Mafias in Europe

It was 1962 when the American mathematician Edward Lorenz studied and elaborated the so-called “butterfly effect”, probably inspired by “A Sound of Thunder”, a story by Ray Bradbury. The writer of the famous novel “Fahrenheit 451” imagines that, in the future dystopian fixed in 2055, the protagonist, a hunter who, during a “safari in time”, tramples on and kills a butterfly, causing political, social, cultural changes in his present.

Lorenz elaborated mathematically and physically the hypothesis that “a beat of the wings of a seagull would be enough to alter the course of the climate forever”: the seagull, which later became a more romantic butterfly, would cause a shift of matter such as to trigger infinitesimal but decisive changes in reality that could also cause a hurricane to originate in another part of the world.

The more than suggestive Lorenz theory, endowed with a bursting imaginative force, has been the basis for successful scripts such as Donnie Darko and The Butterfly Effect; it has inspired singers and artists and, over time, has served to explain philosophical theories, related to human destiny and environmental theories, related to climate change.

Among the various applications of the concept, interesting is the instrumental use that is often made of the butterfly effect to explain globalization: the global market, wrongly defined as inevitable and part of human evolution, has triggered over time invisible links between places in the world apparently disconnected. A fire in a shoe factory in Thailand, for example, can cause considerable damage to an American-based multinational company, causing its stock market price to drop and affecting employment in the areas of the world where the multinational company operates. The most emblematic example is certainly that of the Great Crisis of 2008: the deregulation of the financial markets allowed incredible – and complicated – speculation by the largest financial players in the United States (Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan among them), especially in the real estate market. When the speculative bubble burst, a domino effect was triggered that led first to the bankruptcy of the world’s largest insurance company (AIG), then to the collapse of the world stock exchange, to the point of affecting the daily lives of billions of people, especially in the poorest and most underdeveloped countries, step by step.

Globalization has allowed us to find Asian or South American products on the shelves of our supermarkets; it has allowed us to know the political controversies of this or that Sub-Saharan country; it has allowed us to connect and create bridges between economic and social realities that are very distant from each other. But as the butterfly effect teaches, each clap of wings corresponds to a hurricane.

One of the many, too many negative and uncontrolled – but not uncontrollable – effects of globalization has been and still is the exponential growth of organized crime: the almost feudal Sicilian Mafia families, the barbaric “ndrine” of the ‘ndrangheta, the Camorra clans have decided to learn English, German, Spanish and have had the ability to cross the Italian and European borders.

For this reason, defining the characteristics of the Italian criminal organizations today is very difficult and complex. Like two-headed Janus, in fact, on the one hand, they are deeply tied to their territories of origin, where they continue to maintain a power deeply tied to the popular consensus; on the other, instead, they have acquired a strong propensity to emigrate and explore beyond the Italian borders in search of the most fertile lands to sow and then reap their criminal fruits.

At this point, it is necessary to open a parenthesis. For decades, the mafias have differentiated their sectors of investment, in search of a giant “washing machine” of their dirty money always in operation. It is fundamental for the mafias to invest as much as possible in legal activities which allow the use of their own dirty money deriving from activities such as the trade of drugs, prostitution, pizzo, and so on. For this reason, to speak of “mafia organization” today means to speak of a real “mafia enterprise”, whose primary purpose is profit, characterized by a renewed ability to blend with the legal market and with agents active in the European and global economic landscape. The mafias earn, invest and risk just like any other company and, given their immense economic capacity, they are comparable to a few multinationals in the world. According to a recent study by the Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission, Italian mafias have a turnover (i.e. a sum of revenues) of around EUR 150 billion, more than the first Italian multinational (Exor, which includes Juventus and Fiat, for example, which in 2018 had a turnover of EUR 143 billion).

