With today marking the Italian general elections, the Five Star Movement has announced a new candidate for election in Sicily, The Guardian recently reported. Piera Aiello’s story is a chilling testament to the continuing influence of mafias, powerfully organized crime syndicates, which have held a pervasive sway over southern Italy in particular. A victim of a Mafiosi assassination in 1991 which claimed her husband’s life, Aiello entered state protection and testified against the killers, leading to dozens of arrests. As a result, she has lived in state protection ever since, having to shroud her identity in a black cloth and moving through life with an armed guard, in constant fear of retaliation.
Aiello’s candidacy matches a pattern for the wildly popular and surging Five Star Movement, considered a force for dynamism that engages directly with an Italian populace disillusioned with what they see as a corrupt and turgid political establishment. Speaking directly to people for whom the mafia’s pervasive influence is endemic, and for who the culture of violence against those who speak out is assured, the ‘faceless candidate’ declared that “I decided to become a candidate because I, Piera Aiello, want my face back.” In a country where, in the aftermath of Aiello’s testimony the magistrate who protected her, Paolo Borsellino, was assassinated with a car bomb because of their actions, the ambition to change Italy displayed by the Five Star Movement is commendable. Trading on their anti-establishment message, and arising out of the generalised discontent of the Global Financial Crisis, the choice to field Aiello as a candidate in Italy’s south, the place where Italian mafias are most heavily ingrained, is also a pointed one. Five Star Movement politician Angelo Tofalo outlines this strategy perfectly; “the great revolutions always start in the south.” The Movement is clearly using its insurgent brand to change Italy from the bottom up and from the top down.
If the Five Star Movement wants to bring about this kind of wholesale change, they have many obstacles ahead of them. While disaffection with the political system is rife in Italy, the two centrist parties, Forza Italia and the Democratic Party, are strongly entrenched. Meanwhile, the Movement is not the only populist party making inroads into the Italian political system, with the anti-immigrant Lega also courting the youth vote. Coupled with this is that organized crime is a very lucrative and pervasive opportunity; as a result, the Italian political system, particularly in the south, has more often than not been intertwined with corruption and bribery. The judicial system has been rendered powerless in the face of the violent power of the mafias; any disappearance of those who are caught in the crossfire of ceaseless clan wars among the different mafias are dismissed as a ‘lupara bianca,’ or a ‘white shotgun,’ and another name is added to the list of victims.
This is why the elevation of Aiello by the Five Star Movement is so important. To pledge to change, Italy is committing to fighting the mafias who threaten Italian security and rule of law. Magistrates and lawyers are taking novel steps, such as rescuing and protecting the wives of Mafiosi families, often the targets of serial abuse, and valuable sources of information for law enforcement. For Italy to banish its shameful past intertwined with violent organized crime, its politicians and judiciary must continue to elevate the voices of women, and create new solutions that show that a life of crime and violence does not have to be the answer. Piera Aiello is surely necessary to that goal.
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