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Barbarism thirty years later

by Roberto Bertoni

by Roberto Bertoni. Journalist and writer

Thirty years ago, shortly after the Tangentopoli scandal, also known as Bribesville, occurred the massacres of the anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, in the Sicilian town of Capaci and at Via D’Amelio in Palermo, only 57 days apart.

Fifty-seven days: so much separates Capaci from via D’Amelio. These were two months during which a significant part of the history of Italy was decided, especially if we consider the implications that the murders of Falcone and Borsellino had in the complex story of the fight against the mafia demon. It happened in the Spring and Summer of 1992, thirty years ago. A few months earlier the Tangentopoli cyclone had hit Parliament and the country, with the arrest in Milan of Mario Chiesa, socialist and president of the Pio Albergo Trivulzio. It was the beginning of the season that would put an end to the so-called First Republic.


Much has been discussed and many questions have been raised, not so much about the material perpetrators, now widely known, as about the reasons for those attacks. While waiting for the many, many answers that are still missing, we start from the certainty that Falcone and Borsellino were blown up in a Sicily that had already mourned hundreds of victims, at the end of a decade in which Palermo had become an unlivable city. And in which, from Pio La Torre onwards, the ambushes and shootings were no longer counted, in the continuous revival of a trail of blood that made any civil coexistence almost impossible. In this terrible scenario, the figure of Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of the Palermo Spring, stood out, on par with heroic figures such as the entrepreneur Libero Grassi, murdered on August 29, 1991 for his stubborn and public refusal to submit to protection money. And of the nascent anti-mafia movements which, in the years following the massacres, would become disruptive. To which, it comes to say, that perhaps Borsellino was right, when he argued that the new generations would have more strength than his to react and appreciate the “fresh scent of freedom,” repudiating “the stench of moral compromise” and what it leads to. 

Not surprisingly, there is a third tragic personality, too often ignored, which is instead worth remembering. We are talking about Rita Atria, the sister of Nicola Atria, daughter of Don Vito Atria, who committed suicide on 26 July 1992, throwing herself from the seventh floor of the Roman building in which she had been placed after having had access to the protection program because of her desire to collaborate with Borsellino, contributing to the activity of anti-mafia magistrates. She decided to follow the courageous choice of her sister-in-law Piera Aiello, who luckily is still with us and is now a member of parliament of the Republic. Her family members were the first to rejoice when they heard the news of her death, also hoping for that of Piera, but fortunately this did not affect the fighting spirit of this extraordinary woman. Every time he remembers Rita, Piera mentions the moment when this girl of only seventeen took note that without “Uncle Paolo,” as she affectionately called Borsellino, she too was dead, that her struggle would no longer have any meaning, nor would her perspective be heard. It was not so, but we are nobody to judge such a choice, as painful as it is desperate. We can only take note of her pain, of her inner torment and of what happened, in those two months, in the underground of an Italy that was organizing itself to enter a false modernity that would have marred it forever.


Because let’s face it: almost nothing has improved in the last three decades. Politics has almost died out, and with it the institutions and citizens’ trust in them. The civil passion of young people for the fight in the name of legality has remained, yes and it is beautiful, but it is equally true that many requests from the best part of the country are no longer listened to. And even the judiciary has lost much of the credibility and esteem it had earned in those years, when numerous boys and girls decided to enroll in legal studies, inspired by the Manipulite (“Clean Hands”) campaign and the tragic murders of Falcone and Borsellino. 

It’s not all over, as Caponnetto claimed, exhausted by suffering, immediately after the slaughter in via D’Amelio. Indeed, he himself can boast the merit of going to schools, contributing substantially to the birth of an anti-mafia conscience at a national level, and to the redemption of society from the hell into which it had been left to sink. What has ended, however, is our collective dream, our community idea, the hope of being able to build together spaces of solidarity and sharing that, not by chance, have failed. We are all more alone, which makes it difficult for the new generations to affect the overall context of a society that is walking at a crawl as they would like. It is important, however, to underline that something has remained, that the example of these two judges has become a movement of the soul, a collective feeling, a desire for justice that goes far beyond trials and the fight against crime, having now transformed into the will of the new generations to defeat the everyday mafia, “the mafia inside you,” of which Rita Atria spoke.

This is the mafia of arrogance, oppression, silence and cowardice, the mafia that forces Sicilian girls and boys, and not only them, to abandon their land, to look for a better future elsewhere. This is the mafia that collides with the very concept of peace, the mafia that is among us even if we do not see it and believe we are protected from it. The mafia—well defined by Peppino Impastato, another martyr of this cancer—seems to be rebelling against a liberal vision of the world in favor of retrograde traditions.

We do not want to delude ourselves that the mafia has disappeared: unfortunately, this is not the case. We are, however, convinced that those two long-deceased magistrates, who undoubtedly became a model for many young people, are making a difference, even more than they did when they were still alive. Because today we have before us not only their commitment but also their point of view, their belief in building a more just and human-sized society, their idea of ​​having to restore a minimum of dignity to their land. We are talking about men who have understood the judiciary as a mission, as the very meaning of their existence and who have paid a very high price for the dream of a free and honest society.

Thirty years later we are sure that not all has been lost and that the manifestations in their memory—ignoring some of their hypocrisy—constitute a decisive moment in our being together: the moment in which we open our eyes and choose which side to be on. The new generations, it seems evident to us, have chosen love, beauty, culture, knowledge, travel and the discovery of the world. Falcone and Borsellino are no longer there, like Rita, but their legacy is immense and their ideas, even without rhetoric, still circulate in the hearts of today’s youth, those who weren’t there thirty years ago but are still well aware of the difference between a mafia society and a democratic society.

Ph. L’opera di street art realizzata a Palermo da Rosk & Loste © Alessandrobottone via Wikipedia Commons

Roberto Bertoni

Roberto Bertoni

Journalist and writer

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