In the school of legality. An appeal against the mafia culture

Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Palermo magistrates who have become a symbol for their commitment against the mafia, victims of deadly attacks within a few months of each other.

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In the school of legality. An appeal against the mafia culture

Written by Stefania De Cristofaro

From a school in Palermo, a request has been made to Parliament for a law to include a subject on “Anti-Mafia Culture” as a complete education for students.

Cosa Nostra, ‘Ndrangheta, Camorra and Sacra Corona Unita. In Italy, the state is constantly engaged in the fight against mafias, criminal organisations which, depending on territorial contexts, adopt different names but are all characterised by violence, intimidation and omertà (or the law of silence).

The mafia

The definition of mafia is contained in the Italian Penal Code (Article 416 bis):  “The association is mafia-like when those who are part of it use the intimidating force of the associative bond and the condition of submission and the consequent code of silence to commit crimes, to acquire directly or indirectly the management or in any case the control of economic activities, concessions, authorisations, contracts and public services or to obtain benefits or unfair advantages for themselves or for others, or to prevent or hinder the free exercise of the vote or to procure votes for themselves or for others during electoral consultations”.  Over the years, Mafia organisations have modified their modus operandi, reducing the number of murders, to operate in the shadows in the sectors of drug trafficking (an activity that generates by far the largest volume of business for criminal organisations), extortion, usury, gambling, prostitution, and to perfect their ability to infiltrate public administrations in order to pilot public contracts.

The police fight relentlessly against criminals, but the fight can sometimes seem unequal.

On 16 January 2023, the fugitive super-boss of cosa nostra, Matteo Messina Denaro, was arrested in Palermo. He had been wanted for 30 years. On 25 September of the same year, he died in L’Aquila. Among the charges against him was that of organising the kidnapping of 12-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo to force his father Santino to withdraw the statements he had made about the Capaci massacre. After 779 days in captivity, the boy was strangled, and his body dissolved in acid.

The Capaci massacre was an attack against the State and took place on 23 May 1992 in the province of Palermo: the perpetrators detonated an explosive device containing 500 kilos of TNT on the A29 motorway at 5.57 p.m. as the anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone and his escort were passing by. In addition to the judge, his wife Francesca Morvillo, also a magistrate, and the escort officers were killed. Matteo Messina Denaro was sentenced to life imprisonment as instigator of the massacre by the Court of First Instance of Caltanissetta on 19 July 2023.

The appeal of the Palermo school

A school in the Sicilian capital has launched an appeal to Parliament to include “anti-mafia culture” among the subjects taught in all Italian schools. The initiative was launched by the headmaster of the Integral Institute located in the popular Giusto Catania neighbourhood, close to the day of remembrance of the innocent victims of the mafia which is celebrated every 21 March.

It is named after the Sicilian journalist Giuliana Saladino, of the daily l’Ora, who, after the Capaci massacre of 23 May 1992, in which anti-Mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and security guards Vito Schifani, Rocco Dicillo and Antonio Montinaro were killed, set up the “Committee of the White Sheets” together with her daughter Marta Cimino. At that time, in Palermo, there were messages against the Mafia on sheets displayed on the balconies of houses.

For the director Giusto Catania, it is necessary to initiate a reform capable of rethinking the role of schools and teachers in order to define a new civil pedagogy capable of “breaking the cages of Mafia culture”, in order to nurture a virtuous circle capable of suffocating the Mafia in all its articulations. The starting point for the Sicilian director is the moral testament left by Professor Vito Mercadante, a director deeply committed to the anti-mafia front after the assassination of Piersanti Mattarella, President of the Sicilian Region (and brother of the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella) on 6 January 1980 in Palermo. At that time, Mercadante directed the drafting of the regional law (no. 51 of 4 June 1980) which introduced the fight against Mafia culture in schools. The law was entitled “Provisions in favour of Sicilian schools to contribute to the development of a civil conscience against Mafia crime”.

