At the Frontiers of Europe

In early May, five members of The Society of International Affairs participated in a project in Palermo, Italy about how civil society can work against organized crime. Sicily is famous for its mafia, yet the understanding of most people abroad is limited to gangster movies and the mafia wars in the 1980s and 1990s. This project was essentially about understanding, on a deeper level, how the strong influence of the mafia affects the everyday lives of people. There were participants from seven different countries, therefor discussing how challenges are similar or differ in different countries was also an important part of the project.

Adam Josefsson was one of the Swedish participants. He sat down with, and interviewed Nicola Teresi from the organization “Libera”. Nicola works in Sicily and Lampedusa with researching and informing about how international trafficking of humans is organized. Although migration wasn’t the main topic of the project in Palermo, it has a clear connection to international organized crime. Understanding this issue is of especially big importance at the moment, because Europe is currently receiving a big wave of refugees, and how the situation should be dealt with is one of the most important policy debates within the EU. Sicily is at the southern frontier of the EU, and so it is one of the places within the EU where the various dimensions of the issue are most noticeable.

[toggle title=”FACTS”] Libera. Associations, names and numbers against the mafias is an Italian association founded in 1995. It followed popular uprising against the mafia. Libera’s aim is to educate how organized crime affects society, and to promote a civic culture that is based on respect for other people. Libera is an umbrella association for the anti-mafia movement, with around 1500 local groups tied to it, including both civil society groups and, for example schools. Libera plays an important role in facilitating the reallocation of confiscated mafia lands to civil society, and Libera sells agricultural products farmed by these cooperatives. There are proven connections between international migration and organized crime, so Libera also works with researching this issue.[/toggle]

What is your relationship to the theme of migration?
Libera is interested in human trafficking. We focus on organized crime and so we have learnt that on the international level there are big and small criminal groups who speculate on the lives of people. So I’m working with research, education and the creation of a culture surrounding the theme of immigration, in which the Italian people can understand what’s happening abroad. We consider all the dead on the Mediterranean, victims of international organized crime.

Which are these criminal groups and what are the links between them?
There are a lot of groups. We can picture a network of international traffic that starts in the home countries of migrants. These are primarily countries in Central sub-Saharan Africa, and on the Horn of Africa. There are also countries in Asia from which people escape from wars and persecution. It’s clear that there are persons already in the home countries who profit from the needs of refugees. They get paid to organize these very long journeys, going through many transit countries. The final destination in Africa is usually Libya, which is the country from which people depart from to Lampedusa in Italy.

These criminal groups are often small and very flexible, and they profit from holding the migrants as slaves. They control their movement and make them call their families and ask for money. If they don’t do this, traffickers can get violent and torture them, and eventually their families are forced to sell practically everything they have to send money and liberate their children. When arriving at the coast of Libya there are criminal groups who control fishing boats that can take migrants to Italian waters. We’ve discovered that these groups are sometimes in contact with European criminal groups, who will then enable migrants to get to other European countries. The refugees often want to go to places where they have friends, relatives and working opportunities, and a refugee reception system that works. The majority of people who arrive in Italy don’t want to stay here. In 2014, around 170 000 migrants arrived in Italy, of which around 100 000 disappeared. We don’t know exactly where they’ve gone, but surely they’ve received help to leave Italy by these criminal groups.

How does the Italian reception system work and what sort of help do the refugees get? Is it true that Italy doesn’t register migrants, as is required according to the Dublin Accord?
In general, the Italian reception system works poorly. We only have a limited number of places in the system, which doesn’t cover the total number of refugees who come here. It’s a precarious system that lacks capacity, and foremost it has been shown in legal investigations that the big cooperatives that own the reception centres benefit from the long time that the refugees have to stay there. This is another form of speculation on the lives of the refugees, and we see a slow processing of asylum applications. What this means in practice is that the more refugees you can fit in one centre, the more money you can earn from it. For example looking at Rome, we can see that criminal groups control the cooperatives running the centres with connections to politicians and businessmen. They receive thousands of refugees, without giving them proper services, which means that they can make big profits. It’s a similar situation in all of Italy, even though the picture sometimes looks different.

There are associations and cooperatives helping immigrants in a great way, but the point is that these are small actors. So the general picture that emerges from the research on this is that the system doesn’t work very well, and in addition to this there are the problems connected to European politics. The Dublin Accord says that the first European country that migrants arrive to must register them, and then they must apply for asylum in that country. So in this case it means that they’ll have to stay in Italy. This system is rather badly constructed and dangerous. It doesn’t allow for a redistribution of immigrants in the whole of Europe, a redistribution that would guarantee solidarity and sustainability of the European reception system. This system constrains the immigrants so that they’ll have to remain in Italy even though most of them don’t want to, and in any case the Italian reception system doesn’t have the capacity to receive all of them. It’s believed that in some cases immigrants aren’t identified, with the officials choosing to turn a blind eye and let them go to other countries. This happens because Italy has a reception system that works poorly.

