“Italian? Pizza, Mandolin, Mafia!”: Over the years this ugly chorus has become the background hymn sung around the world when talking about Italians. Like a sick, engorged parasite, the tarnished tarantella made of galvanized clichés has accompanied the reputation of an entire nation in the eyes of the world, despite the artistic, scientific and economic achievements of so many illustrious fellow-nationals. Particularly the last part: “Italians! Mafiosi!” For a long time, the reaction to this prejudice was adamant denial: no, the Mafia does not exist, the Mafia is just an exaggeration, a story pumped by cinema, a ghost, only a fairy tale, the result of envy for Italians. And so, the phenomenon of the Mafia often hid behind a romanticized shield. The same macabre protagonists have the magic ability to take on a mythical aura — at times painted as defenders of the weak, knightly champions of the people, filling the vacuum left by the absence of the state, but forgetting to include the high price levied by the perpetrators in the formula and conveniently stripped of the shocking violence upon violence the organization dealt out. For some time, a stretch that today seems like a prolonged and extended amnesia, the very word Mafia could not be spoken and therefore could not be recognized. The few details that escaped and were brought to light seemed to read almost like Morse code, practically incomprehensible for the vast majority of the public. Mafia was a foreign concept, denied and tossed aside without reflection.

Then, at a certain point in the midst of this silence, a massive chasm opened, like beastly jaws. A faint voice against the Mafia began to emerge in the 60s and 70s: though the battle was a barely audible rumble, a small lighthouse appeared in the darkness of libel, of homage, of connivance. It was in those years that the expropriation of Mafia property was proposed, spelled out in the new anti-mafia law known as the “Sicilian Manifesto”. Measures that were, however, only to be acted on in 1982, after the assassination of General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa. But it was one step closer towards the awareness that the Mafia exists…exists, but is not invincible. The Mafia could be countered, fought, defeated. The struggle was hard and dangerous: son and grandson of a powerful Mafioso clan, Giuseppe Impastato, was well aware of the danger. It was because of his courageous outcry that he became a sacrificial victim, assassinated May 9, 1978. Before his murder, he was ever more isolated by his peers, his actions — such as the mobilization of students, farmers and workers in the Cinisi area, a crossroads of international drug trafficking under the control of the Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti — signed his death sentence. In 1977, the Sicilian Center of Documentation (Centro Siciliano di Documentazione) was born, and in 1980 it was dedicated to Impastato, for his strength, the foresight of his actions and unique approach to human affairs. He stood tall as the only fallen angel of a Mafia family.

With the veil of secrecy ripped, wounds opened and blood began to flow: in the early 1980s, an impressive sinister series of crimes wielded stunning casualties, such as that of General Dalla Chiesa, the Sicilian Regional President Santi Mattarella and regional secretary of the PCI (Italian Communist Party) Pio La Torre. The playlist of martyrs grew longer day by day, but if Cosa Nostra’s intention was to gag their enemies and restore the stagnant silence they were accustomed to, they were grossly mistaken: those innocent dead become true witnesses, their stories became a megaphone for reaction, commitment and a determination for legality no longer attributable to docile acceptance.

More and more protests, with thousands of people at a time, filled the streets and squares. Centers and associations were formed, including the Sicilian Women’s Association for the Fight against the Mafia (l’Associazione delle Donne Siciliane per la Lotta Contro la Mafia), which in 1984, supported by the Impasto Center, gave life to the first Anti-Mafia Coordination, in an attempt to unite forces. Treading the anti-Mafia road certainly was not, and cannot ever be, an easy one. Fatal road accidents were numerous, as were obstacles: in Palermo, even after the assassination of Libero Grassi, who openly opposed extortionists, entrepreneurs and shopkeepers victim to Mafia bribes could not be rallied to unite and form an association.

It was only in 1980 that the anti-mafia pool was formed, finally opening the door for a series of blows to Cosa Nostra, through so-called Maxi Trial (Maxiproccesso) and, above all, through harsh sentences, disrupting the crime syndicate’s power system and bringing an end to the long-running regime of terror conducted by ruthless bosses like Totò Riina and Bernardo Provenzano. The anti-mafia pool and Maxi Trial are masterpieces of State Magistrate Giovanni Falcone and mark a turning point in the battle against the Mafia. Together with Judge and Prosecuting Magistrate Paolo Borsellino, they threw open the doors and burnt an indelible page in history. Both of them were born in Palermo in 1939 and 1940 respectively, and both Falcone and Borsellino came from the Kalsa neighborhood. As teenagers they played soccer together, and to-be Mafia heads were likely amongst their playmates. The Maxi Trial of Palermo opened on 10 February 1986 and closed on 30 January 1992. There were 475 people on the bench. The trial ended with 19 detentions and subsequent prison sentences — for a sum total of 2,665 years of imprisonment. Almost all of the sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court after appeals.

Neither Falcone nor Borsellino could be saved by the verdict, though. The first was brutally killed together with his wife Francesca Morvillo and three police escorts — Antonio Montinaro, Rocco Di Cillo and Vito Schifani — 25 years ago on May 23, 1992, when 500 kilograms of TNT exploded on the A29 motorway bridge in Capaci, Sicily, as they were driving towards Palermo. The massacre was ordered by Riina. Shortly after, Borsellino was assassinated together with five police escorts — Emanuela Loi, Agostino Catalano, Vincenzo Li Muli, Walter Eddie Cosina and Claudio Traina — when a bomb placed in his Fiat 126 was detonated under the mother’s home on via d’Amelio. The Mafia could only reach for the most cowardly means to stop the two Sicilian judges, giants in their time. But the result of those massacres was a backlash for the crime syndicate — public opinion recoiled, growing indignation and demonstrations crying for law and order reached a high point. On national level, the Ministry of Public Education issued an act in October 1993, to develop anti-racket initiatives in Sicilian schools. Other southern regions followed their lead. In 1995, an association dedicated to the fight against organized crime called Libera (Freedom), was founded by Italian Priest Don Pio Luigi Ciotti and soon had hundreds of members. Among its most significant initiatives was canvasing one million signatures for a law to confiscate Mafia properties, approved January 1996 (Law 109). The law streamlined procedures for the seizure and confiscation of assets and to this day provides for their use by cooperatives and voluntary associations. Thanks to the courage and sacrifice of people like Giuseppe (Peppino) Impastato, Generale Dalla Chiesa, Don Pino Puglisi, Mauro Rostagno, Pippo Fava, the tides have changed forever: the Mafia is now exposed, a naked monster, Italians face their ghosts day after day, eyes wide open, no longer blinded by fear.

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