Interview. We spoke with Mafia historian Salvatore Lupo about the death of Sicilian Mafia boss Toto Riina, who terrorized Italy for decades.

Lupo: ‘Riina was a man of the past’

A professor of Contemporary History, Salvatore Lupo is among the most important scholars of the Mafia phenomenon and the author of several books, including Quando la mafia trovò l’America (“When the Mafia found America”).

Toto Riina is dead. Does his demise have only symbolic value, or will it have concrete consequences regarding the structure of the Cosa Nostra?

It doesn’t affect the current situation at all. Because Riina had been in prison for 24 years, under the “41 bis” isolation regime. He was a man of the past.

Wasn’t he the capo dei capi (“boss of bosses”)?

That’s an aggrandizing notion: the boss as a god on Earth. Like the Sun King, the king is dead, long live the king. No big mafia boss rules from prison, and certainly not when they’re under the “41 bis” isolation regime. Even Tommaso Buscetta said it.

Yet, according to some judges and investigators, he was still “the Godfather.”

That seems to me to be just fanciful analysis. It’s not possible to do anything today like when Riina was a free man. The era of the Corleonesi is now history. In an intercepted conversation he had in prison, Riina himself was remembering the good times, when he could just “knock people off,” and was complaining that today it’s no longer like that. There is a certain tendency to use yesterday’s ways of looking at things, or a perspective even more outdated, just so you can say that nothing ever changes. It’s a mental habit of the people who came to maturity in that time, and they just go on with the same type of analysis no matter what happens. It’s a shame that even Piero Grasso is using this style of argument.

Those who thought Riina was still the capo would talk about his successor, and the danger of a power struggle between the Mafia families.

I’m not saying there won’t be conflicts, but not about who will be Riina’s successor. Mostly about who will dominate in his area of business, rather than in his territories. I remember that a few years ago, investigators managed to avoid a Mafia war between the clans headed by Nino Rotolo and Lo Piccolo by using intercepted conversations. And Riina had already been in jail for a long time.

Do you agree with Piero Grasso and Antonio Ingroia that Riina must have taken many secrets involving powerful men to his grave, and they are now breathing a sigh of relief?

I don’t think he was hiding such great secrets.

So, in effect, this is also an aggrandizing vision of him.

I remember the powerful men brought down in connection with Riina. For example, one of the most important politicians of the country, Giulio Andreotti, was tried for Mafia connections. Or a renowned businessman like Michele Sindona. Even Silvio Berlusconi has been involved in accusations brought by former Mafia bosses. I don’t think what Riina took to his grave could have involved anyone more prominent than these people.

People often say it would have been about corrupt people working for the intelligence services.

Like the mysterious “Mr. Franco”? And who was he? If he ever existed, he was probably just a lieutenant like any other. With his advisers, his lawyers, his financiers. But it’s ridiculous to think he could have been leading a global empire; that is just an oversimplification.

And the mysteries connected to the Falcone and Borsellino murders?

But why not also the Dalla Chiesa, Pio La Torre or Piersanti Mattarella killings? Those who talk about secrets never uncovered about the massacres of ’92 are those career experts who have a certain way of looking at things. But it is not credible.

There are no mysteries at all, from your point of view?

There are, of course. But this kind of babble will not get us closer to solving them.

What kind of babble?

Take, for instance, Ingroia, when he had the body of the Sicilian bandit, Giuliano, exhumed in order to prove it was not his body — but it was. Or those who keep talking about mysterious secret documents regarding the Portella della Ginestra massacre, when we know already who were the perpetrators and who gave the orders.

What importance do you think Riina’s death has?

It’s a biological end, nothing more. His historical role was long over. He was a character who led a criminal power structure of unprecedented extent.

Professor, does the Mafia still exist?

Of course it does, and it’s no joke. But it’s very different, the world has changed. It’s wrong to talk about a “real estate mafia.” The Mafia today is different than in Riina’s time, just like that of the Corleonesi was different than the Mafia before it. And we’re not exactly living in the kingdom of heaven, so there will probably be new types of Mafias in the future.

And today, the Mafia is no longer that of the Sicilian Cupola?

I’m making an empirical observation here: The so-called “underground Mafia” of today clearly does not need, and does not even have the tools to achieve, that level of centralization which was marked by a high level of violence and terror in Riina’s time. This, of course, does not prevent smaller groups of Mafiosi from acting or doing business independently.

And at the level of culture?

There was complicity with the Mafia before the advent of the Corleonesi. If Riina chose the path of terrorism, it was because he was confronting difficult conditions and the opposition to the Mafia was strong. Public opinion was more awake and more attentive in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

And nowadays?

Things are different. There are problems related to democracy and economic development, which can’t be traced back to the Mafia in particular. People talk about this or that “mafia” in a generic way in political discourse, and I would certainly not endorse this generic use of the term.

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