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No "Pizzo" for my "Pizza"
January 13, 2008 4:37 PM   Subscribe

"In a rebellion shaking the Sicilian Mafia to its centuries-old roots, businesses are joining forces in refusing to submit to demands for protection money called 'pizzo.' And they're getting away with it, threatening to sap an already weakened crime syndicate of one of its steadiest sources of revenue." The rebellion is fueled by a Web site "where businessmen are finding safety in numbers to say no to the mob." Called Addiopizzo (Goodbye Pizzo) "it brings together businesses in the Sicilian capital that are resisting extortion." The campaign was launched in 2004 by a group of youths thinking of opening a pub. "They started off by plastering Palermo with anti-pizzo fliers, reading 'AN ENTIRE PEOPLE WHO PAYS THE PIZZO IS A PEOPLE WITHOUT DIGNITY,' and eventually brought their campaign online where it struck a profound chord with Sicilians fed up with Mafia bullying."*
posted by ericb (57 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good for them. Once you strip away all the Hollywood bullshit, this stuff is nothing more than 'Pay me or I'll hurt you.' If enough people say 'no,' their power is stripped away and all their other illegal busineses can't function.
posted by jonmc at 4:43 PM on January 13, 2008


The mafia is likely to start making examples if enough people start this. However, at that point, they will be weakened - if they get caught and charged when they do it, it might be enough to destroy them. Public opinion will be at its lowest, and their funding will be poor - they won't be able to mount the defense they usually are.

If the government's cooperation can be gained and the inevitable blowback is survived, this might be able to succeed.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:59 PM on January 13, 2008


Once you strip away all the Hollywood bullshit, this stuff is nothing more than 'Pay me or I'll hurt you.'

I think that's what it is in Hollywood too.
posted by DU at 5:00 PM on January 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sweet. Next up: taxes.
posted by mullingitover at 5:03 PM on January 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


Terrific news (provisionally, of course). Thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 5:04 PM on January 13, 2008


While I completely applaud any such initiatives, which are at the root of a very good start, let me be moderately optimistic and introduce you to this article about Roberto Saviano and recommend you his book Gomorra.

This will help you get a better picture of what modern mafia is all about. Indeed as jonmc says, strip away the hollywood bull and what you have...were tugs. Nowadays, tugs are still part of the outlook, but more tragically they turned into businessman and successful one.

As a college graduate in economy, I probably share an education that was received by the second generation mafiosi as well, as they were prepare to "run businesses" and given an ideology that completely supports and rationalizes exploitation as the only rational choice of a free market economy. As many MBAs and college graduates know, a good economic education does prepare you to understand some dynamics, but hardly prepares you for the harsher realities of meeting deadlines and putting what you have learned to practice.

Yet, it's all a lot easier when

1. your financier has very good supply of money at very low cost
2. doesn't really care about immediately turning a profit
3. is primarily concerned with creating a good facade that is , as soon as possible, able to turn a positive balance sheet
4. have a decadent legal system which isn't really up-2-date with the reality of business, the speed of capital movements, the escamotages

All of this seems a reasonable, almost auspicable outcome for illegal capitals , turned finally into profiteable and legitimate activities. Certainly, better then reinvesting
in more drugs and crimes. Yet, the mentality remains the same, as the profiteer mentality is reinforced by the evidence given by the incredible efficacy of racketeering and gross disregard of law.

If you paid some attention to news you probably heard of the Naples trash scandal. A city the size of Naples, depicted as if it was submerged literally by trash. Fact are obviously a little different and concentrate on the spectacularly disgusting display, whereas the scandal is deeper.

The general unofficial consesus among better informed italians is that this scandal is yet-another-emergency created to have government finance the construction of incinerators , which are also known as "thermovalorizators" , a marketing trick worthy of Orwellian Newspeak. The few that are already operating in Italy would operate as at a loss , if they weren't financed by state aids ; apparently the net energy they produce is financially insignificant and they actually produce nastier forms of pollutions, such as untreatable ashes , C02 and other undesiderable byproduct of combustion, such as extremely fine particles which are suspected to cause cancer.

