Dans cet article publié par le New York Times en 1909, accessible via le moteur de recherche propre à ce journal, décrit le fonctionnement de la Mafia. Ce fonctionnement est toujours d’actualité malgré la note d’espoir introduite par l’écrivain en fin d’article.
Elaborate System by Which the Mafia Works in Sicily
Its Existence, Usually Denied, Is Proved by Numerous Strange Cases
Published: July 18, 1909 Copyright © The New York Times
By RENE BAZIN
BEFORE me lies a pamphlet, half history, half romance, which bears the title “La Mafia Siciliana.” The cover is blue, crossed by a gold band. In the upper part a beautiful girl, one hand on her hip, the other holding a jug on her head, comes forward laughing. She has flowers in her apron and Barbary figs under her feet. Below two men are fighting with knives. Their mules, standing in the field, wait the outcome of the conflict. L.ast, across the page, cutting the blue and the gold, a. branch of a plum tree bears, in the guise of fruit, a club, a razor, and a dagger.
This is really a symbolical cover. We meet in stories of the Mafia, those in the book or. elsewhere, many women, clubs, razor cuts, dagger stabs, and this all happens under the deep blue sky of Sicily.
But what is the Mafia definitely? What Is Its history, its organization? What kinds of daily operations can be laid to its charge? This is something extremely difficult to determine. Dr. Pitrè, one of the glories of Palermo, who has written so many curious volumes concerning the manners, the traditions, the popular literature of Sicily, on reaching the chapter of the Mafia, confines himself to linguistic remarks, and says that he does not wish to add anything concerning the rest.
If you spend even a week in Palermo .this will not surprise you.
I understand so well that, in order not to be suspected of invention or slander, I prefer to quote a few anecdotes of Sicilian life which are public property or already related in local publications; for instance, in the clever pamphlet printed at Palermo in 1878. « Profiles and Photographs for Collection. » In this way the most touchy Sicilian will not be able to accuse me of injustice, since I shall say upon this delicate subject only what the Palermitans themselves have said of it.
A rich banker owns a magnificent orchard- in the suburbs of the city. Unfortunately, as soon as the oranges ripen, the robbers appear; the whole crop of figs is carried off; the grapes are stolen. What is to be done? The remedy is well known. The banker does not hesitate. He goes in search of the indispensable man, a neighbor in very comfortable circumstances, highly esteemed, extremely affable,.and begs him to interest himself in the devastated plantation. These are the expressions commonly employed in such cases, because they have precisely the necessary transparency. From the next morning the depredations cease. The guards, powerless the evening before, can sleep in peace. The Mafia watches for them, for it attacks the property, but it knows how to defend it when occasion requires.
It even sometimes protects people in spite of themselves. Here I quote literally the author of » Profiles and Photographs. »
» The Cavalier Tramonte, appointed the legal agent of certain estates in the environs of Palermo, was driving out one holiday to inspect the property. The malandrin―the author distinguishes the malandrin from the mafioso, but I think it rather a subtle difference― noticed the newcomer, approached, and entered into conversation. It was a holiday. No work was or should be done, but thanks to Cavalier Tramonte’s drive, there was a good job accomplished. Early the next morning the malandrin was in the office of the Cavalier, who was very glad to receive him. absolutely ignoring, however, the object of his visit. The caller stood, cap in hand, with a smile on his lips.
‘Is your Excellency satisfied with the welcome you received in the country yesterday?’
‘Why, yes. But―’
‘Pardon me. I wish to know if you are satisfied, and if you have been respected? ‘ ‘Why. yes; that is―’
‘Cavalier Tramonte has been and always will be respected among us. He is free to go and come as much as he chooses, bv day or night. Winter or Summer. Respect for Cavalier Tramonte throughout the country, and woe to anv one who should dare to touch him. Rspect always. And now I will retire, and I beg your Excellence- to give me something for the brave fellows who have respected him’
The Cavalier, confused, perplexed, hesitates, and, as if neither knowing nor desiring it, offers the malandrin a hundred lires.
There is nothing else to be done. This business man is wise. See what happens to people who do not follow his example.
The malandrin has lunched. Enter Peppino, with eyes full of tears, who presents himself before the satrap. The latter is perfectly aware of the object of Peppino* s visit, but he pretends to ignore it.
‘ What is it. Peppino?’
‘ The matter, Master Gaetano! They give us no peace, day or night, You see a man who has lost his rest and comes to ask your assistance’
‘You certainly have troubles, but we will see. You are the father of a large family. There is something to be done for you’
‘Oh! yes, I beg of you. do it, you have so many ways! No one will say » no” to you, and I will trust you with my peace and my life’
‘Everything will end in a solid peace. But you know it will cost three hundred lire to celebrate the conclusion of the agreement’
‘Three hundred lire ! I would rather die than take three hundred lire from my poor children.’
