Illicit Organizations in Italy and Ireland
The Camorra is the organized criminal entity that runs amuck throughout Naples and the surrounding parts of Italy, and is one of the oldest and largest mafia-style organizations in the region. Unlike the hierarchically structured Sicilian Mafia, the Camorra has a vertical structure, with a multitude of autonomous family cells operating independently of each other. The IRA is the Irish Republic Army, a group opposed to British rule in Northern Ireland, and who want a unified Ireland under Irish command. Considered by many to be a terrorist organization, they are also engaged in high profit illicit trafficking of a multitude of goods.
With my two weeks abroad, I was exposed to so many experiences that provided me with a more realistic understanding of these organizations, which will certainly help guide my research as I continue developing my thesis on illicit trafficking networks in the upcoming year.
What is the biggest lesson you took away from this trip?
My time in both countries was incredibly eye opening. I think that the main takeaway and lesson learned is how local tradition, culture, and beliefs are incredibly difficult to overcome with top-down implemented policies. The thoughts and attitudes in society towards things like the Camorra and IRA have been deeply ingrained in the local populations over the course of many years, and in some areas the longstanding existence of the organization has perpetuated an overall permissive acceptance for criminal activities and illicit operations. For instance, in Napoli efforts have been made to discredited and turn public opinion against the Camorra, as seen in the Piazza San Carlo, where 106 enlarged photos of innocent victims killed by the Camorra are prominently displayed. While the majority of locals may tsk-tsk and express disapproval for Camorra activity, these same people blithely accept and participate in acts of extortion and criminal racketeering on a daily basis, like paying the Camorra thug on the corner to “keep the car safe” after they park in a free parking zone on a Napoli side street.
And quite frankly, it is easy to understand this acceptance, as the Camorra has been the more constant and steady “governing” structure in the lives of Napoli citizens for many years. They control many aspects of society, from the bakeries to the garbage industry, and they are so heavily woven into the day-to-day existence of the people that the Italian government will be hard pressed to find a way to overcome this Camorra influence. This idea, that local culture and history may be more resilient to outside change then anticipated, is something that can be applied to many global situations involving US and international attempts at remedying.
What is the best day you had on your trip?
One of the best days that I had was when I was exploring the city of Napoli. It has such a vibrant and unique culture, with rustic traditions and to die-for pizza. Though there are many beautiful and historic places to see there, one of the highlights of the city is the Cimitero Delle Fontanelle. This place is a giant cavern located on an edge of the city, filled with thousands of old human skulls and bones- the final resting place for many of the 1836 cholera epidemic victims. It is such a strangely fascinating place, with all the bones and skulls simply stacked along the sides of the cave, and, as several locals informed me, also a place where many Camorra initiation rites and rituals frequently take place. This cave holds a unique and old tradition, where local people come in and “adopt” a skull- cleaning it up, naming it, and sometimes even building it a shrine. If they feel the skull brings them good fortune in some area of their lives, they continue to honor it with little gifts and visits. If, however, they do not feel like the spirit of the skull helped them or maybe even brought them bad luck, they turn the skull so it is facing the cave wall, warning others not to “adopt” that one. It is incredibly intriguing to see all these skulls, some bedecked with jewelry or flowers, with backwards skulls intermixed in all the stacks. In a side corner of the cavern, there is also a large alter set up, with chairs and benches lined up in front of it, and I can only imagine the types of services that go on in the Cimitero.
Is there anything you wish you would have known before leaving?
Italian! While I have done some foreign travel before, I have always had a least a basic grasp of some language fundamentals before I left…not the case in this trip! While I had a family friend who spoke English to show me around and translate for me at times, it was a very odd and almost isolating experience to be surrounded by people that I couldn’t understand or communicate with. I didn’t fully notice the personal impact that this language barrier was having on me until I arrived in Ireland. I could read all the signs and notices I encountered, ask random people for directions or recommendations, and I could actively participate in conversations…no more just smiling and nodding along. As for Ireland-knowing how to drive a stick shift would have been immensely helpful. Driving on the other side of the car and the road was challenge enough, but throwing in a manual vehicle on top of that proved to be a very…interesting experience, to say the least.