The Sicilian Mafia ‘didn’t disappear, they went underground’ – Claudine Cassar
Tista’ taqra bil-
The author of a book on the Sicilian Mafia has pointed out that despite a lower profile than in previous years, his illegal profits at the expense of society continue unabated thanks to secret networks which have allowed him to win numerous contracts lucrative public.
And as she reminisced about her book – titled The Battle for Sicily’s Soul – on Andrew Azzopardi on 103, Claudine Cassar pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic has only boosted her fortunes.
This year marks the 30e anniversary of the assassinations of anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in two bombings that also killed Falcone’s wife and 8 police escort officers. The Sicilian Mafia later toned down the violence and ended the killing of Sicilian officials, but this did not signal a cessation of its criminal activities.
“He didn’t disappear, he went into hiding,” Cassar explained. “Instead of resorting to a lot of violence and criminality, he focused on building a network that Italians now call the gray area.”
This gray area sees the Mafia building and capitalizing on relationships with the powerful, including politicians and members of the judiciary, to win lucrative public contracts through numerous front companies. And it’s not uncommon for these companies to pocket the money without actually delivering what they promise.
Palermo’s ugly buildings are the legacy of the mafia
The mafia, of course, has long forged ties with politicians, including notorious members of the now defunct Democrazia Cristiana which dominated Italian politics for nearly 5 decades after World War II before disbanding in the face of a scandal of corruption.
Cassar developed what is often referred to as the “sack of Palermo,” a building boom that began in the 1950s at the expense of its historic fabric.
Building permits were freely granted to mafiosi, despite their lack of experience in the sector, and centuries-old orchards and beautiful Art Nouveau villas were destroyed to make way for a dense concentration of buildings. In one of the most notorious examples, Villa Deliella, one of Sicilian architect Ernesto Basile’s most notable projects, was destroyed just hours before being protected by heritage preservation laws.
“Much of the ugliness that can be seen in Palermo today is the result of the Mafia,” Cassar observed.
As she recounted the impact of this construction boom and the emergence of many “ugly gray blocks” in the Sicilian capital, Azzopardi could not help but notice that it sounded familiar in Malta in the face of its own construction boom. Cassar could only agree, although she clarified that this did not mean that the cause of Malta’s predicament was the same.
And the Mafia’s impact on Palermo’s landscape is not limited to its unsightly structures.
While a number of murals celebrate anti-mafia activists, including Falcone and Borsellino, one can also find murals paying tribute to deceased mafiosi, often showing them proudly sporting the jewelry and expensive cars they had acquired. in life, and celebrating that they are now “with God.”
The Godfather’s Influence
Historically, this flashiness was uncharacteristic of the Sicilian Mafia, whose members often sought to blend in with the community in which they operated and avoid vulgar displays of wealth. But that started to change when mob-focused movies — notably the Godfather trilogy — inadvertently glamorized them.
Humble clothes soon gave way to bespoke suits and gold watches, and expensive cars boasted Mafia influence on the streets of Sicily.
“And what’s more horrific than that is that even the way the mafia killed people and sent ‘messages’ to them has changed,” Cassar added.
A key example of this is the notorious “horse’s head” scene in the first Godfather film, in which a film producer who refuses to choose the titular character’s godson wakes up with the severed head of his prized racehorse in her bed.
The Sicilian mafiosi loved this scene, Cassar explains, which led to an increase in the use of animal heads – not necessarily racehorses, of course – as a warning to those who do not bow to his will.