And in three days, death gathers Peppino, who would not pay three hundred lire for the life the malandrin so kindly offered him/’
I should never end, if I attempted merely to enumerate the operations, financial or otherwise, attributed to the Mafia, either in city or country.. It would, be necessary to mention the private revenges, so numerous in Sicily, and the amazing over taxes upon flour mentioned by the economist, Turiello, the abductions still tolerably frequent, the ancient style, with the carriage drawn by two strong horses, racing at full speed, imprisonments in the mountains, affairs of magnificent profit, but dangerous, and which are becoming more infrequent; it would require the detailed information of a Sicilian.
Note that the chiefs, those whom we have just seen at work, are by no means miserable boors, men without fire or home. The people have given them a picturesque appellation; they call them » Mafia in yellow gloves.” The mafioso of high rank sleeps in his own house, observes the courtesies of life, never lays hand himself upon the property of others, and most frequently his legal pigeonhole is as clear as that of the most honest man. He is a well-educated person, who respects himself and enjoys consideration. He does not carry concealed weapons, and defies Sicily to prove that he was ever found in a quarrel, an attack, an armed band.
How does it happen, will you ask, that these mafioso of the upper and lower classes are not destroyed?
Does not the police do its duty?
Good heavens, yes! The police and carabine officers are very severe in this regard, and the majority of Sicilians would wish to be delivered over to the Mafia.
You will find it no easier to persuade a Sicilian of the common people that there is any harm in stealing the fruit of a lemon or fig tree growing at the edge of a neighbor’s property or even a little further in. What! Stealing to take lemons and figs? Why, that is something to eat. It is la roba da mangiare! If he is insulted, wrong in any way, you will not prevent his blood, in which seethes a strain of the African race, from boiling furiously. He is a Greek, too. His vanity is great and his conscience singularly elastic. It is from the aesthetic, rather than the moral, side that he judges things. A bad blow seems to him almost excusable if it is skillfully dealt. Add the extreme poverty, the attraction of gold doubled by the rarity of the metal, and its brilliancy in the sunlight.. Consider that the greater part of these handsome youths, whom, dressed with the utmost care, you meet during the day in the parks and cafés, in the evening at the theatre, do not work, have not $100 income,and all know each: other. Then you; will: better understand the cause of the Mafia’s existence, and one of the reasons for its permanence. What influence can a lawsuit have upon what is first of all a question of race and a condition of the soul?
Besides, criminal justice in Sicily encounters special difficulties. Nowhere, perhaps, is the proof of a crime so hard to fix- The examining Magistrate, the Judge of assizes, the public prosecutor, and the municipal lawyer have against them a formidable power which favors the prisoner, multiplies the sittings, and ends by destroying the best constructed indictment. I mean the omertà. In the eyes of the Sicilian people, it is showing l’omertà (omeneita, virility of character) not to denounce the criminal, never to betray him. School children know that a man’s duty is to keep silence concerning the adventures in which he has been concerned. La virita si dici a lu cunfissuri, says the proverb.
But the truth is not spoken in the court of assizes. Very often the victim will not enter a complaint. If he does, the person robbed will not name the thief whom he suspects, the wounded man will not point out the assailant. Innocent people will allow themselves to be accused and condemned rather than reveal the real criminal. They will even help him to escape. Neighbors will be found when a quarrel has just taken place in the street to aid the assassin to get away. Not that they approve of the crime; no. But « the dead is dead’ and the living must be helped, » is the morality of the populace.
Judge from this the attitude of the witness. « He has seen nothing, » says Signor Giuseppe Pitrè, “he does not know the man against whom he is asked to depose. » When he speaks people wonder why he has been asked to come. If by accident a skillful Judge succeeds in drawing a statement from him the witness, instantly retracts- it, he swears by his great gods―and in this mythological country this must be serious― that he was mistaken, or that he never uttered one of the words cited. Then the Judge tries to confront two witnesses. He obtains only a deafening uproar. He-ends, weary of the war, by deferring the matter until the next session, unless the jury, questioned, and no longer understanding anything, acquits the accused after twenty, sittings.
Are examples wanted? There is no lack of them. I have only to open one of the reports of the Court of Assizes printed in sheets at 1 or 2 cents, which are so popular in Sicily. Here is the » Process of Messina, » decided in 1873, at Trapani. The accused number twenty-two. There were twenty-four days of the trial. As for the charges, there were stabs and blows, robberies, seven or eight murders, a little of everything.
The witnesses are summoned. I will note a few answers:
Q.―You have been the subject of a crime. Relate the particulars. Have you sought the authors? Have you any suspicions?
A.―I have no suspicions. I have no enemies. I have not tried to know the authors, and I have little desire to know them. I went to Messina for a few days. One evening as I was going home three revolver shots were fired. I saw no one. I recognized no one. It is impossible for me even to tell whether the shots were fired at me or at the lawyer. Mineci, who was with me.
Q.―Has any one ever said to you: “Such a person belongs to the band? «
A.―I have never heard any one mentioned.