Statements by the school principal

“The task of the school in Palermo (and in Italy), its great responsibility, is to create spaces for young people. Young people don’t know the city because they live locked up in their neighbourhoods. The school therefore must open these cages because those who are mafiosi often don’t know that they are, immersed as they are in their subculture,” argued Professor Mercadante.

In an interview with the daily L’Ora on 7 October 1989, Mercadante stated that “the Mafia culture is the only reason why people often refuse to go to school” and that “the child is afraid to revolutionise the values in which his whole family has grown up”.

“This is where we must start. We want to start from what already exists, from this legislation that has not been disseminated nationally and that has stopped at the local level due to both lack of funding and changes in the school system with the introduction of the culture of legality after the mafia massacres,” explains Giusto Catania.

There is no need for sporadic and ephemeral initiatives, but a concrete impact on schools and, consequently, on society’, he adds. For this reason, President Saladino has proposed, as a first step addressed to schools all over Italy, the signing of a 20-point manifesto calling for the construction of an anti-mafia culture as a national requirement: “The Mafia accompanies criminal action with cultural action”, reads the document to which 70 schools in Palermo and the province have adhered. “Consequently, it is necessary to work on a pedagogical project of anti-mafia culture, to develop an alternative process to mafia culture”, explains the school director. “And for this, it is necessary to address the issue on a daily basis in all subjects, from history to mathematics, art and music”.

The education for legality manifesto

The manifesto begins: “Education for legality is not enough to build an anti-mafia culture, especially since mafias do not manifest themselves exclusively in contexts of illegality”.

The mafia, he says, “tends to hide in the spaces of legality, where its economic interests proliferate. The mafia has long since given way to the mafia infiltrating the institutions, the sanctuaries of finance and the laundering of dirty money in legal and lawful economic operations.”

“Schools must teach to distinguish morally irreproachable behaviour from apparent, fictitious and artificial legality,” the manifesto recalls. And again: “Education in legality has put respect for the law at the forefront. History teaches us that respect for legality and the law can perpetuate crimes that mortify the rights of individuals and entire peoples. The anti-mafia culture, on the contrary, is put into practice by promoting, respecting, and enhancing rights”. It is therefore on “respect for the fundamental rights of the person, the protection of human, social and civil rights” that “represent the minimum and obligatory ground” that we must work “to build an anti-mafia culture” because “mafia has the characteristic of regenerating itself in the daily mortification and/or annulment of all rights”.

The manifesto concludes by reiterating that the school “takes ground from the mafia by practising democracy, participation, decentralisation of power and the widening of decision-making spaces”. And that “teaching democracy at school is one of the most important pedagogical missions”.

The commitment must indeed be to respect the rules, the principle on which civil coexistence is built, but it must be explained to children that this respect “cannot be a-critical”. Schools must also teach them to “disapprove of the wrong rules, those that lead to violence and prevarication” and that “obedience is not always a virtue”.

The school, therefore, “teaches writing, reading, arithmetic… but the main function of the school is the formation of conscious, free and honest citizens”. And “it must rewrite its salient objectives, centring them on social justice, democracy and respect for the common good”.

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EASY

In the school of legality. An appeal against the mafia culture

Written by Stefania De Cristofaro

From a school in Palermo, a request has been made to Parliament for a law to include a subject on “Anti-Mafia Culture” as a complete education for students.

Cosa Nostra, ‘Ndrangheta, Camorra and Sacra Corona Unita. In Italy, the state is constantly engaged in the fight against mafias, criminal organisations which, depending on territorial contexts, adopt different names but are all characterised by violence, intimidation and omertà (or the law of silence).

 The mafia

The definition of mafia is contained in the Italian Criminal Code (Article 416a):  “The association is of the Mafia type when those who are part of it use the intimidating force of the associative bond and the condition of submission and code of silence that derive from it to commit crimes, to acquire directly or indirectly the management or in any case the control of economic activities, concessions, authorisations, contracts and public services or to obtain benefits or unfair advantages for themselves or for others, or to prevent or hinder the free exercise of the vote or to procure votes for themselves or for others on the occasion of electoral consultations”.

