Some prosecutors are motivated by more than a quest for justice, especially here in Sicily, where many of the worst suspects are members of an infamously vile criminal fraternity known for murdering law enforcement figures. I'm referring, of course, to the Sicilian Mafia, which until recently boasted the support of the political establishment and (to some extent) even the Catholic Church.
Paolo Borsellino was born in Palermo's Magione district in 1940, the
son of two pharmacists who had supported the Fascist regime and its exploits
in Africa, a factor which encouraged his curiosity to study recent history, and his eventual political orientation. He attended a classical studies high school and then studied law, obtaining his degree in 1962.
In 1965 Borsellino was named assistant district attorney (state counsel)
and in 1967 he was appointed to an administrative juridical position in
the district of Mazara del Vallo. This was the period of the destructive
earthquake in the Belice Valley. He was married at the end of 1968.
In 1969 Borsellino was assigned to a law enforcement position with the
state police of Monreale (outside Palermo), where he worked on criminal
cases. In 1975 he was transferred to the staff of prosecuting magistrate
Rocco Chinnici, later (in 1983) killed by the Mafia. By 1980 he was prosecuting
Mafiosi, and consequently required police protection, an inconvenience for
him but also for his family.
A few years later the "anti-Mafia pool" was formed with Borsellino,
Giovanni Falcone and several other prosecutors. In 1984 Vito Ciancimino (formerly Palermo's public works commissioner) was arrested, though he was never convicted of anything that would have led
to hard time and died in Rome in 2002 (officially under "house arrest"
but with a vacation home and private chauffeur) following a leisurely, affluent
retirement from public life; he was one of the public officials responsible
for the architectural "rape" of Palermo in the 1960s. Nevertheless, Ciancimino was the first Italian politician arrested for Mafia crimes. Informant Tommaso Buscetta and other Mafiosi were arrested and some were tried during
the "Maxi-Trial." Borsellino helped define the role of such "pentiti"
(Mafia turncoats who collaborated with the authorities and turned state's
evidence in exchange for witness protection and commuted sentences).
Both Falcone and Borsellino liked to say that they were outside politics. In fact, Falcone was slightly to the Left while Borsellino was actually Right Wing. He once stood as a candidate for the MSI (post-war successor to the Fascist party, now evolved into the softer-edged Alleanza Nazionale), though his sister, Rita, who ran for office in 2006, is center-left.
In the late 1980s Borsellino openly criticized the Italian state's laxity
in prosecuting Mafiosi, and implied that the Christian Democrats may have
been exploiting the Mafia for their own needs, perhaps out of convenience
(the Mafia routinely garnered votes for them). By this time Falcone was
working in Rome, commuting between the capital and Palermo. (It was during
one of these trips that he was assassinated in 1992.) People like Danilo Dolci had worked for decades to achieve social justice
in the face of Mafia activity which was often tacitly condoned by conservative
politicians and even Catholic clerics; Mafioso Bernardo Provenzano wasn't found and arrested until 2006.
In the summer of 1992 Paolo Borsellino was killed by a car bomb exploded beneath his
home in Palermo. In the wake of his death the national government undertook
to make a serious effort to bring Mafia criminals to justice. The success
of these efforts might be debated: the construction trades, public "development projects" and too many public officials
are directly linked to organized crime (even the healthcare industry is corrupt). But Paolo Borsellino's work was a good beginning. Palermo's airport is named after him and Giovanni Falcone.
About the Author: Palermo native Vincenzo Salerno has written biographies of several famous Sicilians, including Frederick II and Giuseppe di Lampedusa.