Essays Italian Mafia

The easiest way to define a mafia is as a freemasonry of criminals – it’s the freemasons for murderers – and that’s what the Cosa Nostra and ’Ndrangheta are.

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In terms of their power today, how does it compare to, say, 25 years ago?

In the late 1970s and 1980s, large parts of Sicily looked like they would become narco-provinces.

The Camorra also died out at one point, principally because of a huge trial in 1911 to 1912.

Since that point, Camorra has actually meant a number of different things, as I have already mentioned, ranging from common-or-garden smuggling gangs to much bigger, more formally structured crime groups.

The Camorra in the form of an Honoured Society re-emerged in the 1970s, in Raffaele Cutolo’s remarkable Nuova Camorra Organizzata.

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Cutolo probably borrowed the ideas for his organisation – the most numerous in Italian mafia history – from the ’Ndrangheta, into which he was initiated, as well as from books about the old Neapolitan Honoured Society he borrowed from prison libraries.The Cosa Nostra was controlling the wholesale heroin market in the United States and making rivers of dollars.It had the organisation, wealth and firepower to confront the Italian state directly – quite literally to kill anyone who stood in its way.The Cosa Nostra and the ’Ndrangheta have a dynastic politics that resemble the royal families of medieval Europe.In other words, they keep their women at home and they use them as pawns in the diplomatic game.Revolutions need an armed wing, and the idealistic patriots who were conspiring to overthrow the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies – as Southern Italy and Sicily were called – and unite it with the rest of Italy, formed an alliance with violent criminals whom they used as revolutionary muscle.Our best guess at why the mafias are organised like freemasons – with admission rituals, hierarchies, internal courts and codes of behaviour – is that they learnt that way of organising themselves from these patriots, many of whom were freemasons or involved in Masonic-style secret societies. Firstly, the ’Ndrangheta arrived slightly later – in the 1880s.Those are the three major ones, although there are smaller ones too.As I say in my book Mafia Brotherhoods, Italy doesn’t just have a mafia, it has a criminal ecosystem in which existing mafias evolve and new ones come into being. Their origins are tied very closely to the emergence of Italy as a unified state. The long process leading up to Italian unification – was much more of a revolution and was more violent than it was in the rest of the country.One of the reasons that the Sicilian mafia is organised as it is, is that somebody is always ready to step into their boss’s shoes.But nonetheless, it’s a crisis that the Cosa Nostra is now living through and it’s having to find different strategies to survive and prosper.


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