Which are the immigrants that choose to stay in Sicily and what sort of life awaits them here?
Today Sicily is providing refuge to around 15 000 immigrants, living in many different centres dispersed throughout the island. In general, their lives are characterized by waiting and problems. They have to wait out the long bureaucratic process to apply for a visa or the right to asylum. These people are heaped together in the centres without the opportunities to do anything. Often they receive some teaching of Italian, however from what I know it’s rare that these people have any opportunities to work, since having the residence permit is a requirement to be hired. They are in great need to work to provide for themselves and to send money to their families, but since they aren’t allowed to they have to make do; they can try to get by through illegal means. We know for a fact that in the centre in Mineo close to Catania, there is a system of using the immigrants as workforce for very low wages. In the morning people are being recruited, sometimes by mafia members, who in turn have deals with farmers who want to reduce their costs so they also turn a blind eye and pay the people who work all day very little. This phenomenon is a form of slavery, which exists in all regions of Italy.

Anyone who has ever eaten a vegetable or fruit in Italy has surely eaten something that was produced with slave labour. This is a problem that regards the whole of Italy, and which is related to organized crime.

Is this something that is talked about in the public debate?
Not much. There have been some important journalistic investigations. There is information about this in newspapers, but it’s really not given much attention. And on television, they really don’t talk much about this. And the reason is that Italy and Europe has a need for slave labour. We turn a blind eye and benefit from this system to fill our tables.

What opinions do people in Italy have of immigrants in general?
The consequence of the misinformation spread by the media, especially in the times of economical crisis, is that there is a war between different groups of poor people. Also in Italy we have now started to witness a cavalcade from political parties on the extreme right. What do I mean by calling it a war among the poor? On television, they always show pictures displaying a form of fake emergency. It’s portrayed as an invasion of immigrants, which really isn’t the case. Furthermore, they say that these people are welcomed by the state and given much help and money. In reality it isn’t like this. The Italian reception system entitles each immigrant 30 Euros per day, but this money never reaches the actual person. It’s common that the immigrants don’t get more than 2,50 Euro per day. All the money goes to the businesses and cooperatives that run the Italian reception system. However, people in Italy don’t know about this, so there is a growing sentiment that Italians are competing with the immigrants who arrive at our coasts. The primary reason for this is the influence of the media who manipulates news stories. It’s also the fault of politicians who spread hate and racism, and who use this information to legitimize their own bitterness towards people fleeing to Italy.

Do we see the same situation in Sicily as in Italy overall?
From my point of view, there is a difference on the cultural level. This is because the racist party of Italy, namely the Northern League, was born in Northern regions. So as a cultural phenomenon, racism is stronger in the North. But it’s clear that this sentiment exists throughout the whole country, and with more and more people coming here, people are led to believe that we’re being invaded. People believe that it’s not right to give immigrants a place to stay, when at the same time ten million Italians are living in relative poverty.

Are the Italian regions taking an equal responsibility to deal with the situation?
No, this isn’t the case, because this depends on the number of immigrants that they accept. Sicily is the region that receives the most, around 15 000 last year, while the figures for most regions are much lower. And in the few regions where the Northern League is in power, they are starting to fight against receiving more people.

How is the situation on Lampedusa today?
Right now the centre on Lampedusa is full of immigrants. The centre on Lampedusa was previously in a state of collapse, because it had to receive too many people. This centre assists in the rescuing of people, and it’s a sort of hospital where people can make a stop to rest. Immediately after this stop, they are transferred, because the law says that they have to be within 72 hours. Sometimes the system works exactly like this, but when too many people come at the same time, they have to stay there longer. Even though it’s not a good place for them to be. In any case, the population of the island of Lampedusa is very welcoming. It’s a population that lives by the law of the sea, and they know that people in difficult situations need help. However the people of Lampedusa hate the journalists who write false or mistaken stories, in which they write that migrants have invaded Lampedusa. Firstly, this isn’t true. Secondly, it hurts the tourism of the island. It creates an image to the rest of the world that immigrants have invaded Lampedusa when this is really not the case.

Finally, following the European debate on migration policy, do you see any hope for a solution for these problems?
The hope is my personal, because I’m an optimistic person. Perhaps the historical phenomenon of migration can help Europe make sense of the current situation. What’s the kind of Europe we want?

Do we want a Fortress Europe, which closes its borders, and militarizes, which is what’s happening now, or do we want a Europe for the people, based on rights, which was the original idea of the European Union?

This is a choice that needs to be made, and it’s a really important one. The number seeking shelter here is a number that the EU can absolutely accommodate. What’s needed to do this is just to create a system based on shared burdens, with quotas for each country.

Today, I read in the newspapers that maybe they’re setting up a common European system on quotas. But at the same time the EU is planning to bombard the migrant boats, and to do international police operations in Libya. In reality these are measures that are absolutely the wrong ones, for many motives. Firstly, an international operation without Libyan consent is an act of war. Secondly, the person who drives a boat to Lampedusa, is hardly ever a human trafficker, but instead just a poor person who in exchange for money is assigned to this job. And even in the cases where the smuggler is the real organizer, it doesn’t improve the situation much to arrest him because it doesn’t stop the phenomenon of slavery and exploitation in the home and transit countries. Arresting individual traffickers can never stop the smuggling. It’s only granting people rights that can do this. So there are political possibilities to help the migrants, and to return to a Europe that safeguards the rights of everyone. I hope that this is the path that we’ll choose, instead of the military solution.

