, today the doors of the organization are open to drug peddlers scraped up and recruited from among the thieves of Brancaccio.
Is this to be considered the signal of the beginning of the end of a secret association thought to be the most powerful criminal organization of the West? The most careful experts sustain that Cosa Nostra is destined to become one of the many “mafias”.
Its fall began with the delusion of supremacy of TotÚ Riina and the Corleonese. The massacres. The attack on the Institutions. The mad folly in the idea of submitting the Italian State to the will of a group of “peasants” raised in the shadow of Rocca Busambra. TotÚ Riini was the man who conducted the Sicilian mafiososi into a blind alley.
“The toy is broken”, the bosses confess between themselves, remembering the “errors” of ten years before, the season of the bombs; the killing of Giovanni Falcone; the death of Paolo Borsellino. The stratagem strategy announces * their defeat. Police repression becomes extremely violent. For the first time, no longer on the wave of an “emergency”; no longer in alternating currents as occurred years before when the State “uncovered” the mafia, always and only after a perfect crime in Palermo.
The Sicilian mafia is seriously ill, both inside and outside: it no longer has the outside hold that it had ten or twenty years ago. Palermo wants to breathe.
One morning in June, 2004, it awoke to find all its walls covered with posters which read: “A people that pay protection money are a people without dignity”. It appears to have been a “provocative gesture” by the youth of Palermo. After four years, “Goodbye Protection Money” – the association which had covered Palermo with those posters – can count on the adhesion of almost three hundred, among trades people and businessmen, who have publicly said no to the Anonymous Extortions. And there are almost ten thousand inhabitants of Palermo who support them as consumers.
They no longer buy coffee from the coffee stores of the bosses, the ‘cannoli’ from the pastry shops of the bosses, or the meat from the butchers of the bosses. A revolution for Palermo. A city subdivided in poor peripheral quarters and precincts, where everyone was accustomed to paying without a word of protest. They call it in Sicily “putting oneself right”. When a tradesman opened his shop and after a few days had not received the demand for protection money, he hurried to a nearby shopkeeper to ask “who can I put myself right with?”
And after the young people’s “Goodbye Protection Money”, the rebellion of the Sicilian industry occurs. The revolt of entrepreneurs of the Island in 2007 – altogether – to change the rules: to submit, no longer, to blackmail. In November of last year, all of them met together at the Biondo Theatre of Palermo. They were in thousands. Also in January of 2005, they had tried to reckon their number. However, the Biondo Theatre remained empty. Three years have passed. In Palermo they have seemed three centuries.
It is a “war” that Sicily and Italy still fight and, finally, one glimpses an end. If the States continues as it started, the Sicilian Cosa Nostra could be transformed – as has already come about in the United States during the last ten years – into a criminal organization devoted to illegal activities (and then, perhaps, becoming legal), but without a “political project”, without the aspiration of controlling territories. Maybe the future bosses will come to the same end as the “dons” of Brooklyn, only caricatures of the old time Godfathers.
The sons of the Sicilian bosses are already trying to become future bosses. The only male child of TotÚ Riini will be a “person kept under high security surveillance” for life; the male children of Inzerillo have been stopped before they could begin their climb.
The idols have fallen. The first among all of them, those convinced of their own invincibility. Probably, in the coming years, only fear and uncertainty will remain for the heirs of the ‘men of honour’.