20 years ago on May 23rd, 1992 judge Giovanni Falcone got blown up by the Sicilian Mafia. His wife Francesca was also killed in this blast, together with three security personnel. Only 57 days later on July 12th his friend and colleague Paolo Borsellino met the same fate in the streets of Palermo. Five bodyguards could not prevent his assassination and died with him. The new book by John Follain asked why Falcone and Borsellino had to die? I would put the question another way: is there anything that could have obviated the murders?
I think there is. And the answer lays with the period following those 57 days. It changed Italy profoundly. For the first time in decades the state went after those guys in the background who thought about themselves invincible. There was just no way that they would get away with it again. Why? Because common people had enough of it. The Mafia had been left to her own devices for far too long by the state. The usual way of dealing with it was to look the other way in return for votes in the South. No more! Basta!
Individuals, brave as they might be, are very vulnerable. They make for easy targets. It is when the masses overcome their fear or indifference, when they get involved in their communities, when they push politicians into action that things change for the better. Public awareness, personal commitment and support by many are more effective security measures than armed escorts of few.
Yet the Mafia hasn’t been defeated. Far from it. But what has changed, and this is important, is the sentiment towards it. The conviction of Salvatore “Toto” Riina – the former boss of the Sicilian Mafia and the man behind the killings – has shown that nobody is invincible. Every delinquent will face his judge eventually, at least in theory. This is what Falcone and Borsellino fought and died for. This prospect makes the lives of courageous people like Roberto Saviano that bit more save, and ours too.