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Sicilians and Others

In response to:

Crime Does Not Pay from the September 11, 1969 issue

To the Editors:

Congratulations on Murray Kempton’s article on what he himself calls the mythical mafia (Sept. 11). It is the most sensible and logical piece of literature on the subject I have come across in the English language, and I can assure you that I have read practically everything.

As to Luigi Barzini (October 9), I am afraid that like other non-Sicilians and even some Sicilians who were not even born when the Mafia was crushed in 1927 (Sciascia was then only four years old), he (Barzini) confuses the Mafia attitude with the mythical mafia as a criminal organization. As an attitude, Mafia means “he-man,” “red-blooded,” but also bully (we have quite a few of those in this neck of the woods), but what Barzini calls Mafia is just plain gangsterism, or racketeering, American style. May I suggest that Barzini read carefully the special April, 1969 issue of the magazine Ulisse which devotes all of its 203 pages to organized crime in Italy (il banditismo in Italia)?

He should especially pay attention to Judge Loschiavo’s article, which says most clearly that the Mafia (“as understood by my generation”—he was born in Palermo in 1899) is dead, exactly what I said in 1962 in my book The Truth About the Mafia. He also says that the modern Mafia, or what some Italians call mafia, is just plain gangsterism, imported from America, and as such it applies to all forms of crime and to all criminals, regardless of regional or national origins. Judge Loschiavo is president of the Supreme Court of Public Waters, former president of the third criminal section of the Court of Cassation (Italy’s Court of Appeals or Supreme Court) and the author of several books on the Mafia, one of them dating as far back as 1934.

As for Barzini’s essay on the Sicilians, it follows the technique he found so successful for his best-seller The Italians, that is, show the sensational side of a story, exaggerate, embroider, doctor up. The fact that he had to omit passages from his English edition in his Italian translation which he had to revise to avoid a lesson or two from persons who happen to know Italian history better than he, should require no further comment. Therefore, I am not going to comment, except to recall, in connection with his reference to the Sicilian distrust of the Government, that only a few days ago I heard a noted woman historian say in a TV interview that the American people no longer trust the government, et cetera, et cetera. Aside from that, assuming that Barzini is sincere, I wonder with what sorts of Sicilians he has associated. I could assure him that the people my family used to associate with in Palermo were not the kind described by him.

Incidentally, Barzini must have been in a hurry when he wrote his article, for in listing famous Sicilian writers he forgot Nobel Prize winner Quasimodo, G.A. Borgese (so well-known to Americans), Rapisardi (one of Italy’s foremost poets, even though he is not well known) and others. Also he forgot to mention that Dolci in 1967 was sentenced to two years in jail for libel and slander, but the sentence was suspended. He invoked the application of a current amnesty.

Giovanni Schiavo

El Paso, Texas

Luigi Barzini replies:

I know Danilo Dolci’s anti-Mafia activities well, as I was a member of the anti-Mafia committee of the Italian Parliament when he came voluntarily to testify about the suspect relations between a prominent Christian Democrat politician of the cabinet level, signor Bernardo Mattarella, and powerful Mafia figures in his constituency. Dolci surely remembers how I tried to help him. In reality few of his charges (most of which were undoubtedly true but not all as decisive as he thought) could be proved in a court of law, as Sicilian witnesses rarely repeat in public what they might have said secretly to a trusted friend.

This is a familiar fact to public prosecutors both in Italy and the United States. The result of this particular initiative was a lot of publicity (which might possibly have weakened Mattarella, but one is not sure) and a trial for defamation (a penal offense in Italy which, incidentally, is not annulled by producing proofs of the truth of one’s assertions) against Dolci, who had repeated most of his accusations in a public press conference. I did not talk about the trial (as I did not touch upon many other things, my article being already too long) because I thought it had added nothing to what we know of Dolci’s ideas, crusading spirit, and past achievements.

Giovanni Schiavo does not believe the Mafia exists. This belief is solemnly proclaimed by many Sicilians, who accuse non-Sicilians of having invented a myth. But there are other Sicilians who believe the organization exists, and, among them, authors, politicians, historians, journalists, judges, policemen, sociologists, et cetera. The Italian Parliament believes not only that it exists but that it constitutes one of the most serious problems facing Italy as a whole and not Sicily alone. The incredulous, however, admit there are criminals in Sicily behaving in a particular way, but refuse to acknowledge such obvious and well-proved facts as that Sicilian criminals feel a moral duty to stick together, obey well-known rules of their own, and call themselves The Mafia. This last point is correct. The Mafiosi never use the word. They prefer other definitions of themselves, usually gli amici, gli amici degli amici, or (if one is to believe American authorities) “cosa nostra.”

Incidentally Mussolini did not crush the Mafia in 1927, as Schiavo proclaims. (And how could Mussolini crush something that did not exist?) He fought it mostly with extra-legal means, made its operations more difficult and sometimes impossible, locked up or exiled hundreds of lower echelon Mafiosi, intimidated the leaders, forced many of their activities underground, but did not eradicate the Mafia. In fact, some prominent Fascist chiefs were always closely connected with the dormant organization. The Mafia arose again from its ashes as soon as possible, after the war, stronger, richer, and bolder than before.

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