Capital. Investments. Globalisation. The golden words that characterize the unbridled neo-liberalism, today, are the same words that can be used for the various forms of organized crime, Italian (the ‘ndrangheta above all) and foreign (such as the Mexican and Colombian Narcos and the Russian mafia). And also in this case, the butterfly effect takes its course. As when, in 2007, one of the typical internal feuds of the ‘ndrangheta – the one between the Nirta-Strangio and Pelle-Vottari clans – originated in the Calabrian hinterland, in San Luca, motherland of what is today recognized as the strongest criminal organization in the world and monopolist of the European cocaine market – had its devastating effects on very distant places, geographically and culturally. It is Germany, in fact, the scenario in which, on the day of August 15 of twelve years ago, the internal war between the Calabrian clans was definitively consummated: in Duisburg, a city famous for its steel and its immense river port, in front of the restaurant Da Bruno (one of the many “washing machines” of the ‘ndrangheta), the typical Teutonic silence was broken by the explosion of dozens and dozens of blows. 6 victims, all belonging to the Pelle-Vottari clan, aged between 16 and 39. The two main principals, Giovanni Strangio and Francesco Nirta, were arrested a few years later not in the arid San Luca, not in bunkers well hidden among the sewers of Calabria, not in houses protected by a frightened and silent neighbourhood, but in Holland. The first, in fact, was arrested in Amsterdam, in 2009; the second near Utrecht, in Nieuwegein, in 2013.

A feud in San Luca, a massacre in Duisburg, two arrests in Holland: this is globalisation. Here is the butterfly effect. Faraway stories that intersect, distant countries that become scenarios of the same tragedies, apparently parallel lines that intersect giving rise to twisted mazes. As well as the stories of the last two innocent victims of mafia, Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova, twenty-seven years old Slovaks, engaged, and Antonino Vadalà, born in Bova Marina, in the province of Reggio Calabria, known for years by the Italian authorities. Jan was a brilliant journalist and was working on an investigation into the relationship between ‘ndrangheta and the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, aimed at discovering an immense turnover based on the illegal interception of European funds. Vadalà, already known by Italian investigators for having hidden the drug dealer Domenico “Mico” Ventura, escaped from Bova Marina in Slovakia where he started fervent business activities and acquired more and more power as a referent of the criminal association, establishing relations with the Prime Minister of the country. Jan’s investigations were brutally silenced on February 21, 2018, the day in which he and Martina were killed in their home, but the butterfly effect, this time, led to a hurricane of collective anger and solidarity: Robert Fico, in fact, was forced to resign from the Slovak protests, squares filled as never before since the Velvet Revolution of 1989 to demand loudly new elections.

Immense economic availability (comparable to a few states or multinationals in the world), intercontinental ramifications and permeating capacity in many areas of society: perhaps Marlon Brando, the actor who played the famous Godfather, was right when he said that “the mafia is the best example of capitalism that we have”.

BKA and Interior Minister Seehofer present the situation of Organized Crime in Germany

Unfortunately, the figures published on 24th September 2019 by the BKA and the Federal Ministry of the Interior do not represent a successful story. The number of proceedings against organised crime (which by itself is a very broad field and by no means only includes complex organised mafia groups) has fallen from 572 to 535 compared to the previous year.

Considering that the topic of fighting organised crime has moved back into the spotlight with the discovery of so-called Clan-Kriminalität, this decline is even more drastic. But that is not all. The data prove that the fight against organised crime in Germany is not effective.

There are up to 1000 members of the ‘ndrangheta in Germany, but investigations reach just 124 people.

The Green parliamentary group in the Bundestag is grateful for the fact that the federal government must count Mafiosi in Germany every year. In May of this year, the government reported that:

The estimated number of members to be attributed to ‘ndrangheta is between 800 and 1000“.

Now we learn that last year there were 13 investigations against all members of the Italian Organized Crime, (besides the ‘ndrangheta also Cosa Nostra, Camorra and others). One less case than last year. The fact that 124 members of the ‘ndrangheta were investigated speaks for itself. This means that 9 out of 10 mafiosi remain unharmed in Germany, 9 out of 10 members of criminal organisations can take their time and rule as they please. With the other organizations (Camorra, Cosa Nostra etc.) the picture is the same.

The inadequacy of our State action in the field of Organised Crime is also shown by the low amount of confiscated assets.

Million-dollar revenues remain with the gangsters.

The damage caused by criminal activities is estimated at 691 million euros. Income from criminal activities is estimated at 675 million euros. For now, 72 million euros has been held from criminals. Taking these numbers for granted, even though they are certainly lower than reality, more than 600 million euros remain to them. Or, to put it another way, it is very worth it to be a criminal in Germany.