That's the "new" mafia, the one that is so entrenched and in collusion with all level of political activity and markets. And it's no longer an italian export, as this developement can find parallels in Enron , schemed energy crises and other scandals that represent a "new" approach to economy, the one in which all the costs are socialized and the profits privatized...which is hardly new.
posted by elpapacito at 5:11 PM on January 13, 2008 [17 favorites]


I pizz on your pizzo.

(interesting post. Thanks, and right on!)
posted by Eekacat at 5:14 PM on January 13, 2008


The only thing worse than organized crime is disorganized crime
posted by Mick at 5:21 PM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Neat post, ericb, thanks. The article linked in the little asterisk (not sure why it's buried like that) has some great details:

In December, police scored another coup when they shot dead Daniele Emmanuello, the reputed boss of the Gela area's extortion rackets, as he fled from a farmhouse hideout.

Emmanuello didn't take time to change out of his pajamas, but he did swallow some handwritten notes. Authorities are examining them for more information on the pizzo racket.


"I got into police work for *this*?"
posted by mediareport at 5:32 PM on January 13, 2008


If you paid some attention to news you probably heard of the Naples trash scandal.

I got this one: They made them an offer they couldn't... refuse?
posted by hal9k at 5:42 PM on January 13, 2008 [11 favorites]


I would just like to say that escamotage is my new favorite word.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:51 PM on January 13, 2008


As awful as it sounds, won't they just kill a few people? That tends to get people to stop resisting.
posted by smackfu at 6:02 PM on January 13, 2008


The campaign was launched in 2004 by a group of youths...

Oops -- that should be youts ("Mr. Gambini, your witness.")
posted by ericb at 6:06 PM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


is sicily one of the places where only the bad guys have guns?
posted by bruce at 6:40 PM on January 13, 2008


Awesome, fuck gangsters.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:44 PM on January 13, 2008


is sicily one of the places where only the bad guys have guns?

When there's a bunch of them and only one of you, and they know where you live...

...nah, forget it, I'm just going to call you stupid for thinking that gun ownership makes you immune to crime.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:44 PM on January 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


"is sicily one of the places where only the bad guys have guns?"

It must be, because violent extortion never happens in places where guns are legal!
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:00 PM on January 13, 2008


yeah, this is cool ericb.

and more power to those shop owners, stick it to the thugs. who has the more powerful organization? it isn't about the individual in this crap, it is who has the better organization. when you have it, you crush your opponent. the mafioso, they go to hell, whether they win or whether they lose. Yeah, you can lick the bishop's balls, but when you screw jesus, you don't get redemption. sorry suckers. in the end the meek will inherit the earth, but it is always nice when they get a chunk of in now rather than later.
posted by caddis at 7:13 PM on January 13, 2008


pope guilty, gun ownership does indeed deter, not immunize from violent crime in my neighborhood. i'm pretty sure one of us is stupid! joe's spleen, systematic, mafia-style extortion of businesses is unheard of here.
posted by bruce at 7:23 PM on January 13, 2008


Never mind the guns - you know what's really wrong with Sicily is all that hippity-hop music that celebrates the thug-life.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:27 PM on January 13, 2008 [5 favorites]


I'm just going to call you stupid for thinking that gun ownership makes you immune to crime.

No one wrote anything about immunity, but I won't call you stupid for reading that into bruce's comment. Having had the occasional gun pointed at me before, I can say that in my own experience, I felt much safer being able to point one back. I count myself very fortunate that I didn't have to shoot anyone in self-defense, but I would rather have done that than get shot myself.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:30 PM on January 13, 2008


bruce: joe's spleen, systematic, mafia-style extortion of businesses is unheard of here.

