Culture / Law / Politics

The Mafia – A European problem

Roberto Saviano (Wikimedia Commons / Flickr)

Roberto Saviano (Wikimedia Commons / Flickr)

“La mafia non è affatto invincibile. È un fatto umano e come tutti i fatti umani ha un inizio, e avrà anche una fine. Piuttosto bisogna rendersi conto che è un fenomeno terribilmente serio e molto grave e che si può vincere non pretendendo eroismo da inermi cittadini, ma impegnando in questa battaglia tutte le forze migliori delle istituzioni.” (Giovanni Falcone)

“The Mafia is not invincible. It is a human fact and like all human facts have a beginning, and will also have an end. Instead we must realize that it is a phenomenon deadly serious and very grave and that can be won not claiming heroism of unarmed citizens, but engaging in this battle all the best forces of the institutions.” (Giovanni Falcone) 

A Brief History of the most powerful criminal organization in Western Europe*

Cancer is a genetic disease that has infinite causes, but there is one accepted definition: cancer originates from a cellular proliferation, which is atypical, aimless and autonomous.
Similarly organized crime is a socio-economical disease that has infinite causes but, unlike cancer, it is not atypical, it is not aimless and it is not autonomous.
Above all it is not autonomous from money. And money, surely, doesn’t live in Corleone (Sicily).

I’m going to start with a story dating back to 1412. It is a legend about three Spanish knights: Osso, Mastrosso and Carcagnosso who fled from Spain for having committed a crime. They hid themselves in Favignana, a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, where they remained for 25 years and where they wrote the code of the “honorable society”.

One of them, Osso, founded Cosa Nostra in Sicily. The others: Mastrosso and Carcagnosso founded ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria and Camorra in Campania.

This is the myth of the foundation of the three Italian Mafias.

The crucial elements to understand any criminal organization are codes and rules.

By associating the Mafia to the “Bel Paese of pizza and mandolino” we commit a great mistake, because it turns to be a gift to the Mafia itself.

Nothing is indeed further from the old stereotype of “messy Italy” than the strict and rigorous structure of this particular organization. We cannot look at the mafia neither as a confused structure where different interests clash as in the streets of a market, nor as just a mere robbery or pick-pocketing.

Unfortunately it is not easy as it might seem.

It is interesting to know how an affiliate symbolically approaches to the organization.

In the language of ‘Ndrangheta, for example, normal citizens are all contrasts. Those who respect the organization or are not against it, are called honored contrasts, like for example some bankers or entrepreneurs in each part of Europe.

To become picciotto (the first degree of an affiliate), you have to go through an atavistic ritual: all members should be disposed in a room along an imaginary horseshoe (the reason for that form is still ignored), then the spearhead should read a long ritual at the end of which the “baptized” should sworn in taking upon himself full responsibility of being part of the honorable society.

The oath provides the basis of a terrible marriage, an eternal bond which can be dissolved only by death.

The code of honor, for a member of the organization, is more important than his own family: ‘ndranghetisti call themselves brothers of blood, meaning that they have chosen each other, whereas their own biological brothers are simply brothers of sin since their parents “have committed sin” in procreating them.

These stories seem to take us back in centuries, in an almost medieval past. But, on the contrary, the Italian mafias are the economic and financial vanguard of our continent. For instance, these criminal organizations realized 20 years before the European economies that it was profitable to invest in China.

It is this combination of past and future that makes them so strong: the Italian mafias are leaders in drug trafficking and their members are forbidden to smoke even a joint!

No vice is allowed: “No drugs, no fags in the honorable society“. That is the rule, not principle. We are talking about the rule of how to live, how to kill, how to betray, how to resolve a dispute. Discipline first.

Joe Pistone (alias Donnie Brasco), when he went undercover in the Bonanno’s family – one of the five most important mafia families in New York (the four others being the Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Lucchese) – reported one of the characteristics of the American branch: a certain loss of discipline which made the Mafiosi turn into simple street gangsters stealing money randomly.

This is the reason why American mafia, for many years, maintained contacts with Sicily. Sometimes the Italians were called to restore order in America.

Basically, the mafia in the U.S. is losing the essential combination of past and future. Their motto is “business for business” but without foresight and without rules.

Without rules there is no organization and, if there is no organization, it is the end.

Hierarchies in Italy are structured in a very rigorous way, unlike the society branches in the United States.

The so called tree of knowledge, which is found in a valley of Calabria, represents the hierarchy of ‘Ndrangheta: trunk, branch, twig, flower and leaf. The leaves that fall and rot on the ground represent the infamous traitors.

In the organization of ‘Ndrangheta we find first of all il Crimine (the dome), then there are i locali, which are nowadays everywhere in the world. I locali are organisms which federalize various ‘ndrine (clans and families), and eventually we find la società maggiore (the greater society) and la società minore (the minor society). Often those who constitute the latter do not even know the names of the members of the former!

