Interview | 4/7/2009 12:00:00 AM
“The only way to look at our society is to explain it through criminal business”
Roberto Saviano, the writer who revealed the inside of the Italian mafia explains why it is so difficult to defeat.
Reading the novel and watching the movie directed by Mateo Garrone, not only do you see Naples. In the story cities like Pablo Escobar’s Medellín, ‘Chapo’ Guzman’s México, and the Cossa Nostra’s New York are clearly portrayed.
Saviano spoke with SEMANA answering questions on organized global crime and its impact on modern democracy.
SEMANA: Gomorra can be read as a big report and novel based on true facts, under which of the two categories would you classify it?
ROBERTO SAVIANO: Gomorra is both. From one hand Gomorra is strictly close to real facts, from the other I wanted to use the literary device of explaining those facts from an emotional point of view: that is, of course, mine.
S: What makes the mafia something so indestructible, which renews itself so quickly?
R.S: There are many causes, but the most significant one is that it creates a parallel economic system in a land where the State is not present.
S: Is the mafia a sign of weak states?
R.S: Of course. These are its origins worldwide and this is the reason why it is so strong till now. But it does not subjugate a society, it does subjugate the economic system.
S: ¿Are there any generational differences between the past mafias and the current ones?
R.S: There are many, the most relevant is that nowadays mafia is above all an economic system and then I would add the adjective “criminal”. I insist upon its modern economic structure because it can explain a lot and it could give the only key to finally defeat it. Modern mafias have nothing to do with honor and family values.
S: ¿How does the mafia pass its power from one generation to the next?
R.S: It depends on individual economic and criminal skills. The hereditary line depends on how much one can find new fields of criminal interests, how much one can endure relationships with foreign criminal cartels
S: How much do politicians and gangsters need each other? And gangsters and businessmen?
R.S: There has been a time when mafia members needed politicians to have contracts. Now politicians need mafia gangsters to obtain votes.
S: As far as globalization is concerned, why is mafia quicker than States?
R.S: Because it has not the burocratic machinery tipical of the legal states.
S: What problems do the States have (particularly the Italian) to fight the mafia?
R.S: Italy has obviously economic problems, above all now in crisis time. The criminal cartels are the only one to have huge amount of money available and with it they can save lots of entrepreneurs on the verge of bankrupt thus staking a claim on the future of Italian economic system.
S: Is it possible to put an end to the mafia or is it only possible to have some rules to keep it under control?
R.S: Now we do not have both the possibility of defeating it nor to take it under control. We would need economic rules about contracts and sub-contracts, we should control the capital which enter into the banks. These are the only reasonable solutions.
S: Can modern societies be understood without mafias?
R.S: No. The only way to look at our society is to explain it through criminal business
S: After drugs, which is the most lucrative merchandise for the mafias?
R.S: Women. And it is also safer.
S: What features does Naples have which makes it a city where the mafia can install itself?
R.S: It has had over many centuries lots of dominations, it has not developed its own bourgeoisie and has been held (has remained) too marginalized even at the moment of the creation of the modern state (1861).
S: In Gomorra one can see that the mafia is popular. It has roots among the people and it is accepted. How can you explain that?
R.S: It gives jobs and the State doesn’t. It offers a winning model, while the State is slowly declining its course (or at least so it seems in certain areas). Mafia seems to be fashion, while the State is obsolete. There are so many commonplace examples I can do… but all of them have a strong appeal upon many people in the South of Italy.
S: A lot of countries with strong mafias are deeply religious. Is there any relationship between the religious spirit and mafia support?
R.S: Religion is not directly connected with mafia, but both, religion and mafia are strictly connected with indigence and poverty.
S: Do you think that decisions such as legalizing drugs could put an end to organized crime?
R.S: It would be an important step forward.
S: Can the mafia, through its armed groups, end up having strong alliances with terrorist or insurgent groups and destabilize governments? Or, on the contrary, is infiltrating and bribing government employees its most successful strategy?
R.S: Usually mafia does not aim to destabilize governments. Mafia groups have no ideals, their purpose is economic profit, so they try to find the most propitious environment to obtain huge earnings, would it be a State in peace, would it be a State in war to which weapons could be sold.
S: Can one negotiate with a mafia?
R.S: Of course. It is an economic subject.
S: In societies like the Italian one or the Colombian one, where mafias are so strong, what does that phenomenon reveal of us as a society?
R.S: That for different reasons our States have not been able, during the years, to control the whole territory. That there have been huge connivance between legal and illegal powers and that the information systems have not been able to describe the situation as it has always been.
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