Palermo’s ‘cultural revolution’ against the mafia – POLITICO.eu

Posted: June 21, 2017 at 5:42 am


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PALERMO, Sicily This year marks a quarter century since Sicilys Cosa Nostra murdered judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in the regions capital. Now Palermo wants to use its Mafia-stained legacy to start a cultural revolution that will put an end to political violence and extortion.

For years, the Mafias violent and dishonest practices were met with apathy. To overcome the Mafia phenomenon of power politics Palermos residents will have to break with that tradition and learn to speak out, says Daniele Marannano, coordinator of Addiopizzo (Farewell to racket), an anti-Mafia NGO.

Addiopizzo opened shop in 2010, using buildings confiscated from the Mafia by the state. It has since grown into a network encompassing more than 1,000 businesses, which collectively refuse to pay the pizzo a slang term for protection money paid to the Mafia under extortion.

The NGO, which receives funding from the Italian government and the European Union, works closely with local authorities to provide moral, legal and social support to businesses.

Addiopizzos work is a blow to the countrys shadow economy, which according to a 2008 survey quoted in media reports, generated about 15 billion a year for the Mafia. Di Giacomo, the imprisoned boss of one of Cosa Nostras groups, has publicly railed against Addiopizzos operations.

The organizations slogan I pay those who dont pay encourages locals and tourists to choose businesses that dont pay protection money to the Mafia. With the help of EU money, the NGO also opened a travel company offering tours of racket-free activities that promote Sicilian heritage.

Whenever the Mafia was mentioned, one would imagine a man with an expensive suit, says Guido Agnello, who owns a store selling the flat caps that were once part of the Mafia uniform. It was cool, it was a compliment. We decided it was time for the Mafia to be seen as it was: crooked, just like their hats.

Despite efforts to revamp the region, Sicily still faces high unemployment and emigration rates, as young people leave the country to search for opportunities elsewhere. The region is also dealing with a high influx of migrants from Africa and the Middle East on its shores a source of tension that the Mafia routinely exploits.

In an insecure region uncertain about its future, organizations like Addiopizzo hope they can help residents break with a dark past.

Palermos central street, Via Maqueda, recently became a tourist attraction after it was made a pedestrian-only zone during daylight hours | All photos by Benas Gerdziunas for POLITICO

Hat store owner Guido Agnello has rebranded the coppola hat, and his shop was subsequently included in Addiopizzos EU-funded tourist guide promoting a racket-free economy. People would associate the flat cap with the Mafia. One would say the coppola is here referring to Mafia members.

Roberta De Grandi runs a cooperative jewelry store on Via Maqueda. They always come in twos to request money. You can tell by what they wear, how they act, that theyre from the Mafia. The street has changed in recent years, with more pedestrians and a heavy police presence, she says.

In May, students from the University of Palermos law faculty unveiled a bust of Pio La Torre, leader of Italys Communist Party, who was killed by the Mafia in 1982 for passing laws that severely hampered their operations.

A bannercondemning the Mafia hangs outside Palermos municipal building in Piazza Pretoria. The mayor, Leoluca Orlando, has been a vocal anti-Mafia campaigner and supporter of asylum seekers rights.

Outside of central Palermo, street signs are hard to find. Police officers, highly visible in the city, are few and far between.

Daniele Marannano, acoordinator forAddiopizzo, chats inhis office, where posters for the organizations advertising campaigns hang on the walls. The NGO hasa leaderless, grassroots structure, which Marannano says allows members to feel safer.

Addiopizzo runs a campaign called Consume Critically, whose mission is to educate locals and tourists about how to shopethically. The sticker, according to shopkeepers, gives them an upper handwhen dealing with the Mafia, who have recently started to bypass businesses in theAddiopizzo network.

Dario Bissos restaurant on Via Maqueda displays Addiopizzos logo on the window. The state needs to play a larger role in dissuading ablack-market economy, he says. We should not forget that it is convenient to pay the pizzo.

Addiopizzosoffices are located in a building that was confiscated from the Mafia by the city. Incidentally, its also next to a police station.

Lucia Sorce is the director of a school called Amari Roncalli Ferrara. Before, many children would leave school and become involved in criminal activities, she says.

Piazza Maggione near Palermos central railway stationis home to vulnerable families and creeping gentrification. Addiopizzo enlistslocal youth to build sports fields and playgrounds. It also organizes informal classes and activities in the square in an attempt to reintegrate children who have already left school.

The schooloffersan informal education with the help of several NGOs, including Addiopizzo, Sorce says.Sports help childrenfrom low-income families learn about teamwork and other important values.

A photograph of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino two judges killed by the mafia hangs on a wall at the school. Not all schools [in Palermo] have the presidents picture, but all schools have one of them, says Sorce.

Andrea and Paulo, both in their early 20s and living nearby, use the playground built by Addiopizzo to excercise.Both work in the tourism and hospitality sector and complain of poor pay and a lack of opportunity. Maybe I will go abroad, saysAndrea.

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Palermo's 'cultural revolution' against the mafia - POLITICO.eu

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