Another man, Jean Catanzaro, was attacked by five men, who carried off his
Q.―Did.you know these individuals?
A.―No. I knew them only by sight. One was named Jean, another Francois.
Q.―But afterward you tried to find them? ‘
A.―I never saw them again.
Q.―Are they among the accused?
A.―I don’t recognize any of the five.
A third victim gives testimony in his turn:
A,― I was going home with my son and Slgnor Scalla, Near the house, in an alley, ! saw two men but I paid no special attention to them. A few steps further on I was struck, and I fell.
Q.―Who struck you?
A.―I did not recognize my assailant. I have no suspicions, no enemies.
Once the Chief Justice of tne Court of Assizes thought he had at least a good affidavit. He was questioning two people who ran after the assassin: I knew him from behind by his shoulders, it was Musico. There were two men running. » But immediately the second witness came and said: »There was only one man running away and he was not Musico. »
Twenty similar* answers might be quoted. The result was what it must be. Of the twenty-two persons accused seventeen were acquitted. True, some of them had had thirty-four months’ imprisonment before trial.
There seems to have been no change in the legal processes of Sicily of late. I read recently in the Giornale dl Sicilia the reports of the affair Notarbolo di Vil-larosa. It is a love drama, the simplest and saddest possible.
A young officer saw on the promenade, the foro Italice, Catharine de Villarosa. and fell in love with her. He told her of it at first by signs in the Sicilian fashion. Then he wrote, and his letters have been published, long letters of fiery, respectful love, which often began with the words, « My unutterably beloved Catharine. » The young girl was not insensible to the protestations of eternal affection sent by Giovanni Leone.’She promised to- marry no one but him. Sometimes in the( evening a shadow appeared on the balcony of the Villarosa house. It was the servant watching for a signal. She went down, opened the door, and the betrothed lovers could talk for a few minutes in low tones of their baffled affection. For the indicibilmente amata had two brothers who were opposed to the marriage. They thought Leone too poor; they had told him never to woo their sister, not to write to her, to give her up forever. One evening when the young girl was not at home, Leone passed in front of her window. The shadow appeared, the door opened, the young officer entered. A shot was heard, and shortly after the rumor spread through Palermo that Giovanni Leone’s body, pierced by a bullet, with a revolver lying beside it, had been found in the Villarosa garden.
« Murder, » said some; « love suicide, » said others.
The case was taken before the Court of Assizes of Palermo. But the false testimony was so evident and so abundant that It was thought prudent-to send the accused before a second jury.
The second time more than twenty sessions led to nothing but passionate contradictions. The witnesses,,with rare exceptions, were visibly anxious to say nothing which might compromise them. They no longer remembered what they had said previously; then they did recollect, and retracted it. One affirmed that he did not knew one of his most-intimate friends, the father of a child for whom he was godfather. The case grew more and more complicated. Perhaps it will give some idea of the situation, to state that at the last moment the presiding Judge of the court was informed in a letter that seven out of the twelve jurors had been bought. The Magistrate made an investigation and obtained proof that the jurors had received one-half of a thousand-franc note cut in halves with the scissors. If acquittal took place the second half would be joined to the first. The court at once broke up, and the Villarosa case was sent to the Court of Assizes in Naples.
For the third time the arguments began, and » the Sicilian Barons,’* as the people of Naples said, appeared on the prisoners’ bench. All Italy followed the lawsuit of Notarbolo di Villarosa. And certainly neither local color nor incidents nor brilliant pleading were lacking. The father of the young officer Leone, coming to complain of the dark, persistent struggle, in which he had been compelled to engage with » the Mafia in yellow gloves » to obtain justice; the overwhelming deposition of the Palermi-tan police officer denouncing the Mafia; the lawyer Li Donni depicting and deploring these manners of another age which ought to disappear and must be suppressed; this witness belonging to a good family answering with the most perfect serenity: » Nothing is more simple; a man woos your sister; you forbid him to cross the threshold of the house; he violates the order― well, he is killed! “
One must note the tales of the common people of Palermo― barbers, grocers, dealers in bacon, who are called gentilhuomo, and feeling more free after crossing the strait, were more ready to talk; the harangues of extraordinary length and unusual passion delivered by eight or nine of the most famous lawyers of the bars of Naples and Palermo; the attitude of the crowd and that of the prisoners, still haughty after three years’ confinement, and finally this number of sixty-two sessions, as whose result one of the Villarosas was acquitted, the other, Francesco, condemned to five years’ imprisonment for accidental murder committed in the course of a fight.
But I will not pursue this subject. Talking too much about the Mafia would risk what has happened to many persons, giving it an importance it does not possess, and slandering Sicilly, of which, Heaven knows, there are many good things to say. It is better to stop, after this simple sketch from which may be gathered what the .Mafia is in Sicilian life― a relic of ancient manners, a romantic form of criminal life, still existing, already less common and doubtless doomed to disappear like brigandage.