The reason of this strict organization is clear: hierarchies are fundamental because they are the beginning of the rule.
In the history of the ‘Ndrangheta there is almost no repentance: perfect organization, absolutely faultless.

Discipline, code, rule, eventually Law.


In Europe (including the majority of Italy), these stories may look quite strange and above all distant, especially to those who have never heard of the mafia or have just watched some Hollywood movies, where everything seems reduced it to the bigoted Sicilian family of gangsters. It’s also interesting to underline that generally it is not cinema to reproduce the mafia’s world but it is exactly the opposite: it is the mafia’s world to imitate cinema and to use it in spite to create a public image of itself.

However nothing could be falser than the perception of these criminal organizations’ distance: their stories are not distant at all.

As a matter of fact, the highest degrees of la società maggiore have not been set up in a faraway southern village, but in Milan. Their financial and operative center is so the capital of one of Europe’s richest regions, Lombardy, which is also the region with the highest Mafia investments in the continent.

Moreover, not only the mafia has a finger in every economic pie but it is also quite involved in politics. Despite a systematic preaching anti-South it seems that also the Northern League is not very squeamish to those Southerners who make reference to ‘ndrine.

Sometimes it is also easier to give a hand to a South “with the face of mafia” with its impressive financial capacity than to another South represented by a magistrate blown into the air in Sicily with its family and its escort, or by a young activist stoned and then blown up with dynamite on the rails or also by a shopkeeper who refuses to pay il pizzo (the protection money).

Mafia could be described like a dictator with millions faces which has undermined the spirit and the quality of life in a large part of the Mezzogiorno, but it is above all a world’s phenomenon and as such it should be analyzed and fought.

Often hidden in their bunkers in the southern regions of Italy, the big ones, the bosses, decide the fate of this world, moving billions of Euros every day and it is in Europe that these bosses do their great business.

The new centers of mafia have become so strong that they want to disconnect themselves from the diktat of the southern branches of the organization and so there are the massacres in Duisburg where the local spearheads wanted to be “masters in their own land” or also the episodes in Lombardy, where a local boss, Compare Nuzzo, wanted to disconnect the Lombard organization from the Calabria one. The problem is that he had not reckoned with the so-called Mum, currently the dominant villages, and it is interesting to look at his story to understand the mafia mentality.

Compare Nuzzo soon understood that there was something wrong, because he had not been invited to a wedding ceremony and that, in the mafia language, means “You’re out of the family” and when you’re out of the family, you are out of life. It’s a rule.

Compare Nuzzo was killed near Milan in a bar.

For a language error of his murderers, Compare Nuzzo immediately recognized his executioner, arrived to do their duty directly from Calabria: to show that they were not from the South, the two killers asked in fact for something that a southern Italian would never ask for, a cappuccino chiaro (light cappuccino), but they got it wrong and said cappuccino bianco (white cappuccino).

Compare Nuzzo was killed because he wanted to be master in his own area but the Mum cannot permit this division, which will probably be the future of the mafia, but it is not for the moment.

In any case it is clear that the rule of power for power, business for business of the honorable society of Osso, Mastrosso and Carcagnosso works in Milan, Marseille, Frankfurt.

The clan “La Torre” today invests in Aberdeen, in Scotland, the most important Neapolitan clans are in Dortmund, Leipzig, East Germany, Francesco Schiavone “Cicciariello” was arrested in Poland, while doing business with the Polish and the Romanians, Vincenzo Mazzarella was arrested in Paris, while negotiating the traffic of diamonds with French and African criminals, not to speak of the great investments on the French southern coast or in Spain.

However I think it is useless to underline that Mafia is not an ethnic-territorial problem, the idea of symbolic logics works evidently in Europe: “I am a criminal so I have more power and more capacity. I’m not afraid of jail, I’m not afraid to die”.

That in the fiction of course, because this is not really a “rule of honor”, this is only an “Evangel of slaves”: the great minds of criminal powers command an army of ignorant, unhappy, imbeciles and above all masochists who, instead to search an honest job, prefer to be slaves and to die just remembered as slaves, slaves of these great minds who are also slaves: the bosses, often in their horrible small bunkers, are slaves of a terrifying logic of power.


The mafia wins before aiming the gun.

Criminal organizations win because they win contracts by offering the biggest discount and they are able to reduce costs because of all money they get from drug-trafficking and because they build with unsafe materials which ultimately cause the collapse of a school, just to make an example.

The Mafiosi win because they distribute food in supermarkets, because they distribute oil, because they manage the waste cycle.

The mafias have their catering market, a tiny fragment of their economy, which alone and just in Italy produces one billion every year!

They manage the traffic of human organs, but they do not kill children in Nepal or India – that is a problem of local crime –; they “just” manage their organs, bought by European or American people.

As well as this, they control the traffic of prostitution, also that of children, often in close contact with Eastern crime.