Continue reading At the Frontiers of Europe

Livet i krisens Aten

Författare: Carin Carlund och Anna Eken

Aten är en vacker stad, dess antika stormakt och rika historia återspeglas i de många monument och tempel som omgärdar staden. Trots att det är i Aten som demokratin har sitt ursprung har Greklands politiska historia varit långt ifrån enkel. De senaste seklerna har Grekland genomlidit en lång period av ockupationer och diktatoriella styren. Landet befann sig under Ottomanskt styre så länge som 400 år. Ockupationen av den utländska makten gjorde att grekerna i ren kulturell självbevarelsedrift samverkade och hittade vägar för att kringgå de styrandes  maktutövning och kontroll. Modern historia har vidare präglats av andra världskriget och den medföljande tyska ockupationen av Grekland, det efterföljande inbördeskriget och militärdiktaturen 1967-74.

Vy över Aten Foto: Amanda Seebass
Vy över Aten Foto: Amanda Seebass

Då Utrikespolitiska Föreningen i Göteborg i maj 2015 reste till Aten var syftet att få en närmare inblick i det aktuella politiska läget i Grekland. Med hjälp av invånarnas perspektiv hoppades vi få en mer nyanserad uppfattning av varför den ekonomiska krisen uppkommit samt hur livet ter sig för grekerna i skuggan av den.

Det blev tydligt att den grekiska historien präglar den inhemska debatten i mycket större utsträckning än vad som syns i internationell media. Under våra möten (mer nedan) drogs ständigt paralleller mellan de tidigare odemokratiska styrena och de senaste årens urholkade demokratiska struktur. Under övergången från totalitär kontroll till dagens demokratiska system hann en utbredd korruption etsa sig fast i landets politiska och byråkratiska apparat. Denna strukturella korruption anses vara en av de mer omfattande anledningarna till varför Grekland befinner sig i den ekonomiska situation landet gör i nuläget.


Den ekonomiska krisen bröt ut i efterdyningarna av den anrika investmentbanken Lehman Brothers kollaps år 2008. Flera andra amerikanska banker drabbades också av stora kreditförluster som en följd av osäkra bolån, så kallade sub-primelån. Då dessa lån utfärdades hade inte bankerna krävt ett tillräckligt kreditvärde hos låntagarna. En dominoeffekt av bankpanik spreds som en löpeld från USA till Europa vars banker, genom olika typer av investeringar och lån, flätats samman med den amerikanska ekonomin. De så kallade PIIGSs-länderna (Portugal, Italien, Irland, Grekland och Spanien), tillhörande den europeiska ekonomiska periferin, drabbades hårdast bland medlemmarna inom EMU. På grund av deras redan svaga ekonomier och förhållandevis ofördelaktiga utgångsläge fanns det en starkare grogrund för den ekonomiska krisen att bita sig fast i. I Grekland har följden blivit att värdet på de grekiska tillgångarna rasat. Ekonomiskt starka aktörer såsom rikskapitalister och företagare har valt att överföra sina tillgångar till utländska banker, och på senare år har även många mindre aktörer och privatpersoner valt att transferera sina pengar utomlands. Den grekiska ekonomin har på så vis dränerats på kapital.

Möte med Transparency International

Vi kommer till en beigefärgad kontorsbyggnad på Theitos i centrala Aten, här ligger Transparency Internationals greklandsavdelning. Mannen som hälsar oss välkomna och som ska leda mötet är en pensionerad affärsman. När han börjar berätta för oss om korruptionen i landet märks det snabbt att han tar ämnet på allvar. Korruptionen, säger han, är en av de mest bidragande faktorerna bakom krisen i landet eftersom den förhindrar strukturella reformer.

I Transparency International Corruptions Perception Index, CPI, från 2014, som mäter nivån av korruption i den offentliga sektorn, placeras Grekland, tillsammans med bland annat Rumänien och Italien, som ett av länderna med högst korruption inom EU. I en undersökning utförd av organisationen år 2012 påstås det att korruptionen är så utspridd att den påverkar grekernas värderingar och mentalitet. En långvarig acceptans av korruption hos grekiska medborgare och en växande fatalism gällande möjligheten att kunna stå emot den, har försatt flaskhalsar hos de institutioner som är menade att leda reformarbetet. I undersökningen nämns sjukvård, skatteverk och byggindustri som de sektorer där greker mest frekvent tvingas betala mutor.

Transparency International ser trots allt positivt på situationen och menar att det finns tecken på förbättring i landet. Hos den sittande regeringen, ledd av Syriza, ser de potential, då de är först med att försöka starta upp ett oberoende ministerium för att bekämpa korruptionen.