Seriously, what are you going to do, shoot the flunky who comes in to deliver the threats? That'll go well - he's probably unarmed and you'll have a hard time proving he made them, and even if you can, he's got a whole organization behind him and they'll be able to lay an ambush for you. I'm all for gun ownership, but it just won't help here.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:32 PM on January 13, 2008


Bruce: You're just blatantly trolling. Knock it off. This thread is not an excuse to ramble on about your personal hobby horses.
posted by empath at 7:40 PM on January 13, 2008


can I ask that this derail get taken elsewhere? MeMail, MeTa... whatever. I doubt the issue of gun and gun violence is the predominate issue here, as plenty of examples and counter examples can be drawn out the ass.
posted by edgeways at 7:41 PM on January 13, 2008


I expect the Mafia reaction to this online resistance will be severe - a deluge of trollish activity & shitting in all their threads.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:51 PM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


In the past there has been a strong link between the Christian Democrats in Sicily and the Mafia. But the bishop's office said the church would tread a neutral line in the forthcoming elections.
where ever you find the Pa you also find the Ma
posted by hortense at 7:53 PM on January 13, 2008


i just have to get a book plug in here: sammy "sammy the bull" gravano's underboss is the funniest and truest-to-life mafia account i have ever read.
posted by bruce at 7:55 PM on January 13, 2008


pope guilty, gun ownership does indeed deter, not immunize from violent crime in my neighborhood. i'm pretty sure one of us is stupid! joe's spleen, systematic, mafia-style extortion of businesses is unheard of here.

And there's a difference between street-level violent crime and mafia extortion. A gun in your hand will not protect you from the mafia.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:03 PM on January 13, 2008


I expect the Mafia reaction to this online resistance will be severe - a deluge of trollish activity & shitting in all their threads.

Oh WTF that'll never work


as long as we have our guns
posted by spiderwire at 8:04 PM on January 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


is sicily one of the places where only the bad guys have guns?

Depends. Are governments* ever the bad guys ?

*(eg. current administration in the U.S.)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:06 PM on January 13, 2008


pope guilty, when you're facing a long, drawn-out conflict in your own village against an organized adversary notorious for its violence, it's better to be armed than unarmed, because it gives you more options. your (and others') mistake may be of focusing on the tactics of a single moment, e.g., when the wiseguy comes into your shop and asks for money, rather than the overall strategy, because conflicts of this nature simply aren't resolved in a single moment. nobody ever won a war by pre-emptive disarmament.
posted by bruce at 8:08 PM on January 13, 2008


nobody ever won a war by pre-emptive disarmament.

gandhi could have used some more firepower.
posted by spiderwire at 8:11 PM on January 13, 2008


The weapon of choice here is the government, not the handgun.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:26 PM on January 13, 2008


Ah, Napoli (Naples), and garbage. In the early 70's, these two went together like bride and groom. I do wonder what it's like now. Back then, the garbage workers would go on strike by running in reverse: go to the dump and bring the garbage back to the streets. Was that extortion by organized crime labor? I've no idea of the legitimacy of their labor issues. I was as apolitical as a teenager could be, at the time.
posted by Goofyy at 8:37 PM on January 13, 2008


pope guilty, when you're facing a long, drawn-out conflict in your own village against an organized adversary notorious for its violence, it's better to be armed than unarmed, because it gives you more options.

Yes. That's exactly why the Italian police - where even the cops directing traffic carry submachine guns - have been so successful at totally eradicating the Mafia.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:44 PM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


What options do the guns give you, exactly?

Pope Guilty is correct. There's no organized crime (blatantly) in most American neighborhoods, because we have a well-developed and not all that corrupt system of justice. Not because you own a gun and the bad peoplez are afraid of it.
posted by Cycloptichorn at 8:49 PM on January 13, 2008


The NY Times had a good profile of Italian comedian Beppe Grillo who has been working to try to change the status quo in Italy with respect to corruption.

