Roberto Saviano: A writer on a life-threatening anti-Mafia mission

BERLIN/ROME, Alvise Armellini and Daniel Rademacher (dpa)- Life is no fun when you're under 24-hour police protection due to Mafia death threats, but "anger" and "ambition" keep you going, says Italy's most famous real crime writer and journalist.
Roberto Saviano is one of the most wanted men by Naples' fearsome Camorra Mafia.
The 39-year-old crime writer got in mobsters' bad books with his 2006 breakthrough novel "Gomorrah," which exposed the inner workings of the Naples Mafia and was later adapted into a film and a TV series.
"Gomorrah" turned Saviano into one of the world's leading anti-Mafia figures - yet he believes he is fighting a war that cannot ultimately be won.

Roberto Saviano
Roberto Saviano

"I don't think [the Mafia] can be extinguished: it is one of Europe's most efficient organizations," the author says, insisting that Italian Mafia groups have expanded well beyond national borders. 
So what keeps him going?
"Anger, ambition," he replies. "The ambition to say, 'You haven't crushed me,' so it's also personal. There's also a desire to tell these stories to the world."
Saviano is speaking in a hotel in central Berlin ahead of the German release, on August 22, of "La paranza dei bambini," a film adaptation of his 2016 book on teenage Camorra gangs. 
The movie, featuring a cast of non-professionals, premiered at this year's Berlinale film festival, where it won a Silver Bear award for best screenplay. 
For the past 13 years, Saviano has been under 24-hour police protection. 
"There are two people outside even now as we speak, but I try not to think about it," he says, adding that living under constant surveillance "is a tragedy, not a privilege."
Years ago, a documentary on him explained that all of his movements need to be planned two days in advance to give his bodyguards time to check the places he is due to visit. 
His endangered status also means he cannot ride a bicycle, drive a car or a motorcycle, have regular engagements like weekly lessons or courses, or go to the cinema unless it's fully reserved for him. 
He's also been refused boarding on a plane because the airline "was afraid that passengers would have a stressful flight after recognizing me," he says. 
"This kind of situation kills you," he says.
"I am not afraid to die, but to continue living like this. Not that I am especially fearless, but after hearing so much about your death, you start to see it as something that almost doesn't concern you."
"Mafia" is a actually an umbrella term that covers at least three separate Italian organized crime groups: The Camorra from Naples, Sicily's Cosa Nostra and the 'Ndrangheta from Calabria.
Saviano is keen to stress that they are "not just an Italian phenomenon," but also "German, French, Spanish," and he laments Europe's lack of awareness on this.
In Germany, for example, "forget about it: nobody talks about [the Mafia], only when there is major carnage. After Duisburg, the Mafia issue disappeared," he laments. 
Saviano is referring to the 2007 murder of six men in a 'Ndrangheta revenge killing in the north-western city of Duisburg, which shocked the German public. 
Since then, the German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has recognized the 'Ndrangheta as Germany's dominant crime syndicate, but according to Italian experts like Saviano, this is not enough.
He says Germany and other European countries are in "big denial" on the the extent to which they have been infiltrated by Italian Mafias, and "always think it is a problem from outside."
In Italy, Saviano is a deeply polarizing figure: revered by the left as a courageous intellectual, and reviled by the right as a drain on police resources and a high-priest of political correctness.
He has a long-running feud with Matteo Salvini, the country's hardline interior minister, deputy premier and leader of the far-right League. 
"We never had a government that was less anti-Mafia than this one," he says, denouncing Salvini's "zero tolerance" pledges on the Mafia as "an act."
According to Saviano, the minister's restrictive migration policies "will push many migrants" into the black economy, "turning them into tools in the hands of the Mafia."
He also alleges that some of Salvini's colleagues in Calabria "are close to the 'Ndrangheta." L'Espresso, a left-wing magazine where Saviano is a columnist, has reported on these allegations. 
In May, Salvini published a video on Facebook in which he threatened Saviano with the withdrawal of his police protection. Saviano sees it as a way for the League leader to warn him: "If you keep attacking me, I'll leave you on your own." 
His response is: "I won't be intimidated."

Sunday, August 4th 2019
Alvise Armellini and Daniel Rademacher (dpa)

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