Syrizas regeringsperiod

Vid valet den 25e januari 2015 lyckades det vänsterinriktade politiska partiet Syriza under ledning av Alexis Tsipras nå ut till en bred väljarkrets, vilket resulterade i parlamentarisk vinst samt en framgångsrik regeringsbildning. Syriza uppnådde dock ingen egen majoritet utan bildade en koalitionsregering med Anexartitoi Ellines (Oberoende Greker), ett nationalistiskt och konservativt högerparti som bildats av en utbrytargrupp från oppositionspartiet Nea Dimokratia (Ny demokrati).

Syrizas och Anexartitoi Ellines gemensamma mål var att få stopp på de åtstramningar och nedskärningar som slagit hårt mot den grekiska befolkningen och som inte resulterat i de nödvändiga strukturförändringar som landet behöver. Det är genom det här målet som de båda partierna med vitt skilda ideologiska grunder lyckats finna utrymme för samarbete.

En turbulent period har förflutit sedan den nya regeringen tillsattes, kantad av nya förhandlingar, återbetalningskrav och nödlån. Den 5e juli i år hölls en folkomröstning i Grekland om huruvida befolkningen accepterar de åtstramningskrav som långivarna utfärdat, inför det tredje nödlånet. Syriza propagerade för ett nej i folkomröstningen, och därmed ett nej till fler nedskärningar. Trots att folkomröstningen resulterade i ett rungande nej resignerade Yanis Varoufakis, Greklands dåvarande finansminister, kort därefter. Den officiella anledningen är att Varoufakis åsikter inte var i linje med hur villkoren för ett tredje nödlån utvecklat sig. Dock finns det andra röster som säger att han tvingades till resignation då andra europeiska beslutsfattare inte ville ha med honom vid förhandlingsbordet.

Förhandlingarna kring avtalet ledde också till ökade splittringar inom partiet och ett nytt parti tog form, Popular Unity, som bildades av före detta Syriza-medlemmar.  Deras anhängare menar att de reformer och ytterligare nedskärningar som Tsipras går med på är ett svek mot folket, samt att Grekland skulle må bättre av en Grexit och återgång till den egna valutan Drachma. Tsipras menar å andra sidan att dessa budgetreformer och ökade skatter är ofrånkomliga för att Grekland ska kunna få ett tredje nödlån. Tsipras var således tvungen att söka stöd hos oppositionen för att kunna ratificera avtalet på hemmaplan. Efter ett avgörande möte mellan Eurozonens finansministrar röstades det tredje nödlånet, på 86 biljoner Euro igenom. Det instabila politiska läget i landet och splittringarna inom partiet har lett till att Tsipras i augusti utlyste nyval och avgick, där han dock återigen kandiderar som partiledare för Syriza. Söndagen den 20 september avgörs det om Tsipras och hans parti får fortsatt förtroende.

Möte med Syriza

En eftermiddag tar vi tunnelbanan ut från de centrala delarna av Aten till Metaxourgiou, ett område dominerat av övergivna kontorshus och slitna bostadsområden. På en av bakgatorna ligger Syrizas avdelning för internationella relationer. Här får vi tillfälle att möta representanter från partiets arbetsgrupper inriktade på ekonomiska, europeiska och internationella frågor.

I egenskap av att vara ett nytt parti säger sig Syriza inte vara sammanflätat med kapitalister och investerare så som de etablerade partierna. Detta lyfts även som en styrka under våra tidigare möten med politiskt oberoende organisationer. Samtidigt är den vanligaste oron Syrizas brist på erfarenhet, och deras generösa politiska löften beskrivs ofta av oppositionen som utopiska och orealistiska lovord.

Utsikt från syrizas balkong Foto: Rebecca Eliasson
Utsikt från syrizas balkong Foto: Rebecca Eliasson

Samtalet kommer in på korruption och politikerförakt. De berättar att det snarare är en regel än ett undantag att parlamentariker har personliga kontor utanför parlamentets väggar där de tar emot intressegrupper och privatpersoner med egna politiska agendor. Där erbjuder de exempelvis stöd för efterfrågade lagförslag eller en befordran inom den offentliga sektorn, i utbyte mot diverse mutor och väljarstöd. Dessa personliga kontor menade representanterna för Syriza att partiet inte håller sig med och att de har för avsikt att avskaffa dessa över hela den politiska kartan.

Representanten från ungdomssektionen hävdar att valframgången inte beror på ideologiskt övertygade väljare. Han menar att ideologi inte längre är den mest centrala drivkraften, istället har frustration och rädsla skapat en enande effekt. Syrizas främsta styrka beskrivs som möjligheten att erbjuda väljarna ett tydligt motstånd mot den tidigare politik som förts – detta i motljus till den strama nedskärningspolitik som de tidigare regeringarna gått med på i sina förhandlingar med EU-kommissionen, ECB och IMF.

Efter mötet bjuder representanterna från Syriza oss på cocktailmingel. Medan solen går ner över kontorets balkong och det övergivna kontorshuset mittemot, hamnar vi i en intensiv diskussion kring landets politiska framtid. En äldre dam berättar stolt historien om hur hennes far, mitt under den tyska ockupationen, klättrat upp på Akropolis och bytt ut den nazistiska flaggan till en grekisk. Hennes sinnesstämning skiftar dock fort mellan hopp och förtvivlan då hon i nästa stund beskriver hur hennes två vuxna barn nyligen blivit arbetslösa och flyttat tillbaka till barndomshemmet, samtidigt som hennes egen lön halverats.