In a Funk, Italy Sings an Aria of Disappointment
[nytimes.com]
posted by gen at 8:51 PM on January 13, 2008


uburoivas, say hello to pope guilty over here, who believes that government, as opposed to civilian arms, is the "weapon of choice". i don't believe that these weapons are mutually exclusive. government can be bribed, and it can also be intimidated by a couple of high profile mob hits. i wish the sicilians well in getting rid of their mafia. the sicily i'd rather hear about is the one with cliffside villas, tangy mediterranean air, olive groves, century-old grapevines, incredible seafood, cheese and tomato dishes, thin slices of exquisitely cured ham wrapped around perfectly ripe melon chunks, spontaneous opera singing in the piazza, quaint little chapels studding the forested hills. ianai (italian), but i like to eat like one.
posted by bruce at 9:01 PM on January 13, 2008


To be slightly more constructive: most European states have very restrictive gun laws, but only Southern Italy has such a entrenched problem with the Mafia. Contrariwise, at various times the Mafia has successfully operated in American cities, every one of which has far laxer gun laws than Italy. Hence I suspect that while it might be helpful to allow Sicilians easier access to handguns, lack of access is probably not the cause of the current problems.

According to my googling just now, it was Mussolini who introduced restrictive gun laws to Italy - the Mafia and the Camorra were in the standover business long before the Fascists took over.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:07 PM on January 13, 2008


Bruce, you were a judge? Like, in the legal system in America, a judge you said that in another thread.? Wow. Hey babes, I'll fedex you the best Mozzarella you ever ate in your life (It'll be a day old but still, magic!) if you use your shift key once in a while. Hell, you need a new keyboard?

The interesting thing about organized crime in this regard is how it suffers from its victims getting organized, it's a brave thing they're doing. Organization seems to be the key, these folks should talk to some anarchists about that.

I'm more or less a gun owner in the sense that there are some guns I can lay claim to, but they are a hundred miles from my house in a safe, I've never had a particular need and I doubt I ever will (barring extraordinary circumstances, and there you go, I got some guns), but really, if you ever look up from your prosciutto and melon you can see that every cop in Italy is swinging an MP5 or whatever, corruption trumps firepower every single day of the week.
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:15 PM on January 13, 2008


bruce: I hear you. It's not only good, but say it's right to bare arms and dine al fresco on tasty sicilian cuisine, in the setting you so poetically describe.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:16 PM on January 13, 2008


(I'd say)
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:17 PM on January 13, 2008


bruce: I hear you. It's not only good, but say it's right to bare arms and dine al fresco on tasty sicilian cuisine, in the setting you so poetically describe.

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.
posted by hal9k at 11:50 PM on January 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


In a civilian war of guns the winning side is the one more willing to pull the trigger and more successful at getting away with it. Mafia FTW.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:42 AM on January 14, 2008


What options do the guns give you, exactly?

YOU KIN USE 'EM FER FISHIN'!
posted by spiderwire at 1:39 AM on January 14, 2008


mafia-style extortion of businesses is unheard of here.

And you think that's because you pack heat, and not because you live in southern fucking Oregon?
posted by Optamystic at 1:54 AM on January 14, 2008


Nice post ericb. Some quick addendums:

- Confindustria has said they will expell any business caught paying the pizzo.

- Stefania Petyx, a Sicilian reporter for the muckraking/satirical news program Stricia la Notizia gave a report in December. Seems a miniseries about Salvatore "Totto" Riina's life pissed off his wife, who made noises about suing for damages to her and her family's image.

Ms. Petyx went to Corleone with the intention of interviewing Mrs. Riina about this subject, asking up and down the street which house was the Riina's. She was met with vagueries and 'I don't knows' from the few people who didn't manage to shut their doors & windows quick enough.

When she finally found the Riina house, no one answered the door. Expressing disappointemnt at not being able to hear Mrs. Riina's point of view, Ms. Petyx then had the balls of steel titianium to declare in front of the Riina house "We should be the ones to seek damages...You have no idea how many times we have been called 'mafiosi' just for being Sicilian"

Thanks to her reportage, there is now an online petition seeking damages against the Cosa Nostra. Stricia video about the petition with highlights from the original report.
posted by romakimmy at 3:21 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Never mind the guns - you know what's really wrong with Sicily is all that hippity-hop music that celebrates the thug-life.

you mean tarantellas?
posted by jonmc at 4:50 AM on January 14, 2008


there is now an online petition seeking damages against the Cosa Nostra.
That's how they got Capone in the 30s, isn't it?
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:18 AM on January 14, 2008


*sigh* Gunny gun gun and a pistol. Gun. Oh, and guns.

