Giovanni Falcone: at the periphery of power, at the centre of the State

When an Italian goes abroad, s\he already knows what will be the first three words heard: pizza, mafia and mandolino.

This set of words might have slightly changed over time, being substituted by various other ‘symbols’: gelato, The Great Beauty, Berlusconi…

But if there is one word that keeps being said to Italians, that one is, beyond any doubt, mafia.

However, while it is true that everyone knows about the whole world rotating around ‘mafia’ , with its symbols, lifestyle and hierarchy, (and here it is where the film industry, see: The godfather, might have played a role!), very few can nod their heads at the hearing of the names of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Apart from my personal stories, also a simple google research can prove this. Try google ‘italian mafia’, and you will get 10.000.000 results. Try again with ‘antimafia judge Giovanni Falcone’: 22.400 results (mainly from Wikipedia and old articles).

So: who was Giovanni Falcone? 

Giovanni Falcone was an Italian anti-mafia judge who eventually paid with his life his commitment towards the preservation of justice and the State.

Sicilian by birth, Falcone had, therefore, a direct and clear perception of the problems that his city, Palermo, was facing back then. Almost all the businesses were forced to pay  pizzo to mafia bosses, as a way to seek protection and avoid further problems with the local ‘mafiosi’; the streets of the city were often the theatre of bloody confrontations between rival mafia families and the State was not equipped with the necessary tools in order to combat the phenomenon.

Against this background, Falcone brought about a real revolution in the way mafia was treated judicially. As a judge in Palermo, he was asked by Antonino Caponnetto to join the first ‘antimafia pool‘: a group of 4 judges (besides Falcone, there were Paolo Borsellino, Giuseppe Di Lello and Leonardo Guarnotta) that will join forces, for the very first time, and conjunctly analyse the activities of ‘Cosa Nostra’ (literally translatable as: our own thing). 

The latter was a powerful Sicilian mafia organisation whose structure was still thought to be, at the time, made of various groups with autonomous decision-making powers. Falcone was the first to understand the hierarchical nature of Cosa Nostra and, consequently, the fundamental role of joint investigations beyond national barriers.

During the investigations, he applied what would be known as ‘Falcone Method’ which can be best summed up with this words: ‘ In order to understand the mafia, you need to follow the money’. This interdisciplinary approach led him to liaise with banks and obtain critical information about capital flows and illicit affairs that the mafia was conducting abroad.

Meanwhile, the environment was exacerbating, making it more and more difficult for the judges to continue their work amidst death threats.

For this reason, Falcone and Borsellino were forced to move with their families to a prison (what an irony!), where they would continue their investigations in a more secure way.

Finally, the long investigations came to an end. On February 10th, 1986, which will be remembered as a historical day, the very first and big trial against Cosa Nostra (known as maxiprocesso ) started. This trial would change the way State-mafia relationships are governed, and will give the very first serious blow to the strongest mafia organisation of the time.

The ‘maxiprocesso’ would be also the main reason Falcone and Borsellino are known today; unfortunately, it was also the reason why they were both assassinated years after – respectively on May 23rd and July19th, 1992.

If you are wondering why it was called ‘maxi-processo’, a few figures could put it into perspective: 475 defendants, 200 lawyers, 900 witnesses, 600 journalists, a sentence to 2665 years in jail in total.

But not just the numbers can speak about the unicity of the judicial proceeding. A look at the place where the trial was conducted itself, with blinded doors and bulletproof windows, can help convey the tension surrounding the happenings: these Youtube videos (in Italian) are a must to better understand the ‘mafiosi’ and their insolence, irony and attitude towards justice.

Giovanni Falcone and its fellow judges could finally breathe a sigh of relief: they had just proven that mafia was not invincible. That the State was present and strong, and it was capable of punishing Mafia bosses.

However, this positive spirit would not last for long. Soon enough, Falcone will be isolated, his systematisation of the way anti-mafia investigations were held, jeopardised.

When it came the time to elect the successor of Caponnetto at the office in Palermo, he was thought to be the natural candidate for this position. However, the National Council of Judges (CSM) voted in favour of Antonino Meli, an older judge who started to dismantle the work of the antimafia pool. Believing that the Casa Nostra was made of various autonomous cells, rather than a single, vertical organisation, he did not embrace the unifying and interdisciplinary method of Falcone. To the contrary, he spread the judicial cases over various offices – in so doing, connecting the dots and looking for the ‘fil rouge’ linking all of these cases would become way harder.

But it was not just the lack of institutional support that caused the isolation of Giovanni Falcone. A mixture of suspicious theories, according to which Falcone had brought a ‘pentito’ (mafia informer) back to Sicily only to diminish the power of the antagonist mafia family, along with an environment of mistrust and delegitimisation, eventually led the judge to say:

Why does one die? Loneliness, or the fact of entering a game that is bigger than ‘us’. 
Lack of necessary alliances, lack of support. 
In Sicily mafia kills the State servants which haven’t been protected by the State

Unfortunately, his predictions were right. However, as we say in Italy, ‘time is a gentleman’. It puts everything back on the right track.

Following its cruel assassination, in fact,  Falcone has become a national hero. Streets, schools, festivals, awards have been named after him. As I am writing, a national manifestation is going on in Palermo with thousands of students coming from all over Italy to commemorate his memory.

This mythologising of his figure that has been happening lately if, on one hand, it was a necessary expiation for those who had not understood his importance back then, on the other hand, it epitomises the lust for justice, equality, rule of law the new generations have.

Given the changing nature of mafia, however, one should be wary of this ‘hero’ narrative that has pervaded the Italian media. By defining those who have conducted their role with respect to the State and the rule of law as ‘heroes’, one could start detaching their stories from reality. By delegating the fight on mafia to ‘extraordinary figures’, one could then justly feel exempted from fighting its own battle on injustice.

Giovanni and Paolo, before being visionary judges, were great citizens with a great sense of respect towards Italian institution, the State, their beloved homeland. The thing is that they were too ahead of time; and, as it happens in this cases, they were not understood by the majority of the people.

They were seen as heroes because they were going against the flow.

There is no better way to honour their memory than to conduct our daily ordinary acts of legality. Together, we can make sure that nobody is left alone anymore: not because the flow has stopped, but because it has finally started going in the right direction.

Federica Giordano Galasso is a 2015 Graduate and the President of the Erasmus Student Network Roma LUISS


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