Flaggan på toppen av Akropolis Foto: Amanda Seebass
Flaggan på toppen av Akropolis Foto: Amanda Seebass

Möte med Nea Dimokratia

I en stor byggnad med öppna kontorslandskap möter vi den kostymklädde representanten för det konservativa oppositionspartiet Nea Dimokratia. Samtalet inleds med en presentation av partiet men övergår snabbt i kritik riktad mot den nuvarande regeringen.

Om Syriza står för en stimulativ återhämtningspolitik, förespråkar detta liberal-konservativa parti en omfattande omstrukturering av den offentliga sektorn med stora nedskärningar på antalet anställda. Detta anser Nea Dimokratia skulle frigöra resurser och automatiskt bidra till en minskad korruption. Representanten berättar stolt hur 300 000 tjänster frigjordes under deras styre i föregående mandatperiod. Då frågor kommer upp kring dessa åtgärder och de sociala konsekvenserna, uttrycker den politiska ämbetsmannen att ett politiskt partis roll i första hand inte är att följa sina väljares önskningar utan att se till befolkningens bästa.

Mötet avslutas snabbt då Nea Dimokratias representant måste rusa vidare till nästa möte, denna gången med den kinesiska ambassadören.

Politiskt mörker

Då vi sitter på takterrassen vid Monastirakitorget och ser ut över Atens upplysta gator slås vi av hur frånvarande krisen är här, i hjärtat av turist-Aten. Atens gator visar i de centrala delarna upp en livlig atmosfär, men några minuter från centrum med spårvagn möts vi av en annan bild. En bild av affärer som stängts ned bakom lås och bom och husväggar fullklottrade med politiska budskap. Namnet Merkel verkar vara ett populärt motiv, lika populärt som hennes person är impopulär. Då vi besöker en ungdomsfestival den sista kvällen får vi, som avvikande turister, den misstänksamma frågan om vi är från Tyskland.

Innan den ekonomiska krisen 2008 var andelen arbetslösa 7,7 % i Grekland, men de senaste åren har många fått se sina tjänster gå upp i rök. Samma siffra, enligt mätningar från Eurostat, hade i januari 2015 växt till 25,7 %. Under vårt möte med Amnesty International beskriver de en dyster verklighet där mänskliga rättigheter ständigt kränks av våldsmonopolets ordningsmän; en tredjedel av Atens poliskår röstar på det fascistiska och uttalat främlingsfientliga partiet Gyllene gryning.

Vår sista dag i Aten möter vi en grupp statsvetarstudenter från National and Kapodistrian University of Athens på en uteservering i Panepotimiou. De berättar om sina tankar kring krisens uppkomst och lösning, men mest av allt sin oro inför vad som komma skall. Trots det oroliga läget vill de flesta av dem stanna kvar i landet för att hjälpa till att bygga upp det och därigenom bidra till en ljusare framtid.

Ungdomsfestival, Aten. Foto: Amanda Seebass
Ungdomsfestival, Aten. Foto: Amanda Seebass

Några månader efter vår hemkomst när dammet lagt sig kring debatten om det tredje nödlånet hör vi av oss till en av universitetsstudenterna, Irene Tsaknakis. Hon gav oss en aktuell bild av de senaste turerna av den grekiska krisen. För henne kom Syriza-regeringens misslyckande att undvika ytterligare nedskärningsåtgärder inte som en chock. Ett förhandlingsresultat utan åtstramningar hade hon inte väntat sig när hon, som så många andra greker, röstade fram Syriza i valet i januari. Det som dock blev en besvikelse var den bristande kompetensen som regeringen visade vid sin hantering av långivarnas krav. Med en bättre framförhållning hade införandet av de kapitalkontroller som i stor utsträckning begränsat kapitalrörelserna i landet kunnat förhindrats. Hon såg även brister i det alltför stora tolkningsutrymmet gällande folkomröstningen den 5 juli. Var det nedskärningarna eller EU-medlemskapets framtid som skulle avgöras?

Hennes förtroende för den nya överenskommelsen var låg. De nedskärningsåtgärder som återigen förordnats Grekland kan rimligen inte tillföra något nytt till de problem som liknande åtgärder inte lyckats ändra på. De löften långivarna givit om framtida överläggningar kring en omstrukturering av landets skulder, såg hon inte som tillräckligt konkreta för att balansera upp de negativa konsekvenserna av avtalet. Den ekonomiska verkligheten behöver fortfarande förbättras för majoriteten av det grekiska folket.

Författare: Carin Carlund och Anna Eken, Utrikespolitiska Föreningen i Göteborg

The anti-mafia movement: A fight with many faces

The anti-mafia movement: A fight with many faces

As I enjoy an espresso and a cigarillo in a tiny coffee bar in the old quarters of Palermo I look out over the streets where the number of vespas and tourists are countless. Somehow the modern aspects of Sicily´s capital seem distant and out of place in a context where the historical and cultural heritage has much more of an impact on me. Narrow alleys with lines of swaying laundry hanging across the streets gives a genuine atmosphere of historical presence.

