Italian Politics and the Sicilian Mafia: An Account from 1983 to Present

By Nico G. Sciasci
2010, Vol. 2 No. 09 | pg. 1/1

Many know the Island of Sicily as a warm, sun-filled exotic paradise that became home to travelers from distant lands. This paese di sole or land of sun, not only assisted in growing abundant amounts of lemons, cactus fruit and almonds, but rather something mysterious, secret and somewhat intoxicating. A force so strong that even academics today are baffled by a society that has planted its roots deeper than the palm trees of Palermo, which has survived the greatest of wars and the upmost of inadequacies in both the public and political spheres. With its thirst for power and honor, which fights unforgivably for what is theirs,  “Our Thing” or as we better know it, “ la Cosa Nostra”.

With the lack of a stable government and an inadequate public service system, one can only imagine why the Cosa Nostra was created. For thousands of years, the island was torn apart by Greek, Arab and Roman invaders, to name a few, who destroyed the land that was known as the “Tear of God.” Their barbaric methods and oppressive control pushed the Sicilians to fight back, reclaiming their land. Up until Italian Unification, Sicilians closely guarded the island in fear of losing it again. From this moment onwards Sicily would be changed forever.

In Sicily, the Cosa Nostra once were words unheard, but today these two words represent the ugliness and backwardness of Sicilian society. Younger generations no longer want to hear of “Our Thing”, but instead continuously talk about how it is actually “Cosa Loro” meaning “their thing.”

With rough times finally passing after the Anni di Piombo [Years of Lead], a period of extreme right and left wing terrorism in Italy during the 1970s and early 1980s and hard economic recession, the late 1980s gave hope to not only many Italians but first and foremost to Sicilians. Willing to move on from dark decades, Sicilians truly wanted to better themselves but could not because of mafia wars. Blood was being shed unmercifully across the volcanic island as bosses from Palermo were vying for power.

The Sicilian Issue

The early 1980s in Sicily were met with the Second Mafia War as the Corleonese boss Salvatore Riina decimated other Mafia families. This war resulted in hundreds of murders including high profile ones such as the murder of Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, the head of the counter-terrorism team that arrested Red Brigades founders in 1974. In Palermo on July 29, 1983, Rocco Chinnici, judge and Antimafia Pool leader, was blown up with his two bodyguards on his street. Assassin Pino Greco was the one that pulled the trigger on the bomb that was ordered by his uncle, the well-known Mafioso Michele “il Papa” Greco.  After their deaths, the Italian state quickly tried to contain the Mafia and tried to figure out its codes.

Sicilians prayed that the worst was finally over, but on February 10, 1986 the Maxi Trials took place. These criminal trials managed to convict 474 Mafiosi while another 119 remand on the run, including Salvatore Riina. Antimafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino indicted 459 of the alleged Mafia members, but quickly their victories against the Mafia would unknowingly then cost them their lives. In 1992, La Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, declared war against the state of Italy with a series of high-profile murders and bomb attacks on the Italian mainland.1

On May 23, 1992, the Italian magistrate Falcone was killed with his wife and three bodyguards on the motorway from the Palermo Airport at Punta Raisi to Palermo near the town of Capaci. This gruesome murder was organized by Salvatore “Totò” Riina in revenge for Falcone’s conviction of mobsters. His death caused simultaneously nationwide outrage and panic as people of all nationalities heard about the loss of a “man of honor.” The Italian state remained shocked as state television reported the heartbreaking event. Falcone’s partner and newly appointed lead magistrate of the team against the Mafia, Paolo Borsellino stated during his speech at Falcone’s funeral on May 25, 1992:

The fight against mafia, which is the first problem to solve in our unfortunate and beautiful land, must be not only a cold repressive action, but a moral and cultural movement, involving everyone, especially younger generations, the most fit to feel the beauty of the fresh taste of freedom that sweeps away the foulness of moral compromise, of indifference, of contiguity and, hence, of complicity.2

Paolo Borsellino knew he was next to go after the lost of his dear friend. He publicly made a speech saying: “They will kill me, but it will not be a mafia’s revenge, mafia do not use revenge. Maybe mafia will materially kill me, but who actually will order my murder will be ‘others’.”3 Less than two months after the death of Falcone, on July 19, 1992, Borsellino was killed by a car bomb on Via D’Amelio in Palermo’s city center while visiting his mother, after have eaten lunch with his wife and children in Villagrazia.4