Why is not easy to estimate the incomes made by criminal organisations? If one calculates what the profits of confiscated drugs would have been on the market, one must assume billions in revenues. This is joined by other criminal activities. And another point that is regularly forgotten at the annual exhibition of the Federal Republic of Germany’s security order: Organized crime groups are not only illegally active; they also use the Federal Republic’s economic system for their activities. For legal activities. It is difficult to estimate them. But, to completely ignore them alone speaks for a reduced view on organized crime.

We finally need a new edition of the Periodic Safety Report.

The Federal Situation Report on Organised Crime is based on investigations that have been carried out. This is a banal statement, but with far-reaching consequences. What does not appear in investigation proceedings or where preliminary investigation proceedings are not transferred to formal investigation proceedings is not found in the Federal Situation Picture.

In view of the increasing pressure to succeed in investigations and lower resources for structural investigations (where it is not a question of identifying perpetrators but of clarifying criminal structures) as well as the frequent lack of personnel in the police forces of the Länder, it is obvious that the federal situation picture cannot show a real picture of the conditions in the country, with the exception of the activities of the police forces, which it reflects.

This report does not say what the situation is regarding organized crime in Germany. It only shows what is being done against organized crime. This is a big difference! Mafianeindanke asked the Federal Minister of the Interior at the beginning of June to finally compile the Periodic Security Report. This report scientifically explains the state of Germany’s security. Crime and organised crime naturally play a major role, as the reports produced in the past show. Since this report has other data available as a source material, this gives a different view on the issue. Federal Interior Minister Seehofer said at the beginning of June that the report was coming. He did not give an exact date.

Tears and Thrillers – the Summer School on Mafia and Women in Milan conveys new knowledge

It can happen that you listen to a prosecutor’s account of her trying to stop a cooperating witness on her way to doom and the vehicle seems to pass through every road barrier unnoticed, and all she had at her disposal was a GPS signal. No car type, no eavesdropping, just a dot on the screen.

You may wonder why it is better not to see women in mafia clans as victims, but rather to consider factors that make them particularly vulnerable, because weakness arises from victim status, but vulnerability can be a resource of strength.

It also happens that you – and almost everyone else in the course, including the professors – are moved to tears by a play and feel the power of words. And it can happen that after a week and a total of 40 hours of teaching, the highest Italian anti-Mafia prosecutor will personally present you with your diploma. The Summer School at the University of Milan on several topics of organized crime is without a doubt something special. Participating in it, if you speak Italian, is a great privilege.

But if you come from Germany, it also leaves you a little sad. About the fact that there is no such event in Germany, which is aimed equally at a professional and a public audience. And of course, the old and still urgent story that the topic of organized crime and the mafia in Italy is receiving the attention and support that one seeks in vain in Germany. For the ninth time, the University of Milan organized this seminar. This year the topic was Mafia and Women, and it also saw the participation of the Italian anti-Mafia organisation Libera. On the university side, the programme was designed by three professors: Nando dalla Chiesa, Monica Massari and Ombretta Ingrascì and CROSS (Research Institute on Organized Crime). They are all researching the mafia and organized crime – which alone shows how far ahead Italy is in this regard. One of the organisers is also Sarah Mazzenzana, a former mafianeindanke volunteer. This year there were around 40 permanent participants: policemen and policewomen, public prosecutors, students, teachers, seniors and interested citizens. One participant came all the way from Washington.

It is difficult to summarize a week so rich in impressions and insights. One possible conclusion is that the male view on women in organized crime made a comprehensive view of the phenomenon virtually impossible. On a broad scale, the vision on clans as pure male entities still prevails. In fact, women play significant roles in all important organisations in Italy (‘ndrangheta, Cosa Nostra, Camorra and the smaller groups).

The Neapolitan Camorra, which sees itself as the most “progressive” organization, has experienced female bosses. Even the example of a trans woman leading a group is documented. Various interviews with female witnesses have also shown that the importance of women is far greater than just raising children and passing on the (dis)values of the mafia. It is also true, however, that within the Calabrian ‘ndrangheta it is significant for the clans to keep women under as much control as possible, precisely because their function is so central for the clans – even if they are not formally allowed to become members and thus do not assume an official function. For example, when Giusy Pesce became a cooperating witness and changed sides, the opposing clan Bellocco celebrated and mocked that the Pesce obviously could not keep their women under control.