The Cosa Nostra is as old as many of the buildings surrounding me and has endured in Sicily since the middle of the 19th century.  Together with four students from Gothenburg and approximately thirty young representatives from other EU countries, I am here for the Erasmus+ programme Hand in Hand Against Mafia with the aim of promoting democratic values and combating organized crime within European society. It is a fact that organized crime is a common concern for several European nations and therefore initiatives like these are of high value. Libera Palermo, the organization behind this project, is a local entity of the national organization Libera, which is working on several fronts to combat organized crime. Promoting the raising of minimum salaries and organizing events for companies and other actors to come together and share experiences on how one might handle extortion and other forms of harassment, are only a few examples of Libera´s work. Structural changes in society may be of vital importance since it might prevent the incentive for low-income earners to consider organized crime movements as a way of securing their rightful “piece of the pie”. This is especially crucial in the case of the younger generation, which is mainly the target for recruitment by the Mafia.

Weronika Perlinski (2)
Photo: Weronika Perlinski

Teatro Massimo, where the final scenes from the Godfather Part III took place is located a few blocks away from where I am sitting. On one level the Cosa Nostra seems absent whereas the effect of the Mafia´s presence is an intrinsic part of Palermo and Sicilian society. Just across the street from where I am sitting the building is beautifully decorated with graffiti. As in other parts of the world graffiti serves as a form in which to challenge power, and in Sicily the main power to challenge is the Cosa Nostra. This graffiti painting fully serves this purpose, illustrating an octopus with its tentacles spreading in all directions, a symbol of the Cosa Nostra and its damaging effect on Sicilian society. Talking with local Sicilians, some will give you a hint of what the Mafia is capable of. Extortion, in the form of having to pay protection money, is common for most business owners. The extortion money paid to the Mafia is labelled pizzo and if a business owner does not pay it a friend might visit arguing the benefit of paying the pizzo, in the business owner´s best interests. If the money is still not paid a smashed window or glue in the keyhole might be the next step taken by the Cosa Nostra. Direct interaction with the victims is preferable to avoid exposure.

The image of the Mafia during the last decades has in many cases served as fictional romance. Generations have been brought up with an image of the Mafia, portrayed through fictive characters such as Michael Corleone and Tony Soprano. The gap between fiction and reality is significant. Our extravagant anti-heroes do engage in illegal activities, such as smuggling, extortion and murder, but what separates them from real Mafiosi is that they convey the aura of romance. Real Mafiosi such as Salvatore “Totto” Riina, John Gotti and Bernardo Provenzano do not uphold the same ambiance as their counterparts on our TV screens. Riina, often described as one of the most ruthless Mafioso of all time, was responsible for the death of 100-200 people, including the two anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paulo Borsellino.

Except for the Cosa Nostra in Siciliy, the main Italian Mafia organizations consists of the Ndrangheta in Calibria, the Sacra Corona Unita in Apulia and the Camorra around the city of Naples. While many believe that the Mafia is here to stay with its tentacles deep in Italian institutions and political life Carina Gunnarsson from Uppsala University, an expert in the field of anti-mafia work, argues that the anti-mafia movement is a major force to be taken into consideration, even if their efforts seem to get little attention in media. Since the 1980s a strong movement among the civic society has stood up towards the Mafia. While there have been civic forces fighting the Mafia since the 1860s, the movement has moved from the countryside and is now mainly driven by an urban educated middle class. The grassroots movement Addiopizzo is an archetype portraying the fight. During the last decade it has achieved a clear impact. By working together with business owners, who do not want to pay the pizzo, they hit the Cosa Nostra on an economic level and prove that standing up towards organized crime is possible. The fact that the initiative was taken by five young activists in 2004 illustrates that actions made by just a few people can have a major impact. The organization´s motto is “A whole people who pays the pizzo is a people without dignity”. While the initiative is brave as well as bold, it is highly dependent on socially conscious motivated consumers.

Weronika Perlinski (1)
Photo: Weronika Perlinski

Since the 1990s the Cosa Nostra has followed a strategy where the organization´s aim is to keep a low profile. Some might argue that the public outcry after 1992, when the two anti-mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were brutally murdered by the Cosa Nostra, has forced the Mafia into this strategy. Others would argue that peace only certifies the effectiveness of the Mafia where the use of violence is an indication of weakness. What is obvious is that more than 20 years later the situation with the Cosa Nostra has changed radically.

Initiatives to counteract organized crime have been taken by the Italian government for decades, but for a long time the Christian Democrats in Rome had links with the same forces that they argued they wanted to get rid of. To what degree the Mafia still has connections amongst politicians, law enforcement agencies and other institutions is difficult to comment upon, but it is clear that civic society may have a significant role to play because government strategies have not been sufficient. While the Mafia is still a taboo topic among many Sicilians others have decided to take action. Allessandro is one of them. After one of his family members was shot dead in the streets of Palermo he has been dedicated to fight organized crime. Civilian bystanders with no connection to the Mafia might become victims just because they are in the way. A common technique for Mafia members is namely to move among civilians, serving as shields against the police or other Mafia sections competing for economic influence or power. Allessandro is not alone in his struggle. The anti-mafia organization Agenda Rossa has the aim of protecting people who are at risk of being victimised by the Mafia. By organizing large manifestations functioning as a ”bulletproof vest”, Agenda Rossa therefore prevents assassinations carried out by the Mafia, using the same method as the Mafia.

