‘Not the mafia you know’ is a blog written by a PhD researcher on Italian organised crime, based in the UK.
I’ve been studying the ‘ndrangheta (that is, the Calabrian mafia) since 2012, when I first visited Calabria as part of an EU work placement scheme. Before I arrived, the images that came into my mind when I heard the word ‘mafia’ were probably similar to those most of my generation tend to attach to organised crime: Marlon Brando sitting menacingly behind a desk. Shady, prohibition-era gangsters with machine-guns. Fat Tony from the Simpsons.
Over the years, and for all sorts of different reasons, the popular idea of the mafia – at least, in anglo-saxon culture – has come to be associated with a glamorous fantasy, more fiction than reality.
And yet. Those who keep an eye on the news might have seen the word ‘ndrangheta crop up occasionally in the media over the last few years; in the shooting of six people in Germany in 2007, or the study in 2014 which revealed that in 2013, its annual income was higher than McDonalds. Stories like this tend to offer only the briefest of glimpses into this vast, murky organisation; they give us an idea of its power and its scale, reinforcing a little of that glamorous myth as they go, but they don’t – and can’t – express the impact it has on the daily lives of its victims.
It’s very easy to see organised crime as largely victimless, particularly when it’s so often depicted in popular culture as the pastime of charismatic, appealing characters, pulling off elaborate heists against ‘the man’, or, at worst, waging gang wars purely against each other.
The ‘ndrangheta, however, is real, and so are its victims. They are as real as 3-year-old Nicola Campolongo, shot alongside his grandfather in an ‘ndrangheta hit in 2014. They are as real as the local pharmacist who had her shop burned down and her family car shot at in 2012.
These are the stories which have made it to the international press, but countless others remain untold. Every day in Calabria, ordinary people are doing the best they can to prosper, in spite of the climate of fear that is fostered by this association of violent, sociopathic individuals.
This blog is intended primarily as a space to tell the stories of these ordinary people, and in particular, of those who take a stand and fight to reclaim their communities.