Sergio vs the mob: Tackling Italy’s culture of organised crime

Crowds celebrate the capture of Italian gang boss Michele Zagaria in 2011.
Crowds celebrate the capture of Italian gang boss Michele Zagaria in 2011.

The fight against illegal organizations has always been paramount for every country, yet they still exist and operate within society. Should all political institutions and authorities have been poised to annihilating such organizations, then the fight would have already been over. Their presence somehow goes unheeded and their actions continue to perpetrate, sometimes even in broad daylight for everyone to see.

Italy’s recently appointed President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella has promised to work really hard against corruption and mafia as well, as it is the government’s priority to eradicate such evil from society. Mattarella clearly pointed out in his first speech to the Italian people that it is no longer acceptable for a modern country like Italy to have such a limiting issue with these organizations. It is limiting because they dramatically shrink resources from all ministries when energies and money could be spent otherwise. It turns out that the President happens to know such organizations very well, as his brother was murdered by Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia, in 1980. His family has always been politically engaged, starting from his father Bernardo who was a member of Democrazia Cristiana and also elected minister a few times. His brother Piersanti was also President of the Region of Sicily when he was tragically murdered by the mafia.

Mattarella has now the chance to fight harder – hopefully, illegal activities will decrease when the right reforms are passed. The question is also how the mafia came about and how hard it is to backfire it. The mafia has always been aiming at controlling the entirety of the territory and gaining more power within institutions and political bodies. However, it is not a simple task to tackle as it is not just about apprehending a single person or a group of individuals. It is more the eradication of a misbehavior from society.

The word omertà is recurrent when talking about illegal organizations. It is a code of silence people tend to abide by by not interfering with the actions of others and by silencing misconduct to the more isolated regions such as Sicily or areas in the south of Italy where traditionally there is more economic stagnation and it is easier for illegal activities to take place.

Interestingly enough, Italians speak of mafia families rather than groups or organizations, as it is often the case where mafia members are part of the same family, thus stressing the importance of blood bonds.

In regions where illegal activities are strong, many locals passively approve of their actions by not reporting any crime to the authorities – their criminal record is clean, yet they don’t do anything to stop it. It is therefore a much hard task for authorities to tackle, as the problem lies in the education of people, which takes time to build and a lot of effort from the entire community. Here in fact lies Mattarella’s promise – educating the young generations to believe that being witnesses and yet being silent is morally wrong. This has never been so important and the will to fight is stronger than ever.

There are different kinds of mafia operating in different regions – Cosa Nostra is one of the biggest branches and mainly operates in Sicily like the others, to other regions where historically there was no reported case of similar illegal activities, like in the north of Italy (although they have also spread to other areas). It also found fertile ground in New York as many Italians immigrated to the States in the early 1900s, thus starting their own business and, at times, illicit activities as well. ‘ndrangheta operates in Calabria and has become very powerful through kidnaps of politically selected people and subsequently through drugs smuggling. Camorra is in Campania, especially in Naples, and it deals with drugs smuggling and money laundry. Lastly, there is Sacra Corona Unita, which takes care of Puglia, although its activities has been decreasing in the past few years.

Corruption needs to be stopped – Italy is unfortunately well known for its culture of crime. Education in the young generations is paramount, and so is the need to create a political class poised to seriously fighting corruption and not embracing it when there is a chance to gain more power and earn more money as well. The years to come will tell us whether this promise, among others, is still a priority.


Luca Trovò is an English-Italian freelance translator in London. He has a BA in Foreign Languages and Literature from the University of Bergamo, Italy, and an MA in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Westminster in London. He is also an editor and translator for Equilibriarte. You can contact him and find out more on his Linkedin profile.


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