The precise origins of the term “Mafia” are unknown, although its connotation now is of very
common sound in Sicily and other parts of Italy. It is thought that it comes from a Sicilian-Arabic
slang expression that means “acting as a protector against the arrogance of the powerful”, showing
as such the core idea that stands behind almost every movement: a rebellion against authoritative
elites. There is nothing wrong up until here, and actually most of the world’s changes have gone
through revolutions, but this one was doomed to be a huge bloodshed, wearing the mask of evil and
transforming a mass rebellion into a dangerous war that became intrinsically part of Italy’s history.
The beauties, climate and natural resources of Sicily, hence, would have no meaning without its
everyday life, which from 1970s until 1990s was inseparable from the Mafia evolution. The pictures
of Lettizia Battaglia, a young and lively photographer at the time, strong in her ideals and beliefs,
show this shocking reality which indeed looks like the movies.
One of Battaglia’s best known pictures, is the scene of the two Mattarella brothers. The then
governor of Sicily, Piersanti Mattarella was murdered by the mafia and his brother, the now Presidet
of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, is carrying his body. After some time this picture didn’t just testify the loss
of a dear person, but the ardent flame of fighting against such injustice, which was injected in Sergio
Mattarella’s blood. “He has the fight against Mafia inside him, forever”, says Battaglia.
Streets of Palermo usually looked like this. A typical Sicilian landscape, with an old car, old floor tiles,
but young people that lost their lives, brutally murdered, every day, everywhere, like in a civil war.
Often dozens of people surrounded the bodies and this happened in a queer normality. Even kids
were present and allowed to watch the scenes “while having an ice cream”, Battaglia remembers.
And obviously, all this had a huge impact on the way that the children of Sicily in general and of
bloody Palermo in special, went on their normal days. They would genuinely think that being a killer,
boy in the picture is playing with a plastic gun, but very often children would come in possession of
true weapons, resulting such in fatal consequences.
This crime was also committed by the Mafia. Nerina, a young prostitute who started drug dealing
independently from the Mafia cartel was murdered, along with her two friends. Battaglia remembers
clearly to have entered the room in Palermo against the will of police. It was shortly after the murder
had taken place.
But good people also lived in Sicily and they were constantly trying to end this madness. The man in
the picture is Cesare Terranova, one of the Mafia’s opponents. He was a judge and properly doing his
job, but that’s why he got killed. Battaglia says that she always used to shoot black and white
pictures. Her main objective was not to occupy a scoop position on the press, but to honour the men
and women that fell prey of the Mafia’s violence.
This was the most well-known anti-Mafia judge in Palermo, Giovanni Falcone, while attending the
funeral of Palermo’s police prefect, General Carlo Alberto dalla Chiesa, equally murdered by the
Mafia in 1982. Dalla Chiesa saved Italy from the madness of the so-called “brigate rosse” (red
brigades) who kidnapped and killed former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro and was transferred to
Palermo with the view of doing the same thing with the Mafia. Apparently the organization’s roots
were way deeper and stronger. However, Falcone continued his work before getting killed in an
explosive attack during a highway trip. After this event that marked a turning point in public
sentiment against the mafia, his colleague, Paolo Borsellino, although knowing perfectly that if he
stayed in Palermo, he would suffer the same destiny, he refused to leave and became the next son of
Sicily, donating his life for the anti-Mafia cause.
Today the streets of Palermo are still recovering from the bloodshed, but the situation is way more
saddening. The Mafia no longer has to kill judges, police officers, politicians and activists. Why?
Because they’ve joined their rows.