A couple of months had passed when I knew the pizzo. A roommate told me roughly what I already suspected and that is that here, in Sicily, who wants to open a business faces extortion from the mafia.
In Southern Italy, the pizzo is a form of extortion from local merchants by the Italian mafia, usually under duress. It’s also called “protection.” The practice is widespread in southern Italy, not only by the Cosa Nostra in Siclia, but also by the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria, the Camorra in Campania.
The pizzo payments can also be in kind, for example, force a company to hire someone (often a member of a criminal organization), the mandatory provision of services by companies controlled by the mafia, and the subcontracting to companies controlled by the Mafia.
Companies that refuse to pay the pizzo may suffer arson criminal acts. In return, companies receive “protection” and may use the neighborhood gangsters to reduce bureaucracy or resolve conflicts with other traders. The collection of pizzo keeps the mob in touch with the community and allows them to “control their territory.”
According to the anti-mafia police estimates, organized crime collects around 30 billion euros a year in pizzo, not only in Sicily but also in Calabria, Naples and North of Italy, increasingly infiltrated by mafia clans south. A report published in 2007 by Confesercenti, the Italian Association of Retailers, estimated mafia-type organizations have a turnover of 90 billion euros a year, or what is the same, 7% of Italy’s GDP, making it the “greatest business” in the country.
In the province of Palermo Mafia collects more than 160 million euros a year in stores and businesses, ten times more for the whole island, as estimated by the researchers. About 80 percent of Sicilian businesses pay pizzo.
One of the first to refuse to pay the pizzo was Libero Grassi, a businessman from Palermo. The January 10, 1991, wrote an open letter to the local newspaper Giornale di Sicilia. Posted in Main Page, addressed to an anonymous “Dear Extortionist”. This caused a stir, and just nine months later, on August 29, 1991, Grassi was murdered by the Mafia.
In 2004, born AddioPizzo, an association of cause conscious consumers led by a generation whose adolescence was marked by the murders of anti-Mafia judges, journalists and businessmen, frustrated with the rule of the mob on the local economy and life policy.
I had also talk about that with my roommate, and what I’m wondering is how did they do? Is not that dangerous? How did they create this movement which has nothing to do with the police or the state and how it has lasted so long?
It all started one night with friends, in the summer of 2004. Fantasized with the idea of opening a cocktail bar. Suddenly one said, “What if we ask the pizzo?”. The next day, Palermo rose with walls, lampposts, phone booths full of these stickers:
The adhesive was not signed and everyone thought that it was the initiative of a merchant. Just four days later, an interview was published in the Giornale di Sicilia explaining who they were and why they did what they did.
What is written means: “A WHOLE TOWN IS PAYING THE PIZZO A PEOPLE WITHOUT DIGNITY”. Unexpectedly, the city seemed to rise and react. Some of the guys who hit the first adhesives gradually gathered youth who shared the same idea as you continue to pay the pizzo, will not be free. Because if my baker pays the pizzo, I too, when I buy bread, I leave a part of my money to the mafia, and submit to her. Thus was born the Addiopizzo Committee.
Since that first night, it has come a long way. Above all, it has established a new anti-mafia: Critical Consumption Addiopizzo. The campaign “against the pizzo”, change your shopping” is to create a consumer group in Palermo and in the province, willing to support merchants who oppose extortion and, overcoming fear, denounce the extortionists.
So from Palermo invite whoever and who feel solidarity with this campaign into their website and leave a comment of support for these young people who are trying to “change the world”.