An interview with Roberto Saviano

Do you have any regrets about the effect that writing this book has had on your life?

Sometimes life with an armed escort really gets me down, and I’m nostalgic for all the things I used to do and no longer can – going to the cinema, just going for walks – basically everything that goes to make up a life. But I’m finding ways to adjust. Perhaps I’m missing the one thing that would lead me to have real regrets: and that’s fear. I’m not afraid of what could happen to me and I believe that what I’ve done in writing this book has been worth it. And if people ask me if I’d do it again, I have to admit that I would, just the same. Even if at times I’ve cursed my book, hated it. Like something that has ruined my life forever, which it has. But it’s also done many other things. For this reason I would write it all over again.Do you think your book will help bring more of the Camorra to justice?

Yes, perhaps, but this isn’t what concerns me. In fact I don’t know if it’s a good thing when a book becomes a document that is disputed in court. Recently one of the bosses has said ‘let’s hope that the judges don’t read Gomorrah’ and this worried me a bit. From another point of view, though, the book confirms the power of words, and that’s a power I’ve always believed in. It’s incredible: that a boss, a man used to presiding over ‘the life and the death of everybody’, as Raffaele Cutolo has said, can be afraid of a book, of a body of words. But that aside, the aim of my book wasn’t to send a few more murderers or even bosses to jail – all these people are by their nature replaceable – but to bring to public awareness what the modern Camorra is, what the mechanisms are that go to make up what is called ‘the system’. I wanted to expose these mechanisms and I would like people to try to act against these, rather than against the individuals who control and are controlled by them.

Do you think that Neapolitan region will ever be able to free itself from organised crime?

Giovanni Falcone used to say that the Mafia is a human phenomenon and like every human phenomenon it has a beginning and an end. He was right, partly because this wasn’t an optimistic statement. Presently organized crime in Italy – especially the Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta – is an extremely strong reality. It’s been made public around the world that a recent study valued the Mafia’s turnover as 7% of corrupt domestic product. Which is to say that were the Mafia a registered firm it would be the largest in Italy. I want to add to these pretty frightening figures that this is a conservative estimate, based on just a part of what has come into the open through the judicial process. It demonstrates that to eliminate the Mafia, especially from the places directly under its control – which is to say the southern reigions of Italy – is a very difficult task, and one that could bring with it extensive economic and social upheaval. Furthermore, we shouldn’t forget that even Italy, the Mafia, Camorra and ‘Ndrangeta haven’t, for many years now, been the only problems affecting underdeveloped southern regions. A significant slice of their economic power also comes from investments elsewhere in the country: from drug trafficking on a European scale and and built on an exponentially growing market, particularly in cocaine; from what is recycled in the housing, tourism and restoration sectors etc; from infiltration into the building industry and other markets besides. It will be hard to free not only Naples but also Italy, Europe, and the global economy from the Mafia.

How have the Italian authorities reacted to the startling revelations in Gomorrah?

There has been a lot of attention from politicians and a lot of support. The home office acted straightaway to get me a programme of protection devised by the head of the Napolitan police, and for all of this I’m enormously grateful. Over the past almost two years they have stood by me not only with professionalism, offering me the benefit of their experience and intelligence, but also with friendship. And this, I have to say, has been a good experience.

You highlight the Camorra’s involvement in the fashion industry, drug trafficking, shipping, and the use of Chinese immigrant workers. Do you think this is an issue that needs to be addressed globally, rather than by Italy alone?

It’s totally unthinkable that Italy could confront – alone – a phenomenon that for many years has been global by its very nature and is becoming ever more so. Organized crime works by now like a network in which all the organizations, wherever they are,  can collaborate with one another: the Albanian, Ukrainian, Nigerian Mafia; the drug barons in Central and South America, etc. The Camorra got its foot in the door in China before the arrival of manufacturing legislation, and it invested in Europe and the East immediately after the fall of the Iron Curtain. A clan from Mondragone, a city famous for its mozzarella, set up a range of very profitable businesses in Aberdeen, Scotland. Without much stronger coordination and collaboration at least on a European level, it’s useless to think that anyone can do anything really effective against the economic power of the various Italian Mafia, against that which is at the heart of their power. Probably to achieve this it’s necessary firstly to do something to improve public knowledge in all the countries infiltrated by organized crime. This is obviously also true for the UK. England doesn’t have a realistic account of its Mafia connections, and I find this scandalous. Because while people continue to think that this is a uniquely Italian problem, it’s difficult to change anything when it comes to politics, legislation and investigation.

Has there been a positive or negative reaction to Gomorrah from the people of Naples?

Both. Many people, especially young people, have shown me a lot of respect and support, collecting signatures and other things – someone even painted my face on the city walls. And then there are those who are annoyed by my book, by the huge success it has had and continues to enjoy: people tied in to ‘the system’, obviously, but not only them. For the rest, I believe that this happens all over the world: people don’t like depictions of reality that seem to them to be overly negative when compared with the one they inhabit. I have been accused of betraying my roots, of dishonouring my homeland. But maybe the most important thing is that people have been talking a lot about my book and that they continue to do so. Camorristi in jail have also read it – from the bosses to the pushers – and the kids from difficult neighbourhoods: perhaps for the wrong reasons, or to find out if they’re in there too, or to see themselves reflected in my account of the war that plays out on the streets where they live. Whatever their situation, many people who would never ordinarily even open a book have read Gomorrah. Whatever they think of it, this book has been received all over the place as something to reckon with, something not at all easy to discount. And my response to the most frequent criticism that I hear from those around me, which is that ‘we knew all of this already’, is to reply, calmly, that I wasn’t setting out to discover anything new, but simply to show, in the most naturalistic way possible, what was going on. Ultimately it’s not me, but the anti-Mafia magistrate Raffaele Cantone – condemned to death by the Camorra – who maintained that before Gomorrah people knew, but that ‘since Gomorrah you can no longer pretend not to know’. If he’s right, this is an extraordinary outcome.

Were you ever worried that you might have been uncovered as a journalist during your investigation?

This is an error that I often encounter abroad. The things I write about in the book weren’t things that I did as an ‘undercover journalist’. In many cases they were experiences that came simply from the difficulties, for a young person, of earning a living in the world of Naples, or from chance meetings, or from things and people I’ve always known because I was born among them. So I was already there, I was – and I am – in many ways very similar to the people that I’ve described: no need to go undercover, I was born there, born undercover, I suppose you could say. I never went anywhere in spirit of, or with the method of, a journalist. I didn’t need to give anyone  any notice, I wasn’t obliged to meet newspaper deadlines.  And so I could let myself observe everything with the greatest freedom, collecting those details that for a reporter might be insignificant, but which become essential for someone who seeks to see and to understand with the eye of a writer.
The severity of the threats that you have received since Gomorrah’s publication is such that you have been granted an armed bodyguard, have you ever considered moving away from Naples?

Sure, I’ve thought about it. But apart from the fact that my bodyguards by now accompany me not only everywhere in Italy but also abroad, it would upset me to leave Naples for two reasons. The first is that it’s my birthplace and the place for which I wrote my book. And the second is to do with the fact that to go elsewhere would be like going into hiding: handing the victory to those I’ve crossed. For these reasons I want to stay anchored to the land I consider my own, and to my version of reality, for as long as is possible. Without leaving in peace those powers I’ve decided to describe.


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