Italy // Sicily //

The Mafia

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Whatever else the Mafia is, it isn’t an organization that impinges upon the lives of tourists. For most Sicilians, mafia with a small m is so much a way of life and habit of mind that they don’t even think about it. If a Sicilian lends a neighbour a bag of sugar, for example, both will immediately be aware of a favour owed, and the debtor uncomfortable until the favour has been returned, and balance restored. As for allegiance to friends, it would be very rare indeed for a Sicilian, asked to recommend a hotel or restaurant, to suggest that you go to one that does not belong to a friend, relative, or someone who forms part of his personal network of favours.

The Mafia, with a capital M, began life as an early medieval conspiracy, created to protect the family from oppressive intrusions of the state. Existing to this day, Sicily continues to endure this system of allegiance, preferment and patronage of massive self-perpetuating proportions, from which few local people profit. In many parts of the region, owners of shops and businesses are expected to give pizzo (protection money) to the local Mafia. Though efforts to resist the Mafia continue, with local businesses in Palermo and Siracusa, for example, banding together to refuse to pay pizzo, it is not uncommon for the Mafia to have the power to close down the enterprises of refuseniks.

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