The Italian mafia is over 3,000 years old and much of the available literature on the logic behind why the Italian mafia formed is centered on numerous periods of invasion and exploitation by conquering states and armies in Italy. Thereafter, Italians became “clannish” and started to rely on “familial ties for safety, protection, justice, and survival”, according the FBI.
Four Large Mafia Groups in Italy
In Italy, there are four large mafia regions, including Sicily (mafia Siciliana), Naples (Camorra), Calabria (‘Ndrangheta), and Puglia (Sacra Corona Unita).
The Sicilian mafia has a focus in trafficking arms (military), political corruption, trafficking of drugs (heroin), and racketeering. The group is also famously violent and on the 23rd of May, 1992 a large bomb was detonated and killed the Italian magistrate (a director of criminal affairs in Rome) Giovanni Falcone and his wife (including three police guards). On July 19th of the same year, Judge Paolo Borsellino (along with 5 bodyguards) was killed in Palermo (Borsellino was Falcone’s replacement)
The mafia in Naples (Camorra) is the largest organized crime group in Italy (with 7000 members) and focuses on drug trafficking and smuggling, as well as “money laundering, extortion, alien smuggling, robbery, blackmail, kidnapping, political corruption, and counterfeiting.”
The ‘Ndrangheta or Calabrian mafia was formed by ousted Sicilians in the late 19th century and the word ‘Ndrangheta means courageous. According to the FBI, the group specializes in political corruption and kidnapping.
The Sacra Corona Unita group from Puglia is one of the most newly recognized clans in southern Italy (specifically, Brindisi). The group focuses on smuggling (including arms and drugs) and protecting the coast of south easterns Italy.
The Real Life Mafia
In our region of Italy (Calabria), everyone sees the influence of the ‘Ndrangheta and, for many, it’s become an accepted way of life. As an Italian American, the idea of small clans running large portions of a given country (without the consent of the people and via violent and threatening means) is a foreign and abominable concept. As a child growing up in the 1980’s, I overhead sad stories of my aunt’s being forced out of their small retail businesses due to local extortion and the violent death of our Uncle’s father, who was gunned down outside of his home.
The mafia, in Italy (and especially southern Italy), is a real and ugly way of life (and a big business , with some experts stating that the collective mafia groups have cash reserves of €65bn, making the mafia the largest bank in Italy). A reality that is often misrepresented by suggestions that the Italian people do not mind organized crime running their communes, villages/towns, and cities (as though the mafia is and ought to be part of everyday life). In places like Lamezia Terme local townspeople have organized a literary festival to give voice to the fight against the mafia. And the well known story, and film, of the Sicilian woman Rita Atria who broke the code of silence (omerata’) and testified at multiple anti mafia hearings.
Note: An interesting discussion is surfacing on our Facebook page about the merits of discussing the mafia in relation to the Italian life, head on over to participate and let us know what you think (or simply comment here).