They manage the traffic of weapons all over the world but this does absolutely not mean that they are in favour of or against a dictator or a country. They are never for or against someone; they are only for themselves: business for business and it does not matter with whom they make profit from weapons’ trafficking and if that implies a massacre in any part of the world, well it is not their problem.

The Mafia is also in the illegal immigration field and sometimes we could also speak of “slave-trading” as in the case of African labourers who work 24h a day to pick tomatoes under a terrifying threat: slavery or starvation.

They have the traffic of counterfeited goods in close contact with the Chinese mafia: that is a dramatic hit to the European economy, above all to the French and Italian ones.

Last but not least they have the drug-trafficking. Just with cocaine, the three Italian Mafias earn €100 billion every year: there is no production comparable to that of the “white gold” in Europe.

Of course, all this money is often reinvested in regular economic circuits and it may not be wrong to affirm that the strength of the Mafia is in the legal money.

Pecunia non olet (money doesn’t smell), they used to say in ancient Rome. Well, perhaps it cannot be longer tolerated that, for example, the “neutral par excellence” country makes criminals’ lives much easier by allowing safe financial transactions for billions, making simultaneously difficult the work of judges against the illegal trafficking. I refer to the Swiss banking system, but it is possible to make millions of other examples.

It is sad that the European Union speaks about Mafia only when there are some massacres.

A sheet records the famous Italian anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, killed in 1992. The text says: "You didn't kill them: their ideas walk on our legs" (based on a quote by Falcone). (Wikimedia Commons)

A sheet records the famous Italian anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, killed in 1992. The text says: “You didn’t kill them: their ideas walk on our legs” (based on a quote by Falcone). (Wikimedia Commons)

Murders, massacres, are “simply” awful exceptions (too much, but exceptions in the world of criminal business): Mafia turns to murder “only” to punish someone or when the contrast has become too active, while the massacre is chosen when they want to “show their power”.
There are so many examples of contrasts too active from a young Sicilian as Peppino Impastato to a priest in Campania as Don Diana.
The murders of judges Falcone and Borsellino, instead, are part of strategy of the series of bombings, massacres and murders of 1992/93, carried out with a violence never seen before, intended to bring down the magistrates and the institutions, in a time when the Italian State went through a period of transition and uncertainty. Even the massacre in Duisburg can be placed in a perspective of “demonstration of power”.

Europe has lost the fight against organized crime before starting it, since the EU prefers to play the game of the three monkeys “no see, no hear, no speak”, the favorite game of mafias.

At any level we speak of “mafia”, it is often quite impossible to make a serious discussion on what could eventually be called the biggest internal problem of the European Union.

The fact is that Europe today is paying the highest price of the Mafia’s economic presence and on a social level Europe will understand that only when it will be too late.

The Mafia is like an octopus, which has tentacles everywhere: the mafias command the high finance, manage the world’s economy, it is infiltrated in the political world.

Nothing is more international and global than mafias.


Now, the problem is: how to defeat these criminal powers?

First of all, the mafia is defeated if each one of us does his own job well, from the shopkeeper who denounces the pizzo to the banker who refuses illegal money, from the honest politician to the entrepreneur who refuses to do business with the Mafia.

Secondly, fighting the Mafia means to provide the magistrates and the police with proper tools. If, for various historical reasons, the South of Italy gave birth to the “best men” of the Mafia, it is equally true that the South has also given birth to a strong system of Anti-Mafia with a solid local justice system. It is from this operating reality that it’s necessary to start to know and to fight this socio-economic disease.

The third, but most important, arm to defeat this incredible power is to talk about it. It may look silly but it is not. Roberto Saviano has been sentenced to death by the Camorra not because he wrote a book, but because this book became a best seller. This great success, however, is also a defense now, because the mafias come neither when there is so much attention, nor when the figure that attacks them is so strong.

Today the real problem is not the actual discovery of a piece of information, but its eventual massive diffusion.

Just an example to show this, Anna Politkovskaya began to be really dangerous for the Putin’s regime, when she made of Chechnya an international tragedy.

The criminal power is based on general information, stereotypes and on the old “everybody knows” but few people can actually fully grasp the true reality of this global phenomenon.

It is by breaking up the silence that we can defeat the mafia and this silence must be broken now in Europe: this is the only hope.

Unfortunately this crisis has accelerated and increased, in a tragic way, the mafia infiltration in our economies. European banks, as much as enterprises – needing liquidity –, wash even more willingly and much more massively mafia money. It is sad to admit that criminal organizations are, at the moment, the most willing “banks” for investments.

What is the purpose of organized crime? Deciding the future investment banks and allowing their men to advance in business, politics and finance. In a few words: to mortgage the future of Europe.

Well, the EU should stop now the favorite game of mafias and start to see, to hear and to speak.

Francesca Tortorella

NB.: Most of this article is inspired from the speeches and texts of the writer Roberto Saviano.

And here is a video: Roberto Saviano in “Vieni via con me” by Fabio Fazio and Roberto Saviano

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