Mafia, a word evoking terror and mystery, an uncertain etymology but a grave reality. The origin of the Sicilian Mafia is unknown; it probably has been present for a long time and emerged in 1861 when Sicily joined up with Italy and general Garibaldi used it in order to drive the Bourbons out.
Previous kingdoms never fought it seriously, but they also never dealt with it in order to obtain favours and restrain farmer rebellions, its worrying presence was proved by several blood feuds since the 1500s and frequent arsons burning down Palermo archives and historical documents that could have provided evidence of the existence of a powerful and mysterious brotherhood.
The sicilian Honoured Society has had lots of names during its life, from "Beati Paoli", the seventeenth century sect which some expert refer to as the mafia ancestor, to Cosa Nostra, the modern organization of this century.
When at the ending of the 1800s a lot of Sicilians began to emigrate to the United States, "men of honour" created branches of the mafia there; but while in Sicily the mafia was still a rural and archaic organization, in the new country it perfectly adapted itself to the local background and grew up into a real criminal enterprise.
During the Fascism period (1922-1943) Mussolini repressed the mafia heavily, but when the dictatorship finished it emerged again enjoying help from the allied army in the Second World War.
In Sicily, because of its social and economic situation, the mafia modernized itself later, about at the end of 1950s when in Palermo mayor Salvo Lima, son of a "man of honour", and public contracts alderman Vito Ciancimino, from Corleone, gave works only to building contractors linked to the mafia; in 1957, advised by Italian-American bosses, the Sicilian Commission was created in order to reduce murders and run business better.
But in the years 1962-63 the mafia war left hundreds of died and Italian government fought it seriously for a decade; however at the beginning of 1970s the mafia reorganized itself and got stronger and stronger thanks to cigarettes smuggling and drug trafficking, expanding its tentacles also in north eastern Italy, Canada, South America, Australia and western Europe.
At the beginning of 1980s happened the second big war, which opposed Corleonesi led by Salvatore Riina to the "Old Mafia" led by Stefano Bontade; Riina won and the mafia got very violent, killing too many authorities, included judges Falcone and Borsellino in 1992 slaughters.
The government reacted very strongly and reduced it again, but now we are in 2004 and mafia is ready emerging again?
The Sicilian Mafia today
The history of the Sicilian Mafia is a terrible sequence of murders, revenge, betrayals, mysteries, and an alliance with the main power.
Since its origins, the Mafia formed a strong alliance with the main power: nobles and viceroys before; politicians, entrepreneurs, freemasons and secret services after. It usually was the "armed hand" of the power, but it often was the power itself. It's impossible to analyse the condition of the mafia today, especially for people which don't know the particular Italian situation, without going back to the 1970s. Only going back to that violent and turbulent period we can begin to understand something about the current situation.
From the 1970s to the late 1980s Cosa Nostra accumulated an huge wealth thanks to the vertical control of international drug trafficking and public contracts. This period coincided with the escalation of "Corleonesi", formed by the most secretive and violent factions of the mafia, which transformed the Sicilian Commission in a sort of dictatorship and ran the immense earnings of those years.
During the 1980s, the Corleonesi murdered thousands of men of honour, including the most important bosses, but also several journalists, judges, politicians, bankers, policemen, entrepreneurs; a real massacre.
In those years Cosa Nostra, thanks to its wealth, influenced the Italian economy and politics heavily; on the other hand because of the strong control of territories which guaranteed a great number of votes, and the use of the violence, it became, more than in the past, an obscure and subversive strength linked with the corrupted politicians.
In the beginning of the 1990s, after the scandal of Tangentopoli, which discovered the diffused system of corruption around national politics, the old parties broke down, and Cosa Nostra, which usually supported DC, the Andreotti party, needed to find new referents for the future, but before it had to 'delete' the old ones who couldn't guarantee the needs of the organization. Cosa Nostra succeeded, just in time, in leaving the old system of corruption, and supporting the new one.
In 1992 the revenge of Cosa Nostra was terrible; in a few months it killed Salvo Lima, the leader of DC party in Sicily; Ignazio Salvo, the most powerful tax collector of the island; the judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, historical enemies of the organization, together with their escorts. In 1993 Cosa Nostra did the attacks in Milan, Rome and Florence which left 10 dead, and it attacked even the Catholic Church bombing the churches and killing the priests. But since 1994 it suddenly stopped this bloody strategy and kept a low profile. This obscure period, seems to hide a lot of mysteries. Probably the mafia found the new politics allied inside some of the new parties, like Forza Italia and UDC, which were born at the beginning of 1990s; there are strong evidences regarding the links between Cosa Nostra and the current Prime Minister Berlusconi; according to some inquiries at the ending of 1970s he was supported by Cosa Nostra, through senator Marcello Dell'Utri, in order to create his media empire.
During the last ten years Cosa Nostra reorganized itself under the direction of Bernardo Provenzano, fugitive since 1963; a man with a lot of secrets, a man who could have blackmailed the State in order to hide the greatest Italian mysteries and doing a new agreement.
Despite in the past he was very violent, he replaced violent bosses with reputed diplomatic ones, because he understood that Riina's strategy was going to fail, and the mafia needed a new image.
During the 1990s years most people thought ingenuously that the mafia could be defeated thanks to repression and turncoats; however they underestimated the real power of the organization, the immense economic, military and social strength, and the links with the mighty people.
Some people thought ingenuously that the globalisation would have defeated the mafia; in the reality Cosa Nostra adapted itself to the new contest better than any 'mafia' in the world, and it's ready to come into the new millennium thanks to her secular experience, secrets, connections.