Clan’s women often take on service functions as lawyers or financial administrators and accountants. This helps to understand the ‘ndrangheta not as a monolithic block, but as a network of different clans who do not all maintain the same rules and procedural patterns.

In the Summer School, however, the focus was not only on the women of the mafia, but also on those who fought it. Some were actually present, such as the prosecutors Alessandra Cerreti and Alessandra Dolci. Listening their experiences with key witnesses was exciting, shocking and enlightening. Their stories resembled a thriller – only with female leading roles. Female dropouts also had their say: the stage director Mimmo Sorrentino, for example, reported on how his plays were created. He works in maximum security prisons with confined mafia women. He gets to know their matters by asking them to tell the story of their fellow prisoners. Only this trick makes it possible to deal with one’s own life. Two women who played in his dramas reported how impressive this can be. One of the actresses told how she fell in love with a young man, a high-ranking mafioso from a well-known family. It is also testimonies like these that not only deepen the knowledge on organized crime, but also make it vivid.

The support of the Summer School by the highest authorities was surprising. Giuseppe Sala, the mayor of Milan, came to the opening and announced that the municipality would support the tenth edition of the Summer School in the coming year. Italy’s highest anti-Mafia prosecutor Federico Cafiero de Raho personally handed over testimonies at the end, along with many other important people.

Mafia kills

Some time ago, a message sent by McDonald’s to its customers in Austria caused a sensation: “Hey Mafioso, try our new Bacon della Casa now! Bella Italia”. The American company justified itself by saying that the use of the word mafioso was a mistake. However, the billboards hanging in Vienna included the following sentence: “Für echte Mampfiosi” (“For the real Mampfiosi”) to advertise a new Mediterranean-style sandwich. The sentence is based on a play on words between the verb mampfen (gorging) and the term mafiosi. Leaving aside the weak justifications and the political propaganda that has been generated around this event, the word mafia and the status of mafioso are again used abroad with a sort of boast.

As said, it is not the first and will certainly not be the last example of this type, last year the eyes of the public opinion were focused on the Spanish restaurant chain “La Mafia se siente a la mesa” (“The Mafia sits at the table”), present in Spain with over 40 venues and which uses the brand “mafia” in their corporate identity. The European Union Court, following a formal request for cancellation of the trademark by Italy, declared that the name of the chain could not be registered with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) with the following grounds: “The verbal element ‘the mafia’ dominates the Spanish company’s trademark and is globally understood as referring to a criminal organisation which, in particular, has resorted to intimidation, physical violence and murder in order to carry out its activities, which include illicit trafficking in drugs and arms, money laundering and corruption”. Furthermore, “such criminal activities violate the very values on which the Union is founded, in particular the values of respect for human dignity and freedom, which are indivisible and constitute the spiritual and moral heritage of the Union. Moreover, in view of their transnational dimension, the criminal activities of the mafia pose a serious threat to the security of the Union as a whole”.

Also here in Berlin, we unfortunately have examples of this type, in which the word mafia is not only used in a positive way, but the very structure of the criminal organisation is brought to be a founding element of who uses it. This is the example of the theatre-group Mafia Penguins, which describes its team as “La Familia”. Or the German school Sprachmafia, which offers language courses in the Neukölln district.

This is no longer acceptable. And not just out of national pride, but out of respect. Respect for those 1011 innocent victims of the mafias who have been killed by gunfire, bombs, terrorist attacks, for those who, in Italy and abroad, have fought and are fighting the mafia with all their strength, by doing their job. Today, mafia, organised crime, corruption, money laundering, are problems that affect all countries, mafia has become global, and it is time that even the feeling of the population and the efforts of countries go in a common direction to battle these phenomena that are no longer all Italian.

Because yes, the mafia kills, does not sit at the table, and the word mafia is stained by the blood of innocent victims and cannot be used for futile business reasons.

Sicily: the land of Antimafia


Since the murder of Peppino Impastato occurred on May 9, 1978 – known by the movie-public thanks to “I Cento Passi” movie – not only his mother, but also his friends Umberto Santino and Anna Puglisi have been tirelessly searching for justice and documenting the mafia. The Centro di Documentazione Giuseppe Impastato in Cinisi, founded in 1977, has been collecting material on the history of the Mafia and the anti-Mafia movement ever since.