With the lost of Italy’s top two magistrates that legally waged war against the Sicilian Mafia, many Sicilians started to take matters into their own hands, especially women. “The Bed Sheet Commission of Palermo”(Il Comitato dei Lenzuoli di Palermo), were a group of women in the city of Palermo, who printed the faces of Falcone and Borsellino on their bed sheets along with the saying: “Non li avete uccisi: Le loro idee camminano sulle nostre gambe”, [You have not killed them: Their ideas walk on our legs.] All over Palermo these sheets were hanging from the balconies of most apartment buildings. They transmitted the sentiment that the Mafia was not a liked organization and that the people would fight back and no longer stand for such a backward and oppressive society.5

Berlusconi: Corruption and the Mafia Connection - 1993-2004

On January 26, 1994, Silvio Berlusconi a political outsider, business tycoon who owned and continues to own Fininvest, one of the top ten privately owned companies in Italy, Mediolanum, Mediaset, the soccer club A.C. Milan, the largest Italian publishing house Mondadori and centre right wing newspapers such as Il Giornale, announced his decision to enter the field of politics.

His rise was made possible due to the political crisis known as Mani Pulite [Clean Hand]. The latter scandals cam to the fore when a nationwide Italian judicial investigation into political corruption and crimes committed occurred by industry leaders.  Nonetheless knowing that his businesses may be investigated, Berlusconi created the Forza Italia [Go Italy] party that was a right wing political party that made strong alliances with Lega Nord [Northern League], Polo delle Libertà [Poles of Liberty] and the Alleanza Nazionale [National Alliance] parties.

The Lega Nord is a strong right wing northern Italian district party founded in 1991. Led currently by Umberto Bossi, it is a federation of several regional parties of Northern and Central Italy who advocate succession from the state of Italy due to their common idea that its southern regions steal all the money from the North. Their hatred for these southern regions comes from the failure of La Cassa per il Mezzogiorno- a fund created for the South in the 1950s to stimulate economic growth and development for Sicily, Sardegna, Calabria, Molise, Puglia and Basilicata. Due to corruption in the Italian government, money was appropriated neither efficiently nor honestly which led to a complete halt of the project, inevitably keeping the South from economically growing like the rest of the regions in Italy. Since the South was originally made up of different latifundia [agricultural estates], it never really went through the industrialization that the central and northern regions experienced. In order to start an industrial revolution in the South, the government created the fund to speed up the process and to create more jobs.

The party Polo delle Libertà [Pole of Freedoms] was a center-right electoral coalition created by Silvio Berlusconi in 1994. At first, only in Northern Italy, it quickly expanded to the south with the creation of the Pole of Good Government. The Alleanza Nazionale or National Alliance is a post-fascist political party currently led by Gianfranco Fini whom is also the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. Before the National Alliance existed, Fini was secretary of the Movimento Sociale Italiano [Italian Social Movement Party] until it dissolved in 1995. It was founded after World War II in the light that the right wing would continue to rule the government. With a neo-fascist ideology, Berlusconi won the elections three months after he created his Forza Italia party in March 1994. He launched one of the greatest electoral campaigns in modern history with numerous advertisements on his three TV networks. He subsequently won the elections with Forza Italia garnering 21 percent of the popular vote, the highest percentage of any single party.6

In December 1994 his coalition collapsed after Umberto Bossi left the coalition due to Berlusconi being investigated by Milan magistrates for allegedly having connections to the Mafia. However this was not the sole reason for the collapse of the governing coalition. It could be argued that it collapsed because of a contradiction within, the Northern League was fluctuating between federalist and separatist positions and the National Alliance did not renounce neo-fascism at the time.

 During the time period between 1994-2008 Berlusconi has had twenty-two criminal allegations against him. Five of the twenty-two were dropped trials that consisted of bribery of judges, bribe to Bettino Craxi, Lentini affair of false accounting, these three crimes were dropped due to time limits7, Propaganda 2 Masonic lodge trial of false testimony and the Macherio estates false accounting trial, in both trials amnesty applied due to the 1992 fiscal remission law there for no time was served by the Prime Minister. Eight crimes were acquitted. These eight consisted of, false accounting on All Iberian 2 and Sme-Ariosto 2 that were acquitted since Berlusconi passed a law on false accounting that covered him8. The other acquittals included bribery of the Guardia di Finanza, bribes to judges, false accounting of a Cinema company.

