Naples fights mafia – with first bookshop in 50 years

In the hinterlands of Naples a revolution is afoot: locals tired of drug lords are taking the fight to the mafia and their weapon of choice is the humble book.

Naples fights mafia - with first bookshop in 50 years
Rosario Esposito La Rossa opened "Scugnizzeria" last week. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Tucked away between squats and roadside traders of broken toys rises the first bookshop in nearly 50 years.

The concrete sprawl of Scampia, a bastion of the ruthless Camorra organised crime group, was immortalised in the 2006 bestselling book “Gomorrah” by Roberto Saviano and in a popular spin-off film and television series.

Now one of the poorest areas in southern Italy is attempting to cast off the stereotype of Kalashnikov-wielding teens and get its young off the streets by flooding the turf with theatre, cinema and literature associations.

The tower blocks, riddled with asbestos and divided by rubbish-strewn no-man's lands, were thrown up in the 1970s.

“There has never been a bookshop here. We had to travel 10 kilometres to buy a book,” Rosario Esposito La Rossa, whose shop “Scugnizzeria” opened a week ago, told AFP.

Widespread illiteracy 

The idea for the small store, which also has a room for theatre and study groups, followed the death of La Rossa's disabled relative Antonio, caught in the crossfire of a 2004 shootout and labelled a trafficker by the state.

“He was hit by two bullets as he played table football, but police said he had links to the Cali cocaine cartel in Colombia. We fought for 10 years to clear his name and it became a cultural battle for our neighbourhood,” he said.

When La Rossa inherited the Marotta&Cafiero publishing house in 2010 he moved it to Scampia to continue the fight.

“There were those who said we would close within a few weeks because no-one reads in Scampia, it has the highest illiteracy rate in southern Italy. Seven years on and we have published 88 books,” he said.

The 29-year old is just the tip of an iceberg of change slowly edging its way across the northern suburb of Naples.

The government has pledged to demolish three of the four remaining Sails of Scampia, notorious tower blocks shaped like sails where staircases boast metal gates installed by traffickers to slow down police during raids.

Naples' Federico II university, one of the world's oldest, is set to open a new faculty in the area – though the project is running three years behind schedule – and tentative plans are also under way to refurbish the metro.

But La Rossa says the most important role is played by the 120 or so associations that step in where the state fails.

Garrisons of legality

Daniele Sanzone co-founded Scampia Trip Tour to challenge the area's brutal image in the press and popular culture and show off its positive side.

“The Camorra exists, the drugs exist, we would be mad to deny it. But there is so much more, small organisations which become garrisons of legality,” from football clubs to Italy's first Italian-Roma restaurant, he said.

The tour has been a hit so far with everyone from US tourists to Italians normally too scared to enter Scampia.

“Ten years ago it was known as the biggest open-air drug market in Europe, but things have changed a lot since then, largely due to a blood feud in 2006 which left hundreds dead and sparked a police crackdown,” he said.

“Before there was drug trafficking every 50 metres. Today we can walk in the streets without fear,” he added.

Sanzone admits the associations can only do so much for the 80,000 to 100,000 inhabitants here, where many families live off the radar and only around 37 percent of adults of working age have jobs.

“Being born here means having few options,” he said.

But he and the other activists in Scampia, where half the population is under 25-years old, are sure change is coming.

“I am convinced that in 10 years time this place will be transformed,” La Rossa said.

“People will come here to study how it shifted from being Camorra land to the land of children.”

By Ella Ide


‘I represent the nobodies’: How Maradona became the hero of Naples

Few places will mourn the death of Diego Maradona as much as Naples, the downtrodden, gritty Italian city that clasped the troubled Argentine to its heart at his time of need and was repaid with the best years of perhaps the greatest footballer to ever play the game.

'I represent the nobodies': How Maradona became the hero of Naples
Maradona has long been a hero and icon in the city of Naples. Photo: AFP

Buildings around Naples are adorned with depictions of the man who took Napoli to the top of the Italian game and beyond and became an icon and spokesman for Neapolitans, whose chaotic city was feared and loathed in equal measure by the rest of Italy.

