Anne-Laure Murier - 2012-08-13
The Sicilian Mafia extorts money from 80% of the island’s businesses, notably those related to tourism. With the Addiopizzo association, visitors can discover the island’s beauty while supporting those who refuse to pay a mafia ‘street tax’. A journey in the footsteps of Judges Falcone and Borsellino, who were assassinated twenty years ago.
‘Behind every monument, every street and every person in Palermo there’s a mafia-related story,’ states Chiara Uttro, a guide working for Addiopizzo Travel, an association that has risen up against the Cosa Nostra. ‘A case in point: the restoration of the Teatro Massimo, the city’s opera, was supposed to take seven months. Work actually continued for twenty-four years because the funds kept disappearing.’
The pizzo resistance movement
But the hold the Mafia have on the island isn’t immovable. Sicilians love their island, as seen by the commitment of Addiopizzo’s young activists. Even though 80% of local businesses pay the pizzo - the mafia ‘protection tax’ - they decided to break the omerta surrounding this organized extortion with the slogan ‘A people that pays the pizzo is a people without dignity.’ Founded in 2004, the association regularly takes part in court cases as witnesses or plaintiffs to support those who have spoken up against the Mafia. Today, the association, which federates more than 700 establishments in Palermo and its province, invites tourists and potential customers to favour members of their network, including historic trattorias, B&Bs, trendy bars and sports clubs.
‘I was in my teens when those two anti-Mafia judges were assassinated. The shock could have made us give up the fight; instead, it galvanized our anger,’ explains Edoardo, an activist born and bred who wants to destroy the Mafia myth. ‘Vigilantes protecting the weak? Using Christmas or Easter as an excuse to collect the pizzo? Those are simply lies from a one hundred percent criminal organisation.’
Corleone’s new role
In addition to discovery tours of Palermo, the association offers circuits throughout the north of Sicily. On the heights of Cefalù by the Tyrrhenian Sea, an agritourism self-catering cottage amidst olive and lemon trees welcomes travellers with a programme of rambles and cooking classes. Along the coast one reaches Caccamo, a historic town, followed by Mondello, where a good number of artisans, restaurateurs and innkeepers have joined Adiopizzo.
One must also visit Corleone, 60 km from Palermo. Yes, the name is (in)famous thanks to the Godfather trilogy, but according to Edoardo, ‘this beautiful village is home to other heroes.’ The ‘Boutique of Legality’ is one example. Run by a local association of young activists, it sells the products of the Libera co-ops that have been established on land confiscated from the Mafia. ‘The land has returned to the community!’ Edoardo concludes.