A journey “on the road”: Messina, between social anti-mafia and the desire for redemption.


Going back to Sicily always has a bittersweet taste, it gives you the feeling of being in a place where time has stopped, but underneath everything moves very quickly. This year I took part in one of the many summer camps that Libera, the organisation against Mafias, arranges throughout Italy in the assets confiscated from organized crime. I was in Messina in the seized property of Via Roosevelt, the current seat of the city committee of Addiopizzo. An atypical, wandering camp, which has tried to touch the various facets of the city, listening to the voices and testimonies of those who narrate the city every day, live it and try to make it more just.

What a better way to get to know it than by walking through its streets, admiring its beauties and listening to its history and, unavoidably, the Mafia networks that have taken place over the years. It was Nuccio Anselmo, journalist of the Gazzetta del Sud, who acted as Cicero telling us the relevant events that happened in the city giving us a fundamental overview useful to let us continue our journey in discovering the city. It was then the turn of knowing with our own hands what counter-actions are carried out in Messina thanks to the meeting with the Deputy Attorney Vito Di Giorgio who, since 1999, has been following the investigations in the city, crossroads of countless interests that are linked to a strong occult power and drug trafficking.

The city of Messina is divided into zones of influence, which are very often equal to the districts themselves, each governed by a Mafia clan that imposes its own power. Messina, however, has never been a keystone within the criminal organization of the island, the preponderant role related to the families of Palermo and Corleone has always been the one held by Barcellona Pozzo di Gotto, a town of about 50,000 inhabitants in the north coast of Sicily. The Barcellona family has always had a greater influence on the province of Messina also thanks to its internal vertical organization, similar to the one of Cosa Nostra in Palermo. According to Di Giorgio’s experience, it is an entrepreneurial Mafia that has constantly inserted itself within the legal economy, controlling most of the companies involved in the great public works and succeeding in imposing its own power thanks to violence and through many Mafia related murders, about 280, occurring for two fundamental reasons: the need of an internal cleaning and the elimination of subjects that bothered the criminal organization.

The Messina’s area has always been confronted with the plague of “Pizzo”, a widespread extortion method throughout the province, which, according to a study by the Chinnici Foundation, is the most expensive of all Sicily. The “Pizzo” is asked by Mafiosi for two main reasons: first, for economic reasons and the need of money that can be used immediately on various fronts, such as the maintenance of affiliates in prison and their families, there is also the purpose to assert their power in the region, this also generates a mechanism of fear that, combined with the little protection guaranteed by the Government, means that only a few people press charge and prefer to pay rather than risk. It is here that Di Giorgio stresses how fundamental it is that condemnations increase, but this can only be possible by having a higher level of trust in the institutions, this depends largely on the actions of the “legal operators” (ed. Legal attorneys, politicians, magistrates, men of the institutions).  A fundamental and very effective instrument to defeat the Mafias and drastically reduce their power is that of striking their patrimony: the instrument of the seizure and confiscation of the goods and properties, which becomes mortal for a mafioso, is therefore fundamental.

In this overview Libera and Addiopizzo put themselves in and try to bring to the city a participated fight against Mafias, a social anti-mafia that is not limited to the fight against organized crime, but that conveys values and choices that are totally different from the mafia mentality. This is the case of the campaign of “recruitment” of Pizzo-free business owners: create a network of merchants who oppose to the payment of the “Pizzo” to whom they give moral and legal support. Therefore, to create a clean and functioning alternative to the mafia one.

To make our contribution concrete, we have created flyers to distribute to business owners and customers to sponsor critical consumption, i.e. the purchase of products from shops that decide not to pay the “Pizzo”. Another testimony of social anti-mafia was brought to us by Angelo Cavallaro, school manager of IC Catalfamo and Salvatore Rizzo of Ecosmed, who told us how they are trying to change the city starting from projects in schools and, at an urban level, with the assignment of houses to families in precarious situations with the “Capacity Project”. Another practical example that we touched on was that of Gigliopoli, an association that organizes summer camps for children and welcoming projects, a unique reality that makes inclusion and legality its focal point, with the president of the association, Vincenzo Scaffidi, we talked about ethical and critical consumption, self-production, education and inclusion, many issues that fit perfectly within this vision.

One of Libera’s pillars is that of memory: a living and constant memory made by stories and faces of people that were killed by Mafias and can be an inspiration and an example. There were two moments dedicated to this during the camp: the first in memory of Giorgio Ambrosoli, a lawyer from Milan killed forty years ago, the second was the story of Domenico Nicolò Pandolfo, Head Physician at the reunited hospitals of Reggio Calabria, brutally killed on the 20th March 1993, he only had one fault: he was not able to save the daughter of the boss Cosimo Cordì affected by brain cancer. What increased the emotion of the moment was the fact that this story was told to us by Marco Pandolfo, son of Domenico, that during the week we had known only as a cook and travel companion and gifted us with the story of a good father.

Estate Liberi means all this and much more: it means living with people from all over Italy, with different stories and paths that merge in a week of commitment, study and improvement. It means finding an alternative to the distorted vision that the mafias impose on us, it means finding the beauty where it is complicated to see it, it means digging deep. A both physical and inner journey.