What is evident is the fact that presently civic society constrains the position of the Mafia to a certain degree, not only by a few strong front figures such as Falcone and Borsellino, but by a large number of ordinary citizens who have decided that they are no longer willing to be compromised in their daily lives. The struggle takes many forms and minor efforts might just constitute “a drop in the ocean”, but as long as they are somehow connected they represent a major force. What is even more important to remember is the fact that organized crime is not just limited to southern Italy but also an increasing issue in several other European countries. Therefore governments and civic society all around Europe should sense the importance of acting against organized crime.

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


UF to Copenhagen: Day 3 – Christiania

Breakfast is a wonderful thing, and breakfast when you can sleep in for a while is even better. The two previous days had early morning planned hectic meetings and what we in Sweden call ‘fullt ös’, which basically mean non-stop all the time – all the time. Fitting then that our last day was had a few hours to spare in the morning for everyone to take their time before we set of for a guided tour of Christiania, the legendary hippie community in Denmark. We all had this idea of Christiania being a love pace and understanding kind of place. Lately, it has been under a bureaucratic siege where the powers that be are less than happy with the place. They argue that it’s less of a loving safe hippie community and more of a safe haven for criminals.

Our tour guide was an old hippie woman who moved there over 30 years ago, and true enough as we ventured the place every now and then an old face passed by nodding to us as a ghost of the past. Because from the outside looking in – the criticism looked true. Young guys in sportswear and hoodies loomed over small stands on Pusherstreet. No pictures, don’t talk to them – where was the love? The clientele spoke more of broken souls than free spirits. Alcoholics, homeless people, drug addicts, the bottom pile of society. Some 600 adults and 200 children live in Christiania proving that there is a schism between the alternate accepting community and the live fast die young generation. Times have changed, the 68-generation and ‘change the world’ mentality is a dying breed – literally. Modern liberal society places different normative demands on a good life, perhaps explaining the very clear presence of people that the original members have fought so hard to keep away. Our guide told us of the great purge in the late 70s where they threw out all the drug addicts and cleaned house from hard drugs. But seemingly, their battle was futile and she seemed clearly disturbed by the fact.

We ended up in a demonstration to legalize marijuana, a throng of white middleclass kids in their early 20s and higher teens roared out in unison to the reggae beats and pro green leaf artists. The notion for a better society, different economical structures, and more peace less hate was totally absent. This was a fight to keep Christiania for what it was to them – not a place to contribute too but a place for them to go too.

I am ambivalent to the legitimacy of their claim; did it not contradict the original purpose? But is it not the responsibility of the elders to inform the younger? Can they really be held responsible for the demise of progress? And with countries like Portugal, which has turned 90 degrees on its drug policies and legalized drugs and lowered their problematic drug use by 50%, aren’t these kids right?

Copenhagen itself is a buzzling city offering all kinds of cultural expressions. Beside the city centre, the city seems to be bombarded by graffiti and tags. And on more than one occasion I noticed artists contributing to the city walls out in plain daylight, a sight that is rare to see in Gothenburg where they are hunted torches and pitchforks. The day ended with a street festival with various artists ranging from indie pop, rock and rappers going wild in the streets throwing cut throat rhymes at the crowd to heart pounding deep beats. The city offers something for everyone and a must go place for everyone. As a last note now riding the ship of the line Swebus on endless highways back to Gothenburg I must recommend Sleep In Heaven Hotel, an amazing hostel with excellent service.

Over and out

Text: Daniel Brandt

UF to Copenhagen: Day 2 – Danida, UNDF and Concord

It’s the small things that make or break a city, small things that pile up and form a concept of breath – or death. As a Swedish cultural imperialist, I came with the notion of Denmark being nothing more than a country filled with drunks and criminals. (My former impressions of Copenhagen are mainly built on the movie Pusher, and to be honest I’m a tad bit disappointed by the lack of pit-bulls, gold chains and cocaine mountains). But gradually it got to me, the friendly smiles by shopkeepers, urban rustic life, cheap beer and good food. The subway stations in central Copenhagen looks like they were directly imported from Black Mesa and we checked all corners for face huggers.

As the day progressed and we visited Danida, UNDP and CONCORD, I noticed how they all, seemingly unknowing, shared a common issue. Danida is a part of the Danish Foreign Ministry with the responsibility of overseeing the Danish development funds, which is basically foreign aid. They have been around for decades and Denmark is one of five UN member states which lives up to the UN aid goal of member states investing 0.7% of their GDP on foreign aid.

Lately, they have been receiving a lot of bad press due to the economic situation. It’s hard to justify foreign aid spending when the rest of the country is being hit by cutbacks: “why spend on them when we can’t spend on ourselves?”.