The police fight relentlessly against criminals, but the fight can sometimes seem unequal.

The appeal of the Palermo school

A school in the regional capital of Sicily has launched an appeal to Parliament to include “anti-mafia culture” as a subject taught in all Italian schools. The initiative was launched by the headmaster of the Integral Institute located in the popular Giusto Catania neighbourhood, close to the day of remembrance of the innocent victims of the Mafia which is celebrated every 21 March.

For the director Giusto Catania, it is necessary to initiate a reform capable of rethinking the role of schools and teachers in order to define a new civil pedagogy capable of “breaking the cages of Mafia culture”, in order to nurture a virtuous circle capable of suffocating the Mafia in all its articulations. The starting point for the Sicilian director is the moral testament left by Professor Vito Mercadante, a director deeply committed to the anti-mafia front after the assassination of Piersanti Mattarella, President of the Sicilian Region (and brother of the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella) on 6 January 1980 in Palermo. At the time, Mercadante directed the drafting of the regional law (no. 51 of 4 June 1980) which introduced the fight against Mafia culture in schools. The law was entitled “Provisions in favour of Sicilian schools to contribute to the development of a civil conscience against Mafia crime”.

Statements by the school principal

“The task of the school in Palermo (and in Italy), its great responsibility, is to create spaces for young people. Young people don’t know the city, because they live locked up in their neighbourhoods. The school therefore must open these cages, because those who are mafiosi often don’t know that they are, immersed as they are in their subculture”, argued Professor Mercadante.

“This is where we have to start. We want to start from what already exists, from this legislation that has not been disseminated nationally and that has stopped at the local level due to both lack of funding and changes in the school system with the introduction of the culture of legality after the mafia massacres,” explains Giusto Catania.

“There is no need for sporadic and ephemeral initiatives, but it is necessary to have a concrete impact on schools and, consequently, on society,” he adds. For this reason, President Saladino has proposed, as a first step addressed to schools all over Italy, the signing of a 20-point manifesto calling for the construction of an anti-mafia culture as a national requirement: “The Mafia accompanies both criminal and cultural action”, reads the document to which 70 schools in Palermo and the province have adhered. “Consequently, it is necessary to work on a pedagogical project of anti-mafia culture, to develop an alternative process to mafia culture”, explains the school director. “And for this, it is necessary to address the issue on a daily basis in all subjects, from history to mathematics, art and music”.

 The education for legality manifesto

The manifesto begins: “Education for legality is not enough to build an anti-mafia culture, especially since mafias do not manifest themselves exclusively in contexts of illegality”.

“The mafia”, he says, “tends to hide in the spaces of legality, where its economic interests proliferate. The mafia has long since given way to the mafia that infiltrates the institutions, the sanctuaries of finance and the laundering of dirty money in legal and lawful economic operations”.

“Schools must teach to distinguish morally irreproachable behaviour from apparent, fictitious and artificial legality”, the manifesto reminds us. And again: “Education in legality has put respect for the law at the forefront. History teaches us that respect for legality and the law can perpetuate crimes that mortify the rights of individuals and entire peoples. The anti-mafia culture, on the contrary, is put into practice by promoting, respecting, and enhancing rights”. It is therefore on “respect for the fundamental rights of the person, the protection of human, social and civil rights” that “represent the minimum and obligatory ground” that we must work “to build an anti-mafia culture” because “mafia has the characteristic of regenerating itself in the daily mortification and/or annulment of all rights”.

The manifesto concludes by reiterating that the school “takes ground from the mafia by practising democracy, participation, decentralisation of power and the widening of decision-making spaces”. And that “teaching democracy at school is one of the most important pedagogical missions”.

 

 

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