Women and mafia
Stefanella Campana - 08/05/2008
“It’s a great rush of optimism and energy”, says Francesca Rispoli, aged 28 and engaged in “Libera” an association against organised crime led by National President Don Ciotti. She’s just come back from Bari, where the families of mafia victims, together with at least 50 thousand youngsters that have come from all over Italy (more than a thousand only from Piedmont), have attended the “Memory and Engagement Day in remembrance of mafia victims” for the 13th time.
Those from “No Pizzo ” from Palermo were there, those from “Ammazzateci tutti ” came from Locri and many, many more were present to engage themselves in a difficult commitment. In Bari they listened in touched silence to the endless and dramatic reading of the names of the mafia victims; also of those “hit by chance” only because they found themselves at the wrong time in the wrong place and of the casual targets chosen as “symbolic meat” (as writes Saviano) to assert their undisputed power. This war bulletin was spelled out in a land that is not officially at war, but where entire regions of the South of Italy are hostage to the brutal violence of the mafias, an intolerable plague in a civilized country. “Things have unquestionably changed in the last years, however we need to break out the stereotype that the women of the Mafia are unaware”, underlines Francesca.
More and more, these women keep converting their traditional role of guardians of the mafia’s cultural code into a direct involvement in criminal activities (like drug trafficking or dealing). This can be read as a fake emancipation: they are reaching “equality” on the criminal level because “these women are tempted by the same logics of power and command of their partners and relatives”, explains Francesca. However, the individual sphere remains untouched and the restrictions of a patriarchal system prevail.
These women of honour are capable of calling their sons “filthy cowards” if they become turncoats, and act as “godmothers” or “substitutes” if their men are fugitives or get arrested, and are figureheads or company holders to recycle dirty money. Their devotion to the mafia makes them forget their love for their children. This is the case of Giovanna Cannova who threatened her daughter Rita Atria to death to dissuade her from collaborating with justice. This cruelty persevered even after the suicide of young Rita, following to the death of Judge Paolo Borsellino whom she trusted. The mother did not participate to her funerals and even broke the picture on her tomb with a hammer. Borsellino had said that “if the young generations will deny their consent, even the all powerful and mysterious mafia will disappear like in a nightmare”. This buzz word reached the high school and university students of Locri, in Calabria, who created their own movement at the end of 2005 following to the murder of the Vice President of the Council, Francesco Fortugno, and gathered thousands of participations throughout Italy. Those unforgettable young boys and girls who attended the funeral of the politician while walking behind the banner which wrote “now kill us all” and with the young girl shouting words of defiance on the megaphone, represented an unprecedented challenge to the mafia. The movement has now become a corporate franchise and intends to appear as plaintiff in mafia trials with the witnessing of daughters of two victims: Sonia Alfano, daughter of the journalist Beppe Alfano, killed by the mafia; and Rosanna Scopelliti, daughter of Judge Antonino Scopelliti, killed at 56 in 1991 by the ‘ndrangheta. Scopelliti was Public Prosecutor in important trials and was transferred from Milan to Rome to be nearer to his homeland in Calabria. His prestigious career led him to become the most important General Deputy Prosecutor for accusations at the Supreme Court. He was Judge to many maxi mafia, camorra and terrorism trials. When he was killed, he was preparing the request for the dismissal of appeals of some dangerous Mafiosi convicted in the first maxi trial of Cosa Nostra. Rosanna Scopelliti, a university student in Literature, is active in the “Ammazzateci Tutti” Movement. Her point of view is harsh and straight forward: “Calabria is living a war. The State should not only send us experts on “mafia issues”, but the army. The State should send Judges in the various tribunals. The State should monitor the work of the various Mafia Commissions and Constitutional Courts, to see who works and who doesn’t in order to have a serious and effective contribution. The families of mafia victims can’t always be there to investigate and control the work of the institutions and report their deficiencies which, alas, come up quite often. If our State will choose to act WITH us and FOR us, then we can find a way to give justice to our dead and to