Now the Centro has opened a museum in the heart of Palermo, in the Historical Palace of Gulì, donated by the city of Palermo. The new “No-Mafia-Memorial” hosts three permanent and one temporary exhibition and it is intended not only to give multi-media access to the topic, but also to be a place for exchange – and I can confirm, it is! To my surprise, both Umberto Santino – who is the author of many books on the Mafia – and Anna Puglisi (author of the book “Donne, Mafia e Anti-Mafia“) were there and we immediately entered into an animated conversation about the court trials, false witnesses and the Mafia in Germany.

The visit of the Museum is free of charge and in this place, like at mafianeindanke, you can see how much commitment, heart and soul it takes to do a good job with little money, based only on donations and voluntary support! Thank you, Umberto Santino, Anna Puglisi e Ario Mendiola (Art Director of the Museum), keep it going! Also mafianeindanke is working on the concept for a documentation center or better said, for an observatory on organized crime in Germany and we are looking for donors.


We were with friends by the sea, right in front of the “Isola delle Femmine” – less than 300 meters away from the place where the Mafia carried out a serious assassination on May 23, 1992, known as the Massacre of Capaci (“Strage di Capaci”), in which the judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and three police escort agents, Vito Schifani, Rocco Dicillo and Antonio Montinaro, were murdered and 23 people injured. Today, right next to the motorway that connects Palermo to the airport and Trapani, there is a garden dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Mafia. There, next to a high stele, old and young olive trees grow, and each tree is dedicated to a victim of the Mafia attacks. A forest of olive trees.

There we met a man who removed garbage. A volunteer, a visitor from Rome, who was also on holiday in Sicily. We took the son of our friends there with us, an 11-year-old Italian-German from Berlin. He knows about the terroristic attack and he knows the details as every Italian does: the Strage di Capaci has a similar weight for Italians as the attack on the Twin Towers in the USA has. Everyone knows where he was in that special moment. And since then, everything has changed. Almost all today’s anti-mafia initiatives in Italy have their origin or their founding motivation from that very summer of 1992. It is always important to remember, even as a German, how many innocent victims of the mafia there are. Not only in Italy but also in Malta, Slovakia and Germany, it is too easy to think that all the people murdered by the mafia are Mafiosi killed in some mafia wars. But that is wrong. Behind every Mafia Euro laundered in Germany there are innocent victims.


Mafianeindanke’s partner Addiopizzo was born 15 years ago, and the founders joined the growing anti-mafia-movement after the Strage di Capaci and the Strage di Via d’Amelio, which took place less than 6 weeks later and in which the judge Paolo Borsellino was murdered. When those youngsters wrote their business plan for the opening of a restaurant, they were reminded by their advisor that a certain percentage of money had to be planned for the “Pizzo” – an injustice that they couldn’t bear! So shameful that the founders decided to surprise the whole city of Palermo with a nightly action, putting stickers in mourning announcements that said: “An entire community who pays the Pizzo is a community without dignity”.

The Palermitans felt insulted and outraged by that message, the press got excited and hectic, searching for the authors of the sticker. After the founders of Addiopizzo declared publicly their intention of creating a network of commercial activities not paying the Pizzo, they started first collecting thousands of signatures from citizens who agreed to shop in places that explicitly didn’t pay the Pizzo, to eat in pizzerias and restaurants that went against the mafia. Only after having collected the signatures of several thousand potential customers they went to restaurant owners and other business holders with this list to get their approval to found an association of commercial activities that refused to pay. Even today, 15 years and 10,000 members later, Addiopizzo organizes an annual fair where suppliers and customers can get to know each other directly. In the meantime, the Comitato has also founded a travel agency, Addiopizzotravel, which offers free travel through the beautiful Sicily, as well as half-day anti-mafia tours, which can be booked directly, but also through various portals.

Mafianeindanke is often asked, what can a German do against the Mafia? Well, for example, to take part in these kind of travels to Sicily and support all those who said no to the mafia. By the way; there are still places available for the trip to Sicily with addiopizzo in October.