Thanks for the disappointment, as usual.
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:24 AM on January 14, 2008


One of the most delicious ironies of the gun-nut beloved Iraq Occupation, Bruce, is its decisive demonstration that universal gun ownership can turn an entire country into a prison for all of its inhabitants, constantly torn apart by riots among the armed inmates and perpetual clashes between the rival gangs every inmate must join one or the other of to have even a bare chance of survival.

There's your Utopia. Enjoy it while it lasts.
posted by jamjam at 9:17 AM on January 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gun deregulation is a poor substitute for the economic and social makeover Italy and its south need. Besides, recommending guns to people who rebel because they are sick of them? The mafia didn't develop out of thin air and high unemployment is a reason it faces no shortage of recruits. In 1996 (PDF) unemployment in the South was twice that of other areas while youth unemployment was a staggering 45%. In 2006 unemployment in the South (PDF scroll down to the table, Italy/Sud) was 33% with a 4,2% decline between '05 and '06.

Italy needs to get its act together, once again economically and socially, as these two sectors affect each other (good idea linking that NYT article, gen). Fighting corruption is easier when people aren't dependent on it for making money. When the mafia is no longer economically relevant, its social support will plummet and it'll be easier enforcing the law without judges bleeding on the sidewalk. Hopefully the "no pizzo" effort will go as far as it can.
posted by ersatz at 9:43 AM on January 14, 2008


Previously.
posted by 3.2.3 at 4:55 PM on January 14, 2008


I don't buy any of this anti-pizzo nonsense and wouldn't be surprised if the mafia was threatening businesses at this point if they don't sign the anti-pizzo petition.

The pizzo seems like a woefully obsolete and inefficient method for collecting money. It's messy and a pain in the ass having to burn down businesses and shooting the occasional business owner. Creates too much bad blood. There's a better way. The citizenry already pay a pizzo in the form of taxes and it's much easier and more effective to get the politicians controlled by the mafia to give your construction/waste management/export/import/security etc company, government contracts worth hundreds of millions in Euro's to provide "services". Elpapcito crystallized it perfectly: the costs are socialized and the profits privatized.

The "free market" fed by a government is the biggest and best racket/organized crime there is. Just ask Halliburton or Blackwater or Countrywide.
posted by Skygazer at 1:14 AM on January 15, 2008


The pizzo seems like a woefully obsolete and inefficient method for collecting money.

Ha. I haven't seen the Mafia pizzo first hand, and elpapa summed up the mafia as government argument perfectly. I have seen first hand, however, a more insidious form of pizzo. Or as it's known up here in Rome, the bustarella. It's a 'gift' given twice yearly, at Christmas time & at Easter.

It's a 'gift' given to polizia, carabinieri, vigili, and other public servants who might be useful in getting you around some bureaucratic obstacle or out of a spot of trouble. The most extreme cases I've seen were a used car, or a secondary business 'run' under someone else's name.

No bustarella? Better hope that you have every single t crossed & i dotted, because chances are you are going to have some random colonoscopiesinspections soon. And with the ever changing, sometimes byzantine laws, chances are good that you forgot something.

So if that happens up here in Rome, where the Mafia are (leaving aside the politicians) less entrenched, can you imagine how things play out further south? In worst case scenario, you are stuck between corrupt police and Mafiosi, both asking for a 'little something'. That's not 'obsolete and inefficient', that's Scilla and Charybdis.
posted by romakimmy at 3:42 AM on January 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


In news thay may be of interest to UK readers, apparently Gomorrah will not be published in UK by the McMillan editor; not entirely, as apparently some name will be removed, possibly because of UK own defamation laws. I don't have my copy handy, but if my memory server the issue should be about the city of Aberdeen becoming a favourite location for some criminals.

