Criminal brotherhoods flourish in a state
Mafia Republic: Italy’s Criminal Curse
By John Dickie Hodder & Stoughton, 524pp, $32.99
IN Blood Brotherhoods, a gripping account of the rise of southern Italy’s three major criminal organisations since Italian unification in 1861, British historian John Dickie left his readers in 1943, when the Sicilian mafia, Neapolitan Camorra and Calabrian ’ Ndrangheta were poised to relaunch their criminal enterprises after two decades of Fascist repression, on the coat-tails of the recent Allied occupation of southern Italy. Mafia Republic continues this engrossing narrative through Italy’s post-war period to the present day and, together with Blood Brotherhoods, it makes the most authoritative and upto-date account of the three organisations available in English.
Political protection has always been integral to the three mafias’ success. Since the establishment of the Italian Republic in 1946: the Mafias and the Republic have grown together . . . Ordinary criminals, however organised they may be, do not have remotely the kind of political friendships that senior Mafiosi have always enjoyed . . . The [Calabrian] ’ Ndrangheta was no mere gang: like the Sicilian Mafia, it was parallel government, a parasitical creeper that had wound itself so thoroughly around the branches of the state that it now formed a more solid structure than the tree off which it fed.
A turning point in the battle against the Sicilian mafia came after its dramatic 1992-93 campaign of assassinations of anti-mafia investigators Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino and bombings of cultural sites on the mainland like Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. It is now known senior representatives of the Italian state were at the time in secret nego- tiations with the mafia; there is also evidence the organisation brought forward its assassination of Borsellino to eliminate his opposition to such negotiations. In March this year, one of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s closest business and political collaborators, Senator Marcello dell’Utri, was sentenced to seven years’ jail on a charge of acting as intermediary between Berlusconi’s business empire and the Sicilian mafia, although the sentence is still subject to an appeal.
In its high-stakes assault on the Italian state in the 1990s, the Sicilian mafia had overplayed its hand, leading to mass arrests and the emergence of a powerful anti-mafia movement in Sicily. Ultimately, Cosa Nostra was to be eclipsed by the ’ Ndrangheta, especially after losing its dominance of the lucrative international cocaine trade to the Calabrians: the ’ Ndrangheta is without doubt Italy’s most powerful Mafia. The beneficiary of years of disregard by the state and public opinion, it has a remorseless grip on its
The ’ Ndrangheta is the only one of the three mafias known to be operating in Australia, where there are thought to be nine chapters. Three high-profile assassinations in Australia since the 70s have been attributed to the ’ Ndrangheta: the 1977 disappearance of Griffith anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay; the bombing of the National Crime Authority in Adelaide in 1984, which killed an Australian Federal Police officer, and the 1989 shooting in Canberra of AFP assistant commissioner Colin Winchester. Although a public servant from a non-Italian background was convicted of the home territory, an unparalleled capacity to colonise other regions and other countries, and vast reserves of narco-wealth that allow it to penetrate the lawful economy and financial institutions. Yet it remains a largely unexplored frontier for investigators. Calabria has yet to develop the rich antiMafia culture that flourishes in Sicily. Calabria is a generation behind when it comes to the fight against organised crime.