This xenophobia reveals the power of organised crime
The Roma of Naples are paying a terrible price for the failure of successive Italian governments to confront the local mafia.
- The Guardian,
- Wednesday May 21 2008
As film critics at Cannes get their first look at Gomorrah, about the Naples organised crime syndicate the Camorra, the malign influence of this group has set fire to the city, literally and metaphorically. For years, it has been dumping rubbish and toxic waste brought in from northern Italy on lucrative contracts in and around residential areas. Now Neapolitans, fed up with the stench and filth, are setting fire to this garbage indiscriminately, provoking a crisis of public health for the ambulance and firefighting services.
If this inferno were not enough, mob violence has erupted against the Gypsy, or Roma, population huddled in squatter camps on the outskirts of Naples. Ministers have accompanied these appalling attacks by demanding the deportation of some Roma and the re-establishment of border controls in violation of the EU’s Schengen agreement. Naples is Italy’s disgrace and Europe’s shame. And in a rare recognition of a real emergency, the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is convening a cabinet meeting in Naples this morning to address the problems that decades of political neglect and criminal activity have wrought there and in the wider Campania region.
The latest trouble began last week after a Roma woman had allegedly attempted to abduct a child near the Roma camp in the rundown district of Ponticelli. A mob attacked the camp, driving away 1,000 Gypsies living in and around railway arches. According to witnesses, members of the local Camorra family encouraged local people to join in the mayhem. Some local commentators have argued that the Camorra was merely implementing a more forceful version of the roundup of petty foreign criminals ordered by the government.
A virulent xenophobia has infected large parts of Italy in the last year. Last autumn, migrants from the EU newcomer Romania were attacked as suspected criminals amid calls for their deportation. A significant minority of Romanians are Gypsies (already used to ruthless discrimination back home).
The identification of the Roma as the wellspring of crime has proved a useful diversionary tactic for the Camorra in advance of today’s cabinet meeting. It has deflected attention from the real source of social chaos in the city: the Camorra itself.
Ponticelli is home to a market known as the Bronx that is one of the main outlets for illicit goods and services in Naples, a city plagued by heroin and cocaine usage. There is some evidence that the Camorra had clashed with Roma in a minor turf war in the Bronx.
The Camorra is one of the world’s most powerful crime syndicates. In the 1990s, it eclipsed the Sicilian mafia after the latter had overreached itself in murdering the anti-mafia campaigners Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone. The killings triggered a popular backlash that enabled law-enforcement agencies to launch a campaign that came close to eradicating the mafia.
However, the mafia’s demise proved hugely beneficial to other crime groups in southern Italy, notably the ‘Ndrangheta in Reggio Calabria, and the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia. But the biggest winner was the Camorra. With an extensive international network and effective control over the port of Naples, the Camorra hoovered up much of the import and export of cocaine and heroin that the Sicilians had dominated.
Revenue from narcotics and counterfeit goods imported from Asia has boosted the Camorra’s ability to subvert governance. Successive cabinets under Berlusconi and his predecessor, the former EU commission president, Romano Prodi, have sat back as Camorra families have corrupted virtually every district council in Naples. The process, described so well by Roberto Saviano, the courageous author of Gomorrah, has led to a virtual kleptocracy.
The European commission is currently weighing up draconian penalties against Bulgaria for its failure to deal with organised crime and the influence it wields over public life. But when it comes to Italy, Brussels has always applied double standards. Cracking the whip over a weak accession state such as Bulgaria is easy. But the EU appears scared of threatening similar measures against Italy. If Berlusconi’s government fails to adopt serious measures against the Camorra in Naples, the time has come for the EU to take as tough an approach to Italy as it does to Bulgaria. It is simply outrageous that Naples is suffocating under a blanket of smoke and xenophobia generated by an organised crime syndicate that Rome refuses to challenge.
· Misha Glenny is the author of McMafia: Crime Without Frontiers