The Sicilian Mafia: A Darker Side of Italian History with Anita Bestler

The Sicilian Mafia: A Darker Side of Italian History with Anita Bestler


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The Sicilian term “Mafia” is almost as famous as the Italian word “Spaghetti”. Movies like the “Godfather” or television series like the “Sopranos” created romanticized views about the Mafia, but do not really help to understand this complex social phenomenon. This conversation seeks to explore the truth behind the Mafia as we look into its history and role in Italy today.

The Sicilian Mafia developed about 200 years ago in a very specific historical situation: the Bourbon King Ferdinand took away privileges from the local aristocrats who consequently did their utmost to get rid of the king. We’ll learn how they organized several uprisings, using bandits from the lower social classes. Afterward, they protected them – and that is how the Mafia was born. We’ll trace the evolution of the Mafia from after the Italian Unification in 1861 when the Mafia groups exploded and became more important than before. We’ll explore how without the help of the Mafia, it was quite difficult to run for office in Southern Italy and that especially under Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti, organized crime became an integral part of the Italian political system.

It was only during the Fascist regime the ‘men of honor’ had a hard time because Mussolini did not accept a state within the state. We’ll discuss how the Mafia managed to reestablish its structure and rise-up once more. Because of important economical changes in Southern Italy, the Mafia “moved from the countryside in town”, meaning the urban Cosche – that is how the Mafia groups are called – and started to become predominant.

We’ll learn about an important change that occurred in the 1970s when drug trafficking became the most important Mafia business. The fight over the control of drugs between the old Mafia aristocrats from Palermo and the rural bosses from Corleone resulted in the famous Mafia war (1978-1984). The winners were the Corleonesi whose violent boss Totò Riina (1930-2017) dominated the scene until his arrest in 1993. We’ll talk about the many judges, prosecutors, and policemen who were killed during this violent period. Afterward, the Mafia went underground and did its utmost to become invisible. But it is still there and after the COVID-19 crisis, it will become even stronger than before.

Led by an expert in Sicilian history, this interactive seminar analyzes an area of Italian life that is less explored. This is a fitting conversation for anyone interested in understanding all aspects of Italian history, as we learn about this complex, and often dark, social phenomenon.

Dr. Anita Bestler is an ethno-sociologist specialized in Mediterranean culture. German-born, she has been based in Palermo for upwards of 20 years writing guide books, working as a tourist guide, and doing research about the Mafia.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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