Fearless words – “Trame” Book Festival

del 11 Luglio 2011


(The Economist – Jul 7th 2011)

“Trame” book festival
Fearless words

A literary fest challenges the Mafia on its own turf

WITH a police bomb squad present, armour-plated cars for many speakers, platoons of bodyguards and enough firearms to quell an insurrection, “Trame” (“Plots”) was an unusual literary festival. Held recently in Lamezia Terme, the five-day event posed an unusually acute security problem because it focused on recent books about the Mafia, because the lives of several speakers have been threatened and because the town where it was held is in southern Calabria, a region that has long been ruled by the clans.

The two men behind “Trame” are Tano Grasso, under police protection since 1991 for founding Italy’s first anti-racket association, and Lirio Abbate, a journalist from Palermo whose 2006 book, “I Complici”, written with Peter Gomez, led to death-threats and a 24-hour police guard. Lamezia Terme’s mayor, Gianni Speranza, who approved €80,000 ($115,590) of public funding for the festival, received bullets in the post when he was first elected in 2005 and had bodyguards for several years. Two murders in the town last month, in which the Mafia had a hand, were reminders, if any were needed, of the clans’ methods.

Yet most of the 55 works presented deal with matters other than the mafia militare that kills and wounds. Mario Portanova’s “Mafia a Milano” and Enzo Ciconte’s “’Ndrangheta Padana” both look at how the two Mafias have penetrated the economy and society in northern Italy. To write “DisOrdini”, Alessandro Calì, an engineer from Palermo, investigated how mafiosi and their allies have joined the engineering profession’s roll and become members of other similar orders. And several members of the magistracy spoke about their works, among them Roberto Scarpinato, who prosecuted Giulio Andreotti in a case that showed that the seven-time prime minister had had ties to Cosa Nostra. His book “Il Ritorno del Principe” concerns collusion between politics and the Mafia, and what he calls “the criminality of Italy’s governing class”. In “Le Due Guerre”, Gian Carlo Caselli, who volunteered to be chief prosecutor in Palermo after two magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, were murdered in 1992, explains why Italy defeated political terrorism but has not beaten the Mafia.

“Books on the Mafia sell well if they name politicians or businessmen,” says Lorenzo Fazio, who in 2007 set up Chiarelettere, the independent publisher that brought out Mr Scarpinato’s book, which has sold more than 30,000 copies. “Metastasi” by Gianluigi Nuzzi and Claudio Antonelli, which deals with the relations between the Northern League politicians and the ’Ndrangheta, Calabria’s Mafia, and has brought Chiarelettere and the authors writs for defamation, has sold over 60,000 copies since it came out six months ago. Legal risk is one problem for books on the Mafia, distribution another. Bookshops in the south are often reluctant to stock them, noted Florindo Rubbettino, whose Calabrian firm publishes around 15 books on the Mafia each year. Mr Rubbettino was one of four southern Italian publishers with stands on Lamezia Terme’s main street; others were taken by civil-society organisations and the town’s bookshops.

The Mafia is a dark subject, but the festival was sandwiched between two local saints’ days and the main street was brightly lit by arches of blue, gold and green lights. And “Trame” was luminous in another sense. Students from northern and central Italy joined with townspeople to pack the debates that began early in the evening and continued until midnight, showing that civic conscience has not been quashed. “I’m delighted with how the festival turned out,” said Mr Speranza, whose name means “hope”.

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