Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mafiosi rally fans, even from jail

by Natalie Cammarata

In December, Italian officials conducted a massive sweep on the Sicilian Mafia. Authorities termed the operation the “decapitation” of one of Italy’s most powerful organized crime rings. The captured men’s legacies—and their business—live on through the hands of some of Italy’s youth.

Just days after the arrests, fan groups dedicated to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra mafia bosses appeared on the social networking Web site Facebook. The groups are dedicated to two former Godfathers of Cosa Nostra: Salvatore “Toto” Riina and Bernardo Provenzano who are both currently serving multiple life sentences. Riina was arrested in 1993 and Provenzano in 2006. The current Facebook groups include “Salvatore Riina,” which has 861 members and “Santificazione di Provenzano,” which has 417 members. Other groups were taken down after receiving press attention including, “Toto Riina, the Real Boss of Bosses” and another that called for the beatification of Provenzano.

The two Mafiosi also have their own Facebook profiles, with pictures and descriptions of themselves. Young Italians are joining fan groups and befriending the Mafiosi for various reasons. One young Italian from Sicily, Veronica Fiorelli, 21, is friends with Bernardo Provenzano on Facebook, but said she does not necessarily support the mafia.

“I am fascinated by (the mafia’s) organization, in the sense that the politicians’ positions should give them the power to bring mafia activity to an end, and yet the Mafiosi, although fugitives, continue to succeed and gain their respect,” Fiorelli said.

Another young Italian, Francesco Carnali, 21, is not friends with or in any fan groups of Italian Mafiosi on Facebook. Carnali is from central North Italy, and his view of the mafia stems from a lack of work ethic in Southern Italy.

“People in Northern and central Italy want to work and they don’t want to make money from the jobs of other people through extortion and violence,” Carnali said. He also points out that the victims of extortion don’t want to fight back because it’s too dangerous. Carnali says that they prefer to keep their mouths shut and live day to day.

The development of a positive sentiment toward the mafia can be partially attributed to media glamorization of the mafia lifestyle through television and film. American creations such as The Godfather trilogy and The Sopranos emphasize the attractive elements of organized crimes. This portrayal of the Mafia has seeped into the Italian media as well, particularly by way of the television miniseries, “Il Capo Dei Capi,” or Boss of all Bosses, based on the life of Toto Riina. According to the International Herald Tribune, Provenzano was arrested while watching an episode at his girlfriend’s home in Palermo.

Young Italians like Francesco Carnali can only hope that the media spotlight on the mafia is showing young people what not to get into.

“These kinds of movies and shows like Il Capo dei Capi are, I hope, just to let people know how dangerous and unlawful the mafia is. Maybe the only reason is just to tell everyone the story and hope that no one will do anything like it,” Carnali said.

Some Facebook users are reacting to the positive attention the mafia has received with dismay. In response to mafia fan groups on Facebook, other users created anti-mafia groups that call for the removal of the fan groups, and one of them, “Abolizione del gruppo fan di Bernardo Provenzano,” has nearly 9,500 members.

A significant number of sympathizers still exist despite large numbers of young Italians joining anti-mafia groups on and off Facebook. One young man from Palermo, Sicily, the heart of Cosa Nostra, put it this way, “In the end, the mafia will win.”

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