Commentary. Starting July 1, our newspaper returns to Sicily and Sardinia. In the ‘70s, in Palermo, the whole archipelago of small mass parties of the revolutionary Left was already present, but one stood out above all others.

A brief history of il manifesto in Palermo

My first article for il manifesto was dated Dec. 24, 1989, which was followed by 30 years of honored allegiance [in the historical archive, his first article actually dates back to Jan. 12, 1989]. Having only memory as a guide and without slipping into an autobiographical mode, which would not be of interest to anyone, I will try to briefly retrace those years in Palermo, seen, as always, through the eyes of an emigrant from Abruzzo, bereft of that prejudice of identity that almost all Sicilians have in common, called sicilitudine (“sicilitude”). The term, coined many decades before the advent of Bossi and the Lega Nord, points to the never-concealed aspiration to sovereignty for the island, which was later quelled with an autonomy with which Sicily has never known—and still doesn’t know—what to do at all.

This past is, of course, of mostly historical relevance, but I believe that the events of recent years are much more interesting, also because they help dispel the myth of the difference between Sicilian politics and that of the rest of the country.

Should I offer some incontrovertible empirical evidence to this fact? In the elections for the European Parliament of May 2014, Matteo Renzi’s PD obtained 40% in all regions, including Sicily, an electoral capital that faded away uniformly in a few months everywhere, once again including Sicily.

Il manifesto has done its best to recount the events of recent years, also making a foray into the political movements, especially in Palermo. In the 70s, in Palermo, the whole archipelago of small mass parties of the revolutionary Left was already present, but one stood out above all others, also on account of the good level of political education of its followers.

This group gathered around Mario Mineo, at that time one of the most prestigious Marxist scholars in Sicily. Its central idea was the fight against the mafia and the relationship of mutual interest in which the latter had become intertwined with politics and the economy, a social bloc that Mineo astutely called the “mafia bourgeoisie.”

For the sake of fairness, we should remember that Mineo was the first to suggest the confiscation of the assets of organized crime as an effective measure in the fight against the mafia. The group then joined in the electoral adventure of il manifesto, which ran alone in the 1972 elections and received 0.6% of the vote.

Mario Mineo’s mantra was “the crisis is precipitating”—but the crisis never ended up precipitating after all, and the Christian Democrats (DC) continued to win and rule, in the region and in the cities, with the active support of that mafia bourgeoisie which they could not do without.

The marriage with il manifesto was short-lived, because it made urgent the need for a more markedly revolutionary political turning point, which the new political formation was not. Therefore, the group slipped towards factionalism, and, as in the best communist traditions, it was inevitably expelled.

In the same year of 1972, the elections for the Superior Council of the Magistrature had also taken place with a purely majoritarian electoral law, and the Independent Magistracy group, although it didn’t represent a majority of the country’s magistrates, won all the seats representing titulary judges.

In the district of the Court of Appeal of Palermo, the Democratic Magistracy got as few as three votes: one of them was mine, while the authors of the other two were never discovered.

Incidentally, this blatant violation of every democratic principle pushed the legislature to pass a new proportional electoral law, on the basis of which it was then possible to install Gaetano Costa as Prosecutor of the Republic and Rocco Chinnici as head of the magistrate training office at the Court of Palermo. If the ultra-conservative electoral structure of the SCM had remained in place, they would have never gotten into those offices. And to think that today, some would want to return to a majoritarian law!

To complicate matters, from the 70s onwards, and continuing for several decades, there was a tremendous escalation of mafia violence, with hundreds of deaths per year, and an understandable contemporary awakening of a civil conscience that was in the process of coagulating, especially in Palermo: in the political realm, around a small group of young Christian Democrats who were challenging the DC from the inside, and in the judicial realm, around the judges of the Palermo Court.

Meanwhile, the star of Leoluca Orlando began to rise in the Palermo City Council, a maverick Christian Democrat who denounced Ciancimino’s collaboration with the mafia and preached the internal renewal of the DC.

Riding the wave of this anti-Ciancimino revolt, there was the prospect of a unified progressive list led by Orlando for the 1990 municipal elections in Palermo, including all of the left. However, during the formation of the list, Orlando cunningly stalled for months, never making his choice clear. Then, a few days before the lists were presented, he chose to lead a single-party DC list, leaving the left holding the bag.

Orlando and the DC of Lima and Ciancimino ended up winning the elections decisively, while on the left, an abyss had opened up that would never be filled.

The decline of the Italian Communist Party was certainly not only due to Orlando’s annexationist policy, but also due to the disappearance of many factories, such as the FIAT plant of Termini Imerese or the decline of enterprises such as shipyards. In any case, in the following years and up to the present day, Orlando has never ceased to draw on the left-wing vote pool, trying to pass himself off as the true representative of this political area: today, the Palermo PD is almost no longer in existence.

The journalists from il manifesto who wrote about Palermo and recounted the tremendous phase of mafia terror that struck the city (I will not try to list them all, for fear of making some error of omission) were strictly on Orlando’s side, at the limit of hagiography. This choice of camp was politically inescapable, also because it was necessary to resist the offensive of the “CAF,” the unholy alliance between Craxi, Andreotti and Forlani which had been unleashed against the Orlando junta and, surreptitiously, also against the judges of Palermo, via the “friendly” press. Among other things, it was these journalists who brought me over to il manifesto.

In these pages, we have followed all the tribulations of the mafia, the crimes, the long judicial phase, always taking care not to reduce the fight against mafia criminality to a task entrusted only to the judges: it is no coincidence that my first article was entitled “Memoirs from the maxi-bunker: the rude awakening from the judicial illusion?”

It would be superfluous to try to list the many mafia massacres, but I want to recall one in particular, which was covered by il manifesto generously and for a long time: the murder of Peppino Impastato on May 9, 1978.

Peppino’s comrades—certain that the Badalamenti mafia clan had been responsible and outraged at the direction the investigations by the carabinieri had taken, focusing on a flimsy terrorism theory—came to my office to have me read (and perhaps “give my approval to”) a complaint they wrote to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

That went very well: starting from that complaint and their perseverance, justice was eventually done for Peppino Impastato.

I don’t want to write any more, also because I don’t wish to bore you.


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