How Sicilians Are Resetting Their Social Norms To Strengthen Future Generations Against Mafia Influence

Author: Baris Cayli Messina

(MENAFN- The Conversation) Bearing witness to the profound consequences of violence and injustice for a long period of time can deeply fracture communities, resulting in collective trauma. But, where there is oppression, a determined resistance will always rise to challenge it. One such example is the unyielding battle Sicilians have waged against the mafia.

Despite facing the overwhelming force of the mafia, with its violent methods and sinister Political alliances, many Sicilians have refused to remain silent. Archival records indicate that as far back as the 1870s, Sicilians started to defy and confront the mafia's tyrannical power.

Over the past 30 years, the resistance has intensified. Sicilians publicly commemorate the mafia's victims. Activists and businesses collaboratively promote anti-racketeering efforts, such as refusing to pay extortion payments and displaying stickers in their premises to overtly signal that they refuse to pay.

A business displays and Addiopizzo sticker to show that its owners refuse to comply with mafia extortion payments. Alamy

The aim is to craft new social norms, countering the mafia's intimidation and code of silence. This involves cultivating a community ethos of refusing to pay extortion (pizzo) and speaking out against mafia intimidation as the expected behaviour, rather than compliance.

By rejecting the traditional passivity towards mafia demands, these emerging social norms empower people and businesses to confront and undermine the mafia's control. This fight is dynamic and has to evolve continuously to counteract the mafia's strategies.

The development of social norms in societies that have suffered trauma is a young field of study. Through my long-term observational research conducted over a decade in Sicily, I have sought to understand how historical injustices influence collective resistance and, ultimately, shape the social norms required for victory.

I've found, for example, that informal rituals such as marking the anniversaries of victims' deaths with memorials or public gatherings, help communities to contextualise past events by reframing them as valuable lessons. By commemorating mafia victims and sharing their stories, those who have lost loved ones demonstrate how these acts become educational, teaching the community about resilience and resistance against the mafia.

Local activist groups play a pivotal role in exposing the corrupt alliances between the mafia and political figures. They often organise public discussions and exhibitions, detailing specific cases where politicians have collaborated with the mafia. These events serve not only to educate but also to garner community support for political accountability.

During their commemorations, activists openly assign blame, often emphasising instances when the state failed to safeguard its citizens or disregarded the mafia's sway over local communities.

Ritual becomes power

Rituals of this kind are repeated again and again over extended periods, reinforcing the message the code of silence implemented by the mafia must be broken. Antonia, one of the people I interviewed, said:

Other rituals function as a catalyst for community-wide action by appealing to citizens' emotions and mobilising them towards collective resistance. The aim is to transmit social norms to the next generation, instilling behaviour that prevents involvement in mafia activities.

For example, young people are encouraged into organised sports, which help impart the importance of rules and fair play, and therefore an appreciation of the rule of law. They also develop a sense of discipline and integrity, which are crucial in resisting the allure of mafia involvement.

A football pitch in Taormina: an unexpected site of resistance. Shutterstock/Roman Babakin

Groups also organise to provide free legal assistance to people being extorted by the mafia for pizzo payments so that the longstanding norm of paying to avoid trouble is broken.

In my interview with Serenella, a local business owner from Palermo, she emphasised the importance of resources in an effective fight against the mafia:

Serenella's point holds great significance in fostering a culture of lawfulness.

The Sicilian experience is a poignant reminder of the challenging task that communities face when they have endured prolonged injustice at the hands of powerful entities. For a long time, politicians have colluded with oppressors at the expense of their own citizens.

Despite over 150 years of antimafia resistance, change in Sicily has been slow. The corrupt state institutions and politicians, coupled with the abandonment of Sicilian citizens to their own fate, have provided a fertile environment for the mafia to become a dominant force in Sicily's social and political landscape. However, social norms are gradually changing in a way that many communities hope will eventually deliver freedom from the mafia's grasp.

The Conversation


The Conversation

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