That said Berlusconi was acquitted since he was too rich to be aware of such small amounts, embezzlement, tax evasion and false accounting of the Macherio estates and of television rights. Seven trials that have been archived are: False accounting and embezzlement of Fininvest, false accounting of Consolidato Fininvest, Agreement on division of publicity between Rai and Fininvest television, drug trafficking, tax bribery on the Pay-TV, collusion into the 1992-1993 slaughters, and Mafia collusion and money laundering with Marcello Dell’Utri, his connections to many Mafiosi such as Vittorio Mangano, a life sentence gangster who worked many years for Berlusconi at his villa in Milan, whom was introduced by Marcello Dell’Utri, co-founder of Forza Italia who allegedly has an “external association to the Mafia.” Dell’Utri, now a senator in the Italian Senate in the Pdl [Popolo delle Libertà], has been sentenced to over ten years in jail since 1999, but still has never served jail time. According to Antonio Giuffrè, pentito, told authorities that “Dell’Utri was very close to the Cosa Nostra and a very good contact point for Berlusconi.”9  Ongoing trials include bribe to British lawyer David Mills, and corruption of senators of the Prodi government camp.

Whether or not the allegation about Mafia collusion is true, there has been much talk about whether or not Italy’s current Prime Minister is truly a friend of the Cosa Nostra. After the deaths of Falcone and Borsellino, Forza Italia was created and within months Berlusconi won the elections. With the endless scandals and laws being broken, one could only think that he would have connections with the Mafia.

The Mafia War Against Italy

Regardless of what was happening in Rome, other things were boiling down south at the same time. In January 1993, the Cosa Nostra’s “bosses of bosses”, Salvatore “Totò” Riina was captured. With his capture came the mafia’s campaign of terrorism. Tourist spots such as Via Palestro in Milan, Via dei Georgofili in Florence, as well as Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano and Via San Teodoro in Rome, were attacked. These attacks left 10 dead and close to 100 injured. Additionally, these attacks severely damaged cultural sites such as the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, with the loss of precious artwork and the collapse of the Torre dei Pulci in Florence.

This is when the Vatican raised its voice by condemning the mafia, which led to churches being bombed such as the San Giorgio al Velabro in Rome. In addition anti-mafia priests, such as Fr. Giuseppe Puglisi were killed. After the death of Fr. Giuseppe Puglisi, pastor of San Gaetano Parish in Brancaccio, a section of the city of Palermo, who was murdered in front of his home because of his involvment in organizing its inhabitants to resist the Mafia’s influence, the Vatican made no effort to fight back. In fact Pope John Paul II did not even travel to Palermo for the funeral of the pastor.

After these terrorist acts, new leadership of the mafia began under Bernardo “Binnù” Provenzano began. The mafia commenced its campaign of “quietness”, better known as pax Mafiosi. The pax Mafiosi that literally translates into “peace between the Mafiosi”, was established rightfully in order to return the mafia to the secret society it used to be before Riina waged war against the State of Italy.

During this time, the mafia grew to be so well known that their own publicity began to hurt them tremendously. The mafia began to slowly regain the power it had previously held under Riina’s leadership. Provenzano ran the mafia in a different way, a way that was simultaneously more vicious but less bloody. One of his strategies was to halt the murder of state officials, as well as informants and their families. His rationale was the following: to turn the “pentito” [informant], against the state by retracting their testimonies. Under his control a common support fund was re-established for Mafiosi that were imprisoned. After forty-three years on the run, Bernardo Provenzano was arrested after being found in an old run down farmhouse nearby Corleone on April 11, 2006.[10]

New Faces of the Sicilian Mafia

The capture of Provenzano led to the search of the new face of the Cosa Nostra, one of the “young turks” within the Sicilian Mafia, whom wanted to get rid of Provenzano in 1998, according to the pentita Giusy Vitale, sister of Mafia boss Leonardo Vitale of Partinico. Although this theory of being the new boss has not been confirmed, allegedly Provenzano nominated Messina Denaro on one of his “pizzini” or little slips of paper used to communicate amongst Mafiosi in order to avoid phone conversations.

With the end of Provenzano’s reign over the Cosa Nostra and alleged leadership under Messino Denaro, may have brought the demise of the Pax Mafiosi. When the police busted into the Sicilian countryside house and arrested Provenzano, the “boss of all bosses” turned to them and said, “You have no idea what you’ve done.” Since his plan was to unite the Cosa Nostra and bring balance to the organization, his arrest could only bring uncertainty and inevitably unrest amongst Mafiosi, specifically Matteo Messina Denaro and Salvatore Lo Piccolo.

