Dealing with refugees in Sicily: Rosario Crocetta, the unconventional governor

EPA/FRANCO LANNINO

The new governor of Sicily, Rosario Crocetta (C).

Dealing with refugees in Sicily: Rosario Crocetta, the unconventional governor


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The man overseeing the reception of the flood of refugees in Sicily is the governor Rosario Crocetta, a former Communist MEP, an avowed homosexual, a practicing Catholic and an anti-Mafia campaigner.

Crocetta, a former MEP, is one of the most amazing people to have treaded the ground of the EU Parliament’s cafeteria. Before being elected governor of Sicily, in 2012, he was an active Italian member of the EU legislative and the only MEP to walk around the Parliament building with a bodyguard. The Sicilian Mafia had, and still has, a permanent bounty on his head.

When he took his seat as governor and went back to Sicily, he discovered that there were something like 20 “press officers” attached to the town hall of the City of Palermo, each one with a salary between 4,000 and 12,000 euros per month, costing the region altogether 3.2 million euros per year. “With that money, they could edit a paper like La Repubblica”, he mumbled, before sacking them all.

He is a practicing Catholic, too. Only in Sicily, if your family name is “Cross” (Crocetta) you would think of baptizing your child Rosary (Rosario). A relentless anti-Mafia militant, Crocetta knows exactly where he stands. I met him in Brussels, inside the EU Parliement, before he became governor of Sicily, and I was surprised to hear him fixing our meeting at noon, in the Parliament’s restaurant. My first reaction was one of surprise and guilt… This is the only time of the day when the man can breathe and have a break, I thought.

In fact, lunch is the time when Mediterranean people do serious business, at table, with a bottle of wine between them.

I asked him about the Mafia in Sicily, and he said:

“It is necessary to give a new definition of the Mafia. This is not a regional question anymore; the Mafiosis are no longer folkloric figures, peasants with the lupara inside their coat. I prefer to use the plural and speak of “Mafias”, to speak in the plural. There is a Sicilian Mafia, which is the Cosa Nostra, but there is also a Lithuanian Mafia, etc., all across Europe.”

“The Mafia bosses today look rather like businessmen. They have studied, they sometimes have a high education, speak foreign languages. They can run a legal business in illegal ways. In Italy, we have even known cases of bosses continuing to run their business from jail.”

Are you afraid of dying, I asked, and he said: “Of course I am afraid… but it’s a way of life. I got used to it. There have been three attempts to kill me. The first time, it should have been done by a group of Lithuanians who were sent specifically to Italy for that. There must be some mysterious logic to this, because here, in the EU Parliament, I occupy an office which belonged until now to a Lithuanian colleague.”

I then wanted to know what he thinks about the universal cliché of considering the Southerners, the Mediterraneans, as people living in a permanent chaos, and he said:

“Chaos is necessary for stimulating creativity. A little bit of chaos is useful because it stifles anarchy.”

Unfortunately, governor Rosario Crocetta is now very contested in Sicily, and not for Mafia-related businesses. Apparently, dissatisfaction runs high because of the way in which he administers the region. Sicily is losing EU funds (43% absorption rate), and Crocetta’s mantra about creative chaos doesn’t go down well anymore.

Still, with politicians like these, Italy is certain to stay in the news. The Italians not only had the Cicciolina elected in the national Parliament, but they even managed to bring some life in the EU politics at large. The chief of the EU’s diplomacy, Federica Mogherini, is also a former Italian Leftist militant, and some controlled and creative chaos from her side would breathe new life into the EU’s diplomatic services.

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