...Best of Sicily presents... Best of Sicily Magazine.
The first online magazine about Sicily.
... Dedicated to Sicilian art, culture, history, people, places and all things Sicilian.
Paolo Borsellino
by Vincenzo Salerno

Magazine Index

Best of Sicily

Arts & Culture


Food & Wine

History & Society

About Us

Travel Faqs


Map of Sicily


Paolo Borsellino.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 Paolo Borsellino (right) with Giovanni Falcone. Italian postal stamp.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.

Top of Page

© 2007 Vincenzo Salerno