Nancy Greenleese reports from Sicily on grassroots efforts to reduce the influence of the Mafia. She says activists tend to be younger, many under 35. And unlike their parents, they’re not afraid to speak out about corruption.
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MARCO WERMAN: There’s been another sweeping raid on organized crime in Italy. Yesterday, police arrested dozens of people accused of links to a southern Italian crime syndicate known as ‘Ndrangheta. That follows last week’s arrest of hundreds of suspects. Some experts say ’Ndrangheta is becoming more powerful than its better-known neighbor, the Mafia. The Mafia still reigns in Sicily, but it no longer controls the population like it did back in 1992, when two anti-Mafia magistrates were blown up in the space of a month. These days Sicilians are fighting back. And as Nancy Greenleese reports from Palermo, many of the movement’s leaders are under the age of 30.
NANCY GREENLEESE: Sicilians who were just kids during that bloody period call themselves the children of the massacre. 28-year-old Francesco Galante of the anti-Mafia group Libera Terra Mediterraneo was a 10 year old playing at the beach when he heard about the first car explosion.
FRANCESCO GALANTE: For us, the massacres of ‘92 are comparable to September 11th. Everyone remembers where we were, what we were doing when we heard the news.
GREENLEESE: Fellow activist Dario Riccobono was 13.
DARIO RICCOBONO: I saw with my own eyes the horrors of the Mafia. I saw the highway blown to bits. It seemed like a war zone. From that moment onward, I said to myself that if I didn’t do something, it would be like I was an accomplice of the Mafia.
GREENLEESE: Riccobono started volunteering in his community and so did many other young people. And as they came of age, a small group graduated to guerilla protests against pizzo. That’s the name for the Mafia’s extortion tax they charge businesses for so-called “protection” but it actually funds the mob’s illegal enterprises. About six years ago, Palermo residents awoke to find stickers plastered around the city that said “A public that pays pizzo is a public without dignity.” Fabric store owner Pina Maisano Grassi, now 81, was asked by a reporter at the time if she knew who was behind the campaign.
PINA MAISANO GRASSI: I said, I haven’t the faintest idea who did it but if it was young people, they could be my grandchildren because they think exactly like me. And so, the next day, three kids came here to the store and they said, “We’re your grandchildren.” And from that moment on, I started working with the kids behind Addiopizzo.
GREENLEESE: That means “Goodbye Pizzo.” Addiopizzo is mostly made up of volunteers under 35. The group has persuaded hundreds of business owners to not pay the extortion tax. It also hosts rallies and visits schools with its anti-Mafia message. Grassi, a key advisor, knows too well the dangers of not paying. In 1990, her husband refused and was later murdered. She says the business community, fearful of reprisals, did nothing for 13 years. She says things started to change when Addiopizzo appeared on the scene.
GRASSI: Because the idea came from the young people who understood how important it is to revolt against the Mafia and it’s bullying.
GREENLEESE: Many in their parents’ and grandparents’ generations wouldn’t even utter the words Mafia or pizzo. But Addiopizzo and other groups speak openly against the Mafia in rallies and concerts. And the Mafia threats have dwindled. Yet it’s still risky work. Addiopizzo volunteer Dario Riccobono is asked whether he’s ever afraid.
DARIO RICCOBONO: Um, look, we don’t have time for fear. We have so many things to do and don’t have the time. No, really, I am fearful. I’m fearful that Sicily will always remain the way it is now.
GREENLEESE: That is, crime-ridden and poor, due to the Mafia’s extortion. Jobs are scarce and many young people are forced to seek work abroad. Some who remain say they’re taking on the Mafia because they have no choice. They need honest work. Lunch preparations are under way at the restaurant in the Portella della Ginestra hotel. This converted farmhouse was once owned by the mobster whose son killed magistrate Giovanni Falcone, who’d helped put hundreds of mobsters behind bars. The government confiscated the land and the Libera Terra organization started its own business here. 32-year-old Emiliano Rocchi is the chef.
EMILIANO ROCCHI: It’s a slap of sorts against the Mafia, creating a legal business from what the Mafia stole from us, a business that’s self-supporting, that provides work for others, that even puts young people in honest jobs, instead of criminal ones.
GREENLEESE: The young activists say building a clean economy is the best way to hobble the mob. The slain magistrates continue to inspire them. Their photos appear in Addiopizzo’s offices and are held high at rallies. And they may just help these young people do what their parents couldn’t. For The World, I’m Nancy Greenleese, Palermo.
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