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He was blown up – no one was held responsible

Peppino Impastato. Difficult memory
Forfatter: Pino Manzella
Forlag: Guerini e Associati, (Italia)
MAFIA / This is a collection of anecdotal testimonies about a self-destructive social machinery with the mafia as its cornerstone. It deals with the mafia in Sicily, but also the war in Vietnam, Palestinian rights, environmental protection, class society, legal abortion and women's liberation.

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

Two brothers sit on the steps outside their parents' home in Cinisi, a small town on the outskirts of Palermo. They have argued. Big brother Peppino is upset and asks Giovanni if ​​he can count. He can. "Can you also count while walking?" continues Peppino. New confirmation. He then drags his brother along and counts their steps. At one hundred they stop. Then they stand in front of the house of Gaetano Badalamenti, don Tano, head of a local branch of the Sicilian mafia network Cosa Nostra and one of the most important masterminds of the heroin trade between the Middle East and the United States in the period 1975–1984, known as the pizza connection with a profit of 1,65 billion US dollars.

Even the word mafia was hush-hush.

That is the walking distance to the man who many years later will be sentenced for the murder of Peppino Impastato.

The scene occurs in the film I cento passi ('The Hundred Steps'), which made Peppino famous both in and outside of Italy. He was born on 5 January 1948. On 9 May 1978 he was killed.

Peppino Impastato

Peppino Impastato

The journalist and activist Peppino was the son of Luigi, a local mafioso. The boy began his career as an activist at home, in conflict with his father, who subsequently threw him out, despite his mother's attempts at mediation. He joined a communist movement, organized petitions and demonstrations and supported Psiup (Socialistic party for proletarian union). He founded the newspaper L'idea Socialista. Together with like-minded friends, he established the club Circolo Musica e Cultura. This became a forum for open debates on social and political topics. With the creation of the radio station Radio Aut he reached a wider audience, and after the fatal assassination, family and supporters continued for 24 years to raise awareness of the situation that ended with don Tano's conviction and extradition to the United States for imprisonment.

"You don't fight the mafia with guns, but with culture."

What is particularly captivating in this story is how a young person caught between good and evil finds inspiration and courage enough for an entire local community. This spirit of life is vividly described in the book Peppino Impastato. Difficult memory, especially through the mother Felicia's personal development. She was married into a mafia family where the rules were rigorous, rules everyone who held life dear knew to obey. Even the word mafia was hush-hush. Everyone knew, but no one spoke. The ideal omertà, – silence – ruled. Moreover, society was so permeated by the mafia's power structure that the alternatives excluded themselves. And the mafia protects its loyal subjects. So they endured the construction of a third runway for Palermo's airport in Cinisi, where there should have been cultivated land. The mafia's drug trade took precedence. The protests came only from a few seditious rioters, led by Peppino Impastato.

The mother Felicia

Felicia stands between husband and son. When Luigi is absent, she opens the door for Peppino, who is living in an empty garage. When Luigi returns, he has to disappear. But Luigi is also a victim of the regulations. He gets scolded by his bosses for not being strict enough with his son. One day in 1977, Luigi dies in a car accident, under unclear circumstances. The following year, the day before Peppino was to be admitted to the left-wing party Democrazia Proletaria, the family is again struck by tragedy. Peppino is ambushed and placed on the railway line over a charge of dynamite, where his body shatters into a thousand pieces. This ends Felicia's silence. Until now, she has lived like most Sicilian women at the time – in a backward social environment, confined to the home and subdued by an archaic social pattern.

With Peppino's death, she begins to speak. The daughter-in-law remembers: "She bore this enormous pain with dignity. I was struck by the fact that she didn't cry. It was a difficult time for both family and friends. We had lost our driving force and felt lost. The friends often came to visit Felicia, we had meetings where she admonished us: 'Now you must not surrender. You must prove that even though Peppino is gone, you have the strength to continue.' To the young people who sought her advice, she had a simple message: 'You don't fight the mafia with guns, but with culture.'

Mother and son

Satire and testimony

This was precisely the essence of Peppino's work. His culture club was the center for friendship, literature and music. It was about the war in Vietnam, Palestinian rights, environmental protection, class society, legal abortion and women's liberation. They presented books by authors such as Roberto Saviano. They gave publicity to Giovanni Impostato's first book, Resist Mafiopoli ('Resisting Mafiopoli', 2009). Peppino used the weapon of satire effectively. He spoke on Radio Aut (radio was the only available publication platform in an era without social media) and in the streets against Gaetano Badalamenti's clan rule, which he dubbed 'Mafiopoli'. The Mafia is known for many things. Self-deprecation is not one of them. It set the clubhouse on fire and sent anonymous messages such as: "We have killed your capo. Watch out." The friends continued to meet.

The book in Peppino's memory is a collection of anecdotal testimonies, by friends and family. They describe a self-destructive social machinery with the mafia as its main pillar. Those who provoked this arrangement knew of the danger. Through 39 stories, the image of Peppino emerges: a charismatic orator, uncompromising, a true friend, but also shy and withdrawn. Did he ever reflect on the thought that his own possible liquidation was a sacrifice that could lead to social change?

Peppino is ambushed and placed on the railway line over a charge of dynamite, where his body shatters into a thousand pieces.

The testimonies are silent about this. At first, after the assassination, family and friends were in shock, but otherwise little happened. The police tried to write off the trouble-maker as a terrorist. The terrorist group Red Brigades had recently liquidated the politician Aldo Moro, and his body was found in Rome on the same day that Peppino died – a welcome distraction for the mafia and their supporters in Cinisi. Some tried to launch the suicide theory, but the arguments quickly fell silent. There was evidence that the murder took place several meters from the railway line where his body parts were found. No one was held responsible. The case was closed and reopened several times, over many years. The movie I cento passi was one of the reasons for reopening. The work of the anti-mafia organization was another, as well as Felicia Impastato's testimony in court. In 2002, 24 years later, don Tano was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Peppino. Two years later, he died of heart failure, aged 80, in a cell in Massachusetts in the United States.

Peppino's friends render him this legacy: "Our group was like a large solar system where Peppino was the sun."

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Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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