“I feel like I represented a part of Italy that didn't count for anything,” he said in 'Diego Maradona', the 2019 Asif Kapadia documentary about his life in Naples.
So deep was 'barrio boy' Maradona's attachment to Naples that he called Napoli's first ever league title, won a year after he led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup, the “greatest triumph” of his career.
Surrounded by jubilant fans on the pitch of Napoli's Stadio San Paolo, he explained why: “I won this one at my home.”
Maradona's achievements at Napoli, who had been also-rans until he arrivedin 1984 following a difficult two-year spell at Barcelona, cemented his position as the greatest player of his generation and, in many peoples' eyes, make him the best ever.
Diego Maradona on his arrival in Italy in 1984. Photo: AFP
Another league title in 1990, the 1989 UEFA Cup, and an Italian Cup also arrived during Maradona's seven years in southern Italy.
Maradona's 115 goals in all competitions was a club record that stood for 26 years and his heroics came at a time when Serie A was the world's
strongest, richest league, where the likes of Michel Platini and Zico strutted their stuff.
He fled in disgrace in 1991, a failed drugs test, an unrecognised son and a billion-lira tax dispute all left back in Naples, where his penchant for late-night parties, cocaine and women were almost as famous as his magical displays on the pitch.
Camorra links
Courted by criminals, the King of Spain and even the Pope, Maradona became a quasi-religious figure in Naples. He brought joy to a desperately poor city blighted by bloody conflicts between the competing clans of the powerful Camorra mafia, one of whom Maradona would get to know very well.
Indeed the 1984 signing of a genuine superstar by Napoli – who were heavily in debt and had finished 11th the previous season – immediately raised eyebrows, with persistent rumours that a chunk of the world record $10.48 million fee that brought him to Italy came from the Camorra's deep pockets.
The opening question in his first press conference came from a reporter who asked a confused Maradona whether he knew about the Camorra and its “influence
on football” and was immediately ejected by livid club owner Corrado Ferlaino.
“I never asked for anything from the Camorra, they gave me the security of knowing that nothing was going to happen to my two children,” Maradona
insisted in a 2017 interview to Italian TV station Canale 5
Murals dedicated to Maradona adorn the walls of apartment buildings in central Naples. Photo: AFP
However his access to drugs and women came thanks to the infamous Giuliano clan, who immediately befriended Maradona, furnished his burgeoning cocaine
habit and went to great lengths to make sure they were photographed partying with the world's most famous footballer.
Maradona himself admitted that every week he would binge from Sunday night until Wednesday, beginning an intense detox programme each Thursday that would get him ready for the following weekend's match.
It took Napoli two years to provide Maradona with teammates capable of challenging for honours, and when the title came in 1987 it caused such wild
celebrations that stories of a summer-long party became as famous as the triumph itself.
In reality the city came to a standstill for around a week. To this day Neapolitans name their sons after a football god they've only seen play on old VHS players and YouTube.
Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris with Diego Maradona in 2017. Photo: AFP
Another title arrived three years later before it all began to fall apart, not long after he and the Argentine national team enraged Italy by dumping the
'Azzurri' out of the 1990 World Cup in the semi-finals – in Naples of all places.
His problems had begun some time before. He had tired of the suffocating attention Naples afforded him and in 1989 had signed terms with Marseille, only for Ferlaino to put a stop to the transfer at the last minute.
 “After a four-hour meeting, Ferlaino said that if we won the UEFA Cup I could leave, but we won it, and he blocked the move anyway,” Maradona said in
However after the 1990 World Cup he had become a hate figure in Italy and his support network slowly melted away. In February 1991 police announced he
had been caught on wiretaps asking for cocaine and prostitutes from a mob figure. A trumped-up drugs trafficking charge soon followed.
The failed drugs test that finished him off came after a match with Bari two months later, and an unprecedented worldwide ban from the game until June
1992 left him back to Buenos Aires, never to reach the same heights again in his career.
But he remained an icon in southern Italy, and received a hero's welcome on subsequent visits to the city of Naples.
In 2017, he was made an honorary citizen by the city's mayor, Luigi de Magistris.