Sergio Mattarella, the newly incumbent President of Italy, has made the neutralisation of what he called a ‘pervasive cancer’ his main priority, and, as a man with personal experience of the violence of Italian organised crime (his brother was killed by a mafioso in 1980), he looks like a good bet.
The main problem surrounding the Italian mafia is that of omertà, the code of silence, an issue which has recently been raised by Trevor McDonald in his exploration of the American bob on ITV. In his programme, McDonald meets ex-mafiosi who have broken this code of silence, mainly by virtue of generous bribery on the part of the FBI. The indifference of some of these men regarding their participation in the mafia is staggering, especially when we consider that they are risking their own lives, speaking so openly on television.
There are obviously many parallels with the Italian mafia, however, there seems to me to be a clear difference between the American and Italian networks. That is, while the American mobsters appear to be solely driven by money, there is something extra that pushes the Italians to such immorality: family. Criminal activity is so entrenched in everyday, familial life that it becomes impossible to penetrate and destroy; everyone is involved and everyone is omertosi.
In Italian contemporary literature and film (I am thinking of Non ho paura by Niccolò Ammaniti and Alla luce del sole directed by Roberto Faenza in particular) there is a very different feel: there is no ‘easy way out’, no FBI to run to for protection. Everyone depends on everyone else and so the very human chain is unbreakable. All the more so during this period of economic crisis: last year it was said that Italian banks’ reluctance to lend left more businesses turning to the mob for help. This resulted in the Italian Mafia having a bigger annual budget than the European Union. It therefore takes a daring and determined leader to start the process of demolishing the underworld that partly serves as a foundation for the successful running of the country.
Mattarella has initiated a dialogue; it is now up to his compatriots speak up.