Matteo Messina Denaro better known amongst other Mafiosi as “Alessio”, was born into a mafia family in the town of Castelvetrano, Province of Trapani. After the death of his father in 1998, Matteo became capo mandamento or leader of the region of Castelvetrano and the neighboring cities, and then finally of Trapani and the whole Trapanese region in 2001.11 He currently commands 900 men of honor and reorganized the twenty Mafia families of Trapani into one big one that is separate from the rest of Cosa Nostra. The Trapanese Mafia is considered to be the solid pedestal or zoccolo duro of the Cosa Nostra and the second most powerful in Sicily after the families of Palermo. 

The Anti-Mafia Movement

After the deaths of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the Anti-Mafia movement became stronger and united. Organizations such as Libera: Associazioni, Nomi E Numeri Contro le Mafie [Libera: Associations, Names and Numbers Against all the Mafia] became one of the largest anti-mafia organizations in Italy. Their goal is to sell products that are traditionally from Sicily, without having the mafia’s hands all over them.12

La lotto contro la mafia [Fight against the Mafia] has been a tough one, especially when the government does not fight together with the people. In Sicily the revolt against the Mafia seems to be loosing its thrive. After Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and the National Alliance took the majority of directly elected seats and proportional ones. The anti-Mafia party, La Rete, lost all of its support and was no longer represented.

On June 29, 2004, the Comitato AddioPizzo [Goodbye Pizzo] was created in Palermo. Their movement began while a few friends were talking about opening up a bar in the city and one of them said, “And what if they ask us for the pizzo?”13 The next morning the city of Palermo woke up to streets, signs and stands covered in stickers with the saying “Un Intero Popolo Che Paga Il Pizzo è Un Popolo Senza Dignità” [An entire people who pay the pizzo are people without dignity].14

Although there has been an emergence of Anti-Mafia groups such as AddioPizzo and Libera for example, the truth of the fact is, is that in order to fight against the Mafia, the people need to be united. With unity anything can be accomplished, and if the government assisted the people in need, who have to battle daily and breath mafia, then this secretive organization would be no longer. For such an old organization such as the Mafia, the anti-Mafia movement is so new and underdeveloped.

In a country such as Italy, with such a chaotic history, the government has failed its people. From the 1980s when they created the first Anti-Mafia commission under General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, to the assassinations of Falcone and Borsellino, all people that died for this country in order to make it a place of equal opportunity and to save it from such a backwards and oppressed society. Unfortunately, the government has not taken its proper revenge against these gangsters and criminals that end upon end bring disgrace and defame Italian culture and life, not only within the country but internationally.

Instead of hatred amongst each other politically speaking, Italy needs to work together towards unity, in order to battle and defeat for good the Cosa Nostra and the other Italian Mafia.

[1] Strage di Capaci. Capaci, Sicily May 23, 1992.

2.) Paolo Borsellino. State Funeral of Giovanni Falcone. May 25, 1992

3.) Paolo Borsellino. Italian National TV. June 9, 1992

4.) Via D’Amelio, Palermo Italy. July 19, 1992.

5.) Comitato Dei Lenzuoli-Palermo, 23 May 1993.

6.) "Elezioni della Camera dei Deputati del 27 Marzo 1994,

7.) According to Italian law, the "statute of limitations" does not imply innocence but acquits the accused from any further legal proceeding; it may in fact indicate guilt if the statute of limitations is applied after conceding benefits for previous good conduct, since such benefits can only be granted after guilt is ascertained, as per: Corte di Cassazione, Sect. IV, Sentence no.5069, May 21, 1996

8.) All Iberian, Berlusconi acquitted. "False accounting is not a wrongdoing anymore"

9.) Mafia supergrass fingers Berlusconi by Philip Willan, The Observer, January 12, 2003

10.) Matteo Messina Denaro, L’Espresso, “Ecco il nuovo capo della Mafia”. June 23, 2006

11.) Relazione conclusive, Final report of the Antimafia Commission, presided by senator Roberto Centaro, January 2006

12.) Libera Movement.

13.) AddioPizzo, December 18, 2009.

14.) AddioPizzo, December 18, 2009.

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