Seven years ago, I wrote about businesses in Palermo, Sicily that were refusing to pay ‘pizzo’ extortion money to the Sicilian mafia. How is the situation today? Well, to find out, I spoke to Giusy Galluzzo of Addiopizzo, an organization that is working to end mafia extortion in Palermo.
Ms Galluzzo told me that Addiopizzo is still active and that today around 1,000 shop and other business owners, including bars, hotels and restaurants are now saying “no to the pizzo”. In 2007, the figure was 210. Addiopizzo is ‘goodbye protection money’ in English.
The number of Sicilians who have pledged to make purchases from ‘pizzo-free’ businesses in Palermo has increased from 9,000 in 2007 to just under 12,700 today.
Mafia Skills Shortage
When I asked about the mafia situation in general in Palermo, Ms Galluzzo said that while the battle was far from being over, progress is being made. She went on to explain that the Sicilian mafia is suffering from fragmentation and what amounts to a kind of skills shortage.
According to Ms Galluzzo, the skills shortage has come about because many of the older more experienced mafia bosses are are now languishing behind bars. The new, younger, generation mafia ‘managers’ are simply not as capable as their now imprisoned though criminally competent predecessors.
The Economic Crisis Hit the Mafia
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In addition to the skills issue, the economic crisis has caused Sicilian mafia to change direction. Extorting money from shopkeepers and business owners is no longer as lucrative as it once was. As a direct consequence of the crisis, some businesses in Palermo can no longer afford to ‘donate‘ around €500 a month to organized crime. As a result, more and more are prepared to say no to pizzo extortion and this has caused the mafia to look elsewhere for its ill gotten gains. It seems the economic crisis has affected the Sicilian mafia as much as everyone else.
Out of curiosity, I asked Ms Galluzzo whether she was aware of Italy’s ‘ndrangheta mafia forming agreements with what appears to be an ever weakening Sicilian mafia. She told me there are no signs of any major alliances taking place. The Calabria-based ‘ndrangheta is now regarded as Italy’s most powerful criminal organization and in recent years has successfully spread its tentacles into Italy’s north and much further afield.
The Addiopizzo App
To help people find ‘pizzo-free’ businesses, Addiopizzo has created the Addiopizza app – available for iPhones, iPads and Android smart phones. With this app, customers can locate businesses that have said no to mafia extortion.
As well as encouraging businesses in Palermo to refuse to pay extortion money, Addiopizzo is constantly working with schools to help raise awareness of the mafia problem. While Addiopizzo’s educational initiatives may not have much effect in the short term, in the longer term, it may prevent young Sicilians from opting for a mafia career.
Other Similar Organizations in Sicily
When I asked Ms Galuzzo whether Addiopizzo is active in other areas of Sicily, she told me that it was not but that similar organizations now exist in Messina and Catania.
It was good to hear that Addiopizzo is still very much alive, kicking and making progress. In this Italy watcher’s opinion, the people behind the organization are highly courageous and merit more support. I’d also suggest that Milan up in Italy’s north could do with an equivalent organization – recently, I’ve been hearing ever more rumors that businesses in Milan’s suburbs are receiving an increasing number of requests for pizzo payments and that some are already paying up.