Thursday, May 24, 2012


In his speech yesterday commemoration Giovanni Falcone, President Napolitanto exhorted young people to come out on the streets in favour of “legality”. He really meant it and his voice almost broke with emotion as he read that part of the speech.

Then there were indeed thousands of young people who had arrived in Palermo by boat and bus as part of a campaign for “legality”. They gave the ceremony in the Bunker Courtroom in Palermo an almost festive air and their presence gave a substance to the the commemoration way beyond that of the official speeches.

That was yesterday and I like millions of others was moved by the ceremonies and above all Falcone's contribution to the rule of law and justice.

Today, in a very different part of the woods, I am stopped by a young carabiniere who was stopping cars and pedestrians in a very narrow-streeted part of Trastevere in order to allow a carabiniere bus through a one-way street… in the wrong direction of course.

To bring a big bus into Trastevere is unwise at the best of times – to drive against the traffic of a one-way street is just arrogantly bloody-minded. Laws (and rules of all kinds) exist either for common convenience or to protect the weak, at least in democratic societies so for the law enforcement officers to break them (without a hint of emergency – the bus had no passengers nor flashing lights or sirens) sets a bad example.

You might say “there is no connection between putting 500 kilos of TNT under a road and killing five people and driving the wrong way up a street”. Of course, for the gravity of the action but we know well enough from the “fixing broken windows” theory (and practice) that legality breeds legality and even minor breaches of the law encourage others.

I am sure that the next time a carabinere stops me and does not fine me for a traffic offence, I will take it as normal or be very angry if he does fine me. But today the contrast was too striking especially coming a few days after the PdL tried to stop an anti-corruption bill going through Parliament.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Giovanni Falcone, Capaci 20 years on.

1992 was a traumatic year for Italy. This year has seen a wave of commemorations of those events. The most dramatic and most traumatic (but not the last) was 20 years ago today, 23 May when Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three of his police escorts were killed by a massive bomb put under the motorway that they were travelling on (picture left). And the most traumatic element of the commemorations is that there are almost as many mysteries surrounding the murder today as there were 20 years ago.

Normally anniversaries are opportunities to comment on how much has changed since then but with this years’, there are threads which tie us to the past in web which is part metaphorical and part very concrete.

The arrests and deaths of two decades ago signalled the end of an era and the beginning of what looked like renewal. Today we are again in the throes of a major transformation in Italian society and politics. There are arrests and scandals which are undermining the traditional parties and on Saturday a bomb exploded outside a school in Brindisi killing one girl and injuring many others.

It all looks grimly familiar.

Twenty years ago in February, Milanese prosecutors arrested Mario Chiesa for corruption setting off the “Clean Hands” investigation which put an end to Bettino Craxi’s bid for the premiership and led to the end of both his Socialist Party and the Christian Democratic Party as well as of the smaller parties. In March, Giulio Andreotti’s man in Sicily, Salvo Lima was killed as part of an internal mafia feud. This ended Andreotti’s hopes of becoming President of the Republic and was a potent sign that the mafia had declared that previous deals were off and had raised the stakes. Two months later they killed Falcone and in July, they killed Falcone’s close friend and colleague, Paolo Borsellino. For Lima, both victim and method were traditional mafia – a single gunman and an obvious and identified target; for Falcone and Borsellino, the targets were very clear but the method was new and demonstrative as well as lethal. They did not just want to kill the two men, they wanted to show their arrogance and power.

The following year, they used the same method but on very different targets and for even more demonstrational purposes. There were bombs in Rome, Florence and Milan aimed to frighten a wider public and the government, a threat of worse possibilities to come.

Thankfully, those threats were not realised and some of the bosses of the Sicilian mafia at least, were arrested in due course. The men who actually prepared and set off the bombs have been convicted but there is still a thick fog around who might have been behind the Falcone and Borsellino killings and the 1993 bombs. It has now been definitely established that there were contacts and possible deals between senior police and civil servants and mafia over the summer of 1992. It seems very likely that Borsellino discovered what was going on which was at least one of the reasons that he was killed. It is the connections between organised crime and local and national politics which distinguishes Italy from any comparable western democracy.
Today President Napolitano and Prime Minister Mario Monti were at the commemoration ceremony in Palermo and Napolitano made a moving appeal to young people especially to fight for legality. Tomorrow he will take part in the state funeral for Pacido Rizzotto, the trade unionist killed by the mafia in 1948 and no doubt there will be more moving words. But it takes more than worthy speeches to defeat mafia (even though the rhetoric is important). The ndrangheta or Calabrian mafia is more powerful than ever and has spread its tentacles deep into Lombard soil and even further afield. The camorra, despite some knocks is still a force to be reckoned with and Apulian organised crime, the Sacred United Crown, Sacra Corona Unita, very likely had some hand in Saturday’s Brindisi bomb. Corruption is if anything worse than in 1992. Hence the importance of figures like Giovanni Falcone.

Falcone’s legacy was, above all, a commitment to the rule of law and to justice in the widest sense; in Italy, he is often presented as one who “served the State”. He did that certainly but he also served the community, his own Palermo and Sicilian community as well as the wider Italian society because he believed that the arbitrary violence of mafia was not inevitable.

He also introduced methods for dealing effectively with mafiosi who turned state’s evidence and encouraging them to collaborate and he developed the methods that had been started by his former boss, Rocco Chinnici who himself was the first victim of a Beirut-style killing nine years before.

Paradoxically, given how he died and what has happened since then, he also inspires hope. He had a smile (Falcone and Borsellino pictured together) which was in glorious contrast with the pressures he faced and which seemed to indicate an inner serenity more than a passing moment of happiness. And then there is his most famous remark that “the mafia is a human construct and like all things human will come to an end some time”.

He did not say when and we are still a long way from that date.