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Northern Italian here.
Since the early ‘90s, the traditional Sicilian Mafia (Cosa Nostra) has lost a great deal in its traditional influence all over Italy. It was shortly before its forced downsizing that the presence of the Mafia was most feared and most openly felt nationwide.
It must be kept in mind that the Mafia had always been so influential and powerful in Italy that it was first acknowledged as an existing entity (!) only around 30 years before, during the 1960s. The US Government, by contrast, had been putting away Mafia bosses since the 1920s. The fight against the Mafia started yielding its first successes in the early 1990s. In 1992 many top-level Godfathers were sentenced by the Supreme Court to life in “hard prison”, similar to maximum security in the US. The 1987 lower court trials leading to these final convictions were called the “Palermo maxitrials” as they involved whole crime families and they were held at a purpose-built bunker facility within a Palermo, Sicily prison. This bunker courtroom was hardened against airstrikes and bombs, and heavily guarded. Witnesses testified before the court protected by bullet-resistant glass and surrounded by police officers.
Investigators and prosecutors had never before managed to gain this amount of insight into the activities of the Mafia and had never put away such influential crime bosses. Shortly after the Supreme Court confirmation of the sentences, a “provincial commission” of Mafiosi deliberated that the future strategy for Cosa Nostra would be to force the Italian government to negotiate through terrorist attacks against judges, prosecutors, cops and politicians. During 1992 and 1993 the Mafia conducted terrorist attacks all over the country, killing 21 people and wounding 117. Besides prominent personalities in the fight against the Mafia, they also attacked landmarks and places of public life, trying to scare the public into accepting their demands.
July 20, 1992: “The Mafia declares war on the government – After Falcone, Borsellino and five officers killed”
Despite the killing, among others, of judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who, years before, as prosecutors had started the Mafia prosecutions in Sicily and set up the framework that eventually led to the final convictions, most of the bosses and attackers were tracked down and imprisoned by the end of 1993. The attacks were ultimately unsuccessful in intimidating the government and the public.
Since the end of these attacks the Sicilian Mafia lost a great deal of its power in the country, though it keeps existing in a diminished capacity in Sicily, where it is culturally deeply rooted. The openly violent, terroristic dimension of the Mafia ceased to exist completely, though it was replaced by other criminal organizations such as the Neapolitan and Calabrian Mafias which mostly kept to the drug trade, loansharking, corruption, infiltration of government procurement, illegal dumping of toxic waste and other criminal activity. Unlike Cosa Nostra, they never fought the State openly and never expected to replace government in its functions. They are a lot more fragmented and more devoted to making money than they are to the violent enforcing of their own set of rules. There are also cities and indeed whole regions in Southern Italy where they are as deeply radicated as Cosa Nostra is in Sicily and consequently tolerated and even supported in some capacity by the locals.
The nature of Italians and their government is such that pervasive organized crime will not be eradicated for the foreseeable future, though currently the average Italian doesn’t fear the Mafia(s) and isn’t at risk of violence at their hands. Everyone, though, is well aware of their existence and the heavy drag that they impose on public works and the Italian economy at large, but most take it as a fait accompli to which there can be no solution. It must be kept in mind while considering Italian organized crime that Italian morals can get very elastic and otherwise law-abiding people might have contacts with people related to organized crime for one reason or the other such as easily securing government contracts or obtaining permits, further propagating the problem.
Edit – minor corrections.
Edit 2 – about the Neapolitan and Calabrese mafias, respectively Camorra and Ndrangheta, it should be noted that these groups, consistently with the nature of organized crime, are nonetheless dangerous and, in many cases, lethal to anyone who is willing to actively oppose them or expose their crimes in any way, especially by testifying against them. This is especially true about Camorra which generally is the most violent of the two. A notable example is journalist and writer Roberto Saviano, a former resident of Secondigliano, a Camorra stronghold near Naples. He wrote several books about their activities and was amongst the first private citizens to publicly speak out against them. His first book went out in 2006 and earned him death threats and bullets in the mail. He’s lived under police protection ever since, even moving out of the country in 2008. It is ironic that he’s been rumored to spend a lot of time walking around freely in NYC which is arguably the city where the American Mafia is traditionally strongest, and this speaks volumes about the difference between the American and Italian concepts of organized crime presence.
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