An Italian Studies Scholarly Blog
In August 2007, after the killing of six Italians committed by the Calabrian criminal organization ‘Ndrangheta in the German city of Duisburg, Laura Garavini set out to create the anti-mafia association ‘Mafia? Nein, danke!’ in Germany. Following the model of ‘Addiopizzo’, the Sicilian grassroots movement against Mafia extortions, Laura Garavini encouraged small entrepreneurs and restaurant owners to reject Mafia intimidations and report them to the police. In December 2007 the Neapolitan criminal organization Camorra tried to make inroads in Berlin, threatening tens of restaurant owners and extorting money with the use of violence. Over forty restaurateurs, following their commitment to ‘Mafia? Nein, danke!’, provided testimonies for the police that led to the arrest of two extortionists. German authorities rated ‘Mafia? Nein, danke!’ highly and reported it to Eurojust, the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit, as an example to follow at the international level in order to successfully combat organized crime.
In April 2008 Laura Garavini ran with the Italian left-wing Democratic Party for a seat in the Italian Parliament in the constituency ‘Foreign Countries/Europe’. She was elected to Parliament and became a member of the anti-mafia commission, where she held the post of Democratic Party leader. She has been the author of law proposals which have been accepted in important measures decided by the government of Mario Monti between 2011 and 2012. In 2013 general elections she was re-elected to Italian Parliament. She often goes to towns in southern Italy which have been involved in events related to organized crime. Laura Garavini is one of the architects of the anti-mafia ethical code against the insertion in electoral lists of people allegedly involved with the Mafia.
At the European level an Anti-mafia Commission (the Special Committee on Organised Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering, CRIM) has been created. Even though CRIM is not comparable to the Italian Anti-mafia Parliamentary Commission (which is a proper inquiry commission and can operate as a judiciary authority), it is extremely beneficial that such an important board of debate and analysis of phenomena linked with international organized crime has been instituted at a European level. Moreover, the European Parliament is debating an important directive on the matter of anti-mafia struggle.
It would be mistaken to think that the only active mafias in Europe are the Italian Mafias. Unfortunately other mafias of different origins have recently spread. The Russian Mafia and the Chinese Mafia are particularly powerful and diversified. Partnership between mafias of diverse origins is increasingly frequent, particularly in the governance of international traffic, along with the division, almost at a managerial level, of areas of intervention and profit with the effect of increasing the rationalization of complex criminal structures. Recent investigations demonstrate the existence of such partitions in clandestine immigration, the supply, stocking and dealing of drugs, the realization of big financial frauds intent on money-laundering, the misuse of public funding and tax evasion.
A harmonization of anti-mafia European legislation is desirable. However, we need to beware of turning this desirable harmonization into a dangerous alignment to the less rigorous legislation. Mafias are already too active at international level. We cannot afford to lower our guard.
I think it is important to support exchange and professional development of inquiring forces, both police forces and the judiciary, belonging to different States, with the purpose of understanding how to further cooperation and sort out apparent legislative incompatibilities. I consider it a priority to implement a whole series of European directives, which have been decided already, but not adopted in every country yet. For instance, I’m thinking of the constitution of common detective squads or the mutual acknowledgment of confiscation orders or the penal liability of legal subjects involved in mafia crimes. This is a series of measures which can provide a crucial contribution in pulling down the frontiers of anti-mafia struggle.
The worst mistake we can make is to allow mafias to spread even at international level, because in the turn of a few years they might be in the position of bringing the legal economy to its knees, to vitiate markets, with grave consequences for the integration processes of the European Union.
The current economic crisis is very propitious to the mafias, because they have huge cash quantitative at their disposal. While honest companies are suffering badly from their inability to obtain bank loans, the mafias face the opposite problem: they have an enormous quantity of money to launder. They can lend money with extreme ease, imposing loan shark conditions and forcing those who refuse to respect mafia rules out of the market. There is a danger that mafia capital may be met with benevolence. In the light of the motto ‘money doesn’t stink’ we can be led to weaken our anti-mafia commitment and let criminal interests spread, for instance along the wake of the laundering of huge capital in real estate or stock investments, or rather through the creation of companies intent on fake invoicing and the misuse of public funding. These kinds of processes may have devastating consequences because they lead to the contamination of the economic and financial fabric of entire regions.
‘Mafia? Nein, danke!’ was founded after an attempt of extortion to the detriment of forty Italian restaurant owners in Berlin in 2008. The cooperation of the Italian restaurateurs and the fact that they reported the extortion to the German police testify their trust of the judicial authority, which accepted their appeal and arrested the two extortionists. This was due to the desire for freedom and the respect of law and institutions typical in a country able to respond to the request of honesty rising from foreign workers who left their home country not only for economic reasons but also due to political and institutional issues. At the beginning ‘Mafia? Nein, danke!’ had 15 members. Now we have 73, one third of whom are German.
Since the mafias exploit Germany in several ways, for money laundering, for investing their immense earnings, as an area for criminals to rest or as an opportunity to expand their economic activities, fighting organized crime is an absolute necessity. This is important in every country, because mafias do not restrict themselves in single countries, but are active in all the countries of the world. For this reason we are happy that the European Union has acknowledged this necessity and created a commission destined to anti-mafia struggle. Even if it is a temporary commission, the foundation of the Special Committee on Organised Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering (CRIM) is a very important step forward in the anti-mafia struggle.
Luckily Germans’ interest in the mafia is generally very high. However, the mafia is often seen as a folkloristic phenomenon and not as a criminal organization that jeopardizes an economy that functions correctly and according to the rules. Mafia is not purely considered an Italian phenomenon, but awareness of the mafia’s strong interests in Germany is still lacking.
We are currently working on a new web page and we have intensified the work for our Facebook page. We are developing a newsletter and we continue to organize events such as theatre shows, public readings, conversations and exhibitions, as usual. We have many ideas for the future.
Many people volunteer to participate in our association. However, we find difficult to offer an opportunity to everybody because we lack an office. In any case, we maintain our contacts beyond Germany too, as part of an international network comprising a series of organizations. We want to mention FLARE, the international network for social struggle against organized crime. We also have direct links with ‘Addiopizzo’. Moreover, we have contacts at an institutional level, for instance with attorneys in Germany and Italy, political committees etc. We are well connected with world renowned writers, film makers and journalists.
I think that the current situation in Germany and Italy has become better: awareness has increased and the level of cooperation and preparation of police forces is increasingly fruitful.
Unfortunately, increasing social and political awareness of the Mafia still requires a strong commitment. I am convinced that greater attention within educational institutions may give good results. Regrettably the limitation of working with volunteers and often students who only temporarily live in Berlin does not facilitate the continuity of our job.
Diego Scarabelli is a PhD candidate in Italian Studies at University College London. His research focuses on the relationship between the Sicilian mafia and the Italian police forces and the magistracy in Palermo in the early years after Italian Unification. In addition to public sources from the State archives, Scarabelli was able to draw on unseen documents from private collections that allowed him to shed light on particular police practices in Sicily.