their families”. Her method to defeat the ‘ndrangheta? “The ‘ndrangheta with which we’re forced to live with, is a criminal association that has nothing for her Sicilian, Neapolitan and Pugliese cousins to envy considering the illicit trafficking and the ease with which it has accessed the most important seats of power of the State. That is why – explains Rosanna – more and more Municipal Administrations are being dismissed for collusion with the mafia, and more and more of the politicians that administrate us reveal their dark side. Considering this situation, I believe that the ‘ndrangheta should be attacked especially in the political sphere. For some time now, I have been reading about issues on Calabria and getting nearer to this reality, and I’m now convinced that two states co-exist: an official State which remembers us only during the funerals of the “more famous” mafia victims and comes down dressed in black to offer wreaths in memory of the deceased, evanescent promises and absent-minded handshakes to the bereaved families. This State has its hands tied and cannot really guarantee to all the people of Calabria the right to live in their own land and practice their professions honestly. Then there is another ‘state’ which, in conniving silence, exercises its power by guaranteeing easy money, terrorising honest people and buying out the silence of its subjects with threats and weapons. This is the ‘state’ that reigns sovereign in Calabria, the one that simple citizens fear too much to oppose themselves against but which, in time, has managed to place its protégés also amongst the representatives of the official State”. But is there no hope for change? “Yes, there is. Calabria should radically change its culture and mentality. I don’t pretend to defeat the ‘ndrangheta with my witnessing, but I hope to at least offer an alternative to the lives of my generation to which I ceaselessly ask to choose to stay on one side. I wish they chose justice, though it’s the most difficult path and even though the Institutions don’t assist us in offering an alternative to dirty but well paid jobs. I wish that young people from Calabria could join the other ‘Ragazzi Calabresi’ that have found the courage to say NO to the ‘ndrangheta, to denounce it by screaming the names out loud, even famous ones, to ask for justice and truth, to request that they continue to live in their own land without having to compromise with illegality… ‘without if or but’. Accusations and culture are the only weapons that common citizens can use to oppose themselves to the ‘ndrangheta. We don’t have to be afraid because there’s many of us…’they can’t kill us all’ (to quote a famous catch phrase)”.
An interesting phenomenon is that women are beginning to collaborate with justice. Most of them are widows, orphans, mothers, which after the violent death of their husbands have risen up against the rules, the power and the richness of the mafia. Sometimes they collaborate for vengeance, but there are also others which dho it as personal choice, unconditioned by some criminal event.
Antimafia movements have witnessed a strong presence of women since the 80’s, as the Association of Sicilian women against the mafia, created after the escalation of mafia violence. Rita Borsellino, the sister of the assassinated judge, stands out and has also been president of “Libera”, before choosing to go into politics. Silvana Fucino was designated as one of the European heroes by the newspaper Time in 2005: in 2004 the mafia burned her family company, but she managed to indict the racketeers and 15 of them were sent to jail. Today she is forced to live under escort due to her activities against the racket with the association “San Giovanni per la legalità” that she founded and which has prodded many: in a few years there have been more than 1500 accusations. Her story was made into a fiction and is being transmitted by Raiuno in prime time.
However there are also brave women on the bad side. Many ask themselves if today the power of the mafia, a totalitarian power founded on the power on life and death, is still essentially in the hands of men or if it has been accessed by women which keep taking on new roles. “I don’t think we can actually talk about power”, explains Renate Siebert, a German sociologist of the University of Cosenza who is among the highest experts in this field and who doesn’t know of any criminal organization lead by a woman. But why? “The exasperated manliness with all the ferociousness it entails, typical of the mafia could derive from the problem linked to the male identity. She also believes that the confrontation with the new generations will be crucial for the future of the mafia: “the intergenerational issue could become a point of frailty and vulnerability for the mafia”. A hope for the future: young generations.