Skygazer writes "The pizzo seems like a woefully obsolete and inefficient method for collecting money. It's messy and a pain in the ass having to burn down businesses and shooting the occasional business owner. Creates too much bad blood."

Very well said. But change the perspective and you'll see a little better. Why should one be concerned with the cost of inefficiency if somebody else is going to bear it ?

Clearly, a more rational person will notice that burning, killing et al are all costly propositions, not mentioning the amount of social alarm they necessarily raise and the transparently obvious discontent of the family of the killed/injuried will retain, which are likely to generate a will to avenge, no matter how costly and in how much time.

But, not everybody is so "enlightened" and some will gladly take the inefficient shortcut. IN a less criminal analogy, why should I care if my car pollutes ? Also, is pollution control that urgent or will I die well before the damage is over us ?

Somebody do indeed prefer killing and eating the chicken rather then enjoying her eggs, expecially if it is not their chicken, considering that the chicken also needs to be fed and take care of.Obviously, predatory capitalism/statalism go hand in hand with mafia, which is just a rude expression of that very same mentality, which is oblivious to a very fucking solid fact : if you have 10 chicken, you can have 10 eggs a day and a chicken every now and then !

Yet while I write this the pope of Rome is coming to speak to La Sapienza University in Rome, much to the discontent of one hundred teachers and a number of students, which are protesty vehemently and eventually made news. It's kind of depressing, to fight ignorant predators one one side and regressive indoctrinators on the other, we could use some help.

So as long as you don't bomb us to help us , the Iraqui Democratization Style :)
posted by elpapacito at 6:13 AM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


romakimmy: It's a 'gift' given to polizia, carabinieri, vigili, and other public servants who might be useful in getting you around some bureaucratic obstacle or out of a spot of trouble.

Absolutely. My family emigrated from Sicily in the 70s and my father would travel around to markets in surrounding villages to sell cheese and salami, mortadella, olives etc., and, like most shopkeepers, would complain bitterly about the polizia and carabinieri expecting a big wedge of parmesan cheese or the ticket book would come out. He probably also got hit by the local mobsters as well, but that was never spoke about. Not within a family, or a community or town (or anywhere except in the most secretive manner). The smallest comment could get you or a family member killed. It was like a bad smell no one would acknowledge.

The Sicilian writer, Leonard Sciascia* does a good job of exposing that cultural historic mentality in his novels.

All this anti-pizzo talk makes me deeply uneasy and suspicious. The mafia is backing down too readily and like a deal has been made. Some sort of circus put on for someone's benefit perhaps the politicians, the general public and/or the EU. Who stands to gain the most from this anti-pizzo movement? People can say one thing and do another, especially in Sicily, and I would bet money that the pizzo is still being paid out somehow.

I can’t help thinking the Sicilian mafia hasn’t lost power, it’s simply metamorphosed into a more lucrative legal entity that can disguise itself more effectively. Like a cancerous growth so deep down in the socioeconomic and politic tissues of the nation, that it cannot be identified or rooted out without killing the individual. It is a deeper rot.

elpapacito: Why should one be concerned with the cost of inefficiency if somebody else is going to bear it ?

Completely right. I give the mafia too much credit for caring about “efficiency”. Reading that, I find it almost hopeful that they’re still too cut throat and barbaric to understand how power can be wielded efficiently (and legally) and fortunes made, again I point to Enron, Halliburton, Blackwater, KKR, Countrywide (who's sub prime con game is rewarding it's CEO, Angelo Mozilo, with a half a billion dollars in severance). etc.

Elpapacito: to fight ignorant predators one one side and regressive indoctrinators on the other

Unfortunately they go together like peanut butter and jelly or pasta e fagioli. In this country they're allowed to be the same person (and hold political office).

*Full disclosure. He's my Great-uncle.
posted by Skygazer at 12:44 PM on January 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


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