But as Jacob Haugaard of Danida puts it: “it’s not spending, it’s investing”. It is in our own interest that foreign countries with a not-so-safe-state of affairs improve. Economic and human development growth is an essential part to bring peace and stability to regions which has none or little. In fact, one could argue that nationalist right wing parties should be the front runners of foreign development as it would surely decrease immigration.

Mette Fjällan of UNDP expressed a similar view, that economic and human development stands in the centre of progressing the world towards a more peaceful state. A veteran with more than 20 years of development work, she hammered us during the better part of an hour with its importance and pointed towards the fact that nowadays 90% of all kids are enrolled in school. Critics, rightfully so, points out that being enrolled and actually learning something are two very different things. But one step at a time, if she could wave a magic wand I’m sure she would do so. We are heading in the right direction, not all of the Millenium Goals have been achieved and there is still a 1000 days to go – but! each of them have been improved. We are not in the same boat as we were in the 1990s.

And here is the common issue: Concord, an umbrella organisation for hundreds of NGOs, sees this quite often in the general public of Europe. We still conceptualize the world as it was in the 1960s. Africa is a poor mud dump in the middle of nowhere with people living in huts and are generally lazy. But on the contrary my dear sir/madam many of them are in reality the fastest growing economies in the world, some due to extraction of natural resources and some of them through rapid industrialization. We shouldn’t expect them to take the same route as the Asian tiger economies as their situation is quite different. That’s what a few hundred years of colonization and drainage of their human capital does for you. Never mind using the north of Sahara countries as our personal chessboard during World War 2. Hans Rosling often in his lectures emphasizes that infant mortality rates and the number of children per family have both decreased drastically the past 40 years. Mette from UNDP falls in unison and highlights that we are conforming worldwide and are today sharing more problems than ever before. Malnutrition is a serious problem both in the United States and Bolivia, one a super power and one a mid income country.

It’s a democratic issue where the Western Governments and the UN have spent far too little time to communicate and listen to the Western population to increase understanding and knowledge about the world around them. These things wont come automatically through magic. The Nordic Council flies very much under the radar with little public knowledge, and question is how democratic it is to have collaborations that no one knows about. Danida and UNDP suffers from this too, internally they know how important their work is but they seem to have a hard time communicating this to the common man and woman. How can a farmer in France relate to a bridge being built in Vietnam? It seems that in all this developing, the Western population have not been sufficiently included, even though they too are a part of the process.

We need more national and global debates that engage the regular people. The UN has taken a small step with the post 2015 goals by setting up a website where anyone can contribute to the post 2015 goals. One small step for mankind but one giant leap for the United Nation. A partnership is only legit as long as its constituents think it is a good idea. Head over to and have your say!

Text: Daniel Brandt

UF to Copenhagen: Day 1 – The Nordic Council

The day began with all of us going from The Society of International Affairs Gothenburg, scavenging what remnants of the woken state of mind we could find as the morning sun bathed us with a little bit of extra d-vitamins. The bus trip from Gothenburg to Copenhagen takes roughly about five hours with a few stops along the way. The scenario which plays out before yours eyes changes from thick Scandinavian forest and mountains to a bulging farm country so typical of southern Sweden. A crisp blue sky and the sun as good friend lightened up the hazy eyes and soon jokes were hurled at each other.

And soon Öresund greeted us with wide arms, with the bridge that connects the historically geo-isolated Sweden from the rest of the continent standing tall in the horizon. A mark of human engineering traversing the sea, a monument of our determination to embrace our neighbours rather than to shone them away. A perfect symbol for our first visit to The Nordic Council: an organisation built on the very same ide of what they called ‘neighbourhood politics’. To foster Nordic relations, ideals, culture and values it has successfully established itself as a stable and prominent collaboration and platform to develop mutual projects and ideas.

It much flies under the media radar in the Nordic countries themselves, virtually unknown to the general public. But perhaps that is a consequence of deep collaboration that cause little drama, the oil in the machinery is seldom thought of or appreciated until you run out of it. The Nordic Council is deeply involved in the affairs surrounding the Baltic Sea and has offices in most of the surrounding countries. The historical political and cultural differences between the Nordic and Russia have made it crucial to speak with a unified voice rather than each to their own. The concept of trade and communication has made such good way that many other countries are looking their way and adopting it and developing similar organisations in Asia and Eastern Europe. EU, for example, has little power to do things for itself and often relies on external organisations. In that sense the Nordic Council plays a crucial part in the area around the Baltic Sea. Also it plays a role in the ever more contested Arctic. Iceland and the Faroe Islands naturally doesn’t have the same interest in the Baltic Sea and during our presentation of the council I got the impression that they might play a smaller role than the ‘bigger’ ones.

The future challenges seems to mainly lay in pushing the Baltics and Russia towards more a more open, progressive and economical stable society. Drugs, trafficking, criminal activities and other negative encounters of the more obscure shady character across the pond spread to the Nordic countries and as Kenneth Broman from Finland puts it “Threatens our way of life”. Education, economic progression and exportation of values and organisation is on the agenda and more people should take notice of this very active and integral part of the north. You can read more at

Text: Daniel Brandt