The organised crime in Sicily was one of the main topics of this year’s summer event of AEGEE-Palermo, which finished yesterday. The Golden Times spoke with Salvatore Maraventano, President of the antenna, about their language course with many extras.

Salvatore Maraventano, President of AEGEE-Palermo

GT: Even a newspaper reported about your programme related to the Mafia. Tell us more!
Salvatore Maraventano: Every year, during the SU, we organize a workshop about the Mafia for our participants, because there is a lot of confusion about this topic among the people living abroad. We always organized it with members of AEGEE-Palermo as lecturers, but this year we wanted to push more on this topic. For this reason we organized a two days meeting: the first day meeting was held in the university; it was an interactive meeting, where we, AEGEE-Palermo members, had the chance to collect the ideas and the opinions of the participants about this topic. So the first day was a discussion between us and the participants.

GT: How well informed were the participants?
Salvatore: This year the participants were really well informed. They knew a lot about the topic. Something that was totally unknown for them is the “Pizzo”, the money the Mafia asks from shop owners as extortion money, threatening them if they don’t pay. So we explained them what is it and how associations like Addio Pizzo are fighting against this kind of extortion.

Also the media reported about the Mafia topic of the event

GT: I read about the movement a few years ago. Is it getting stronger?
Salvatore: Every day! Right now there are something like 800 shops, who joined the association Addio Pizzo and don’t pay the extortion money. So people who want to fight against pizzo shop in these places to support them.

GT: What was the second Mafia-related day about precisely?
Salvatore: We asked the Municipality for cooperation and they gave to us the Town Hall Council Room, a very important institutional place. We invited people from institutions and society to report their experience to the participants. This session was more a frontal lesson. The most important intervention was the one of a Mafia Prosecutor, a real professional working everyday against the Mafia. This second day got a lot of visibility in the media. Also the fact that we could do this meeting in the town hall showed that the Mafia is getting weaker. Twenty years ago it was impossible to think of a meeting like this in an institutional place.

Big discussion, important place: the Town Hall Council Room

GT: How big is the topic Mafia in every-day life?
Salvatore: Mafia is always a big issue here. The young people always talk about the Mafia in all the media they can. We read about it, we attend meetings, we organize meetings, we found new associations. It is something we really care about it. But we are totally aware of the fact that the only real way to defeat the mafia is to spread culture in the Sicilian territory.

GT: How does that work?
Salvatore: By giving the new generation of the poorest areas a good education. The reason the Mafia is still in business is because there is a lot of people, who don’t receive a good education. When they go out of school they are without any other opportunity than crime. This topic was central in the speech of the Mafia prosecutor.

39 participants attended the summer event

GT: Something else: Your event was not an official Summer University? Why? You gave up on a lot of promotion and potential participants!
Salvatore: Our event was indeed not a Summer University, it was a summer event. After 15 years of Summer Universities we had to downgrade our event for two reasons: costs and timing. When the deadline for Summer University came, we were not sure whether we could organize an event respecting the fee limit imposed for a Summer University. The university dormitory that we always use raised the price and we didn’t find any other viable solution in the city. Our problem is we have to pay a lot of money for an accommodation – other antennae get it for free. In the end our fee was 150 euro for 10 days, more than what we could ask for an SU.

Next to language course and serious discussions the group also explored the beaches

GT: How many participants did you get?
Salvatore: 39 participants. The event finished yesterday, so they are already back home.

GT: Core of the programme was a language course. How was it?
Salvatore: The language Course was pretty good too, even if collecting all the participants in the morning was probably the hardest part for the organizers… We are in Sicily, so the programme has to include a lot of beaches and swimming, both in the day and in the night. But we tried to give a cultural meaning also to the social programme.

And had great parties!

GT: For example?
Salvatore: For example, when we went to the beach we went once to a place managed by the association against the mafia, Addio Pizzo. Another time we went to a place managed by the association Alibi. This place was once abandoned and full of garbage, but this association cleaned and renewed it. So they gave back to the citizens a place once abandoned and ruined.

GT: You put a lot of thought in the programme…
Salvatore: Yes, we had also two day trips, city tours and tons of games.

GT: Are you satisfied with the event?
Salvatore: I am totally satisfied. This is my third event as an organizer and the second as main organizer and I can say I’ve never been happier. Even if for all people of my staff it was the first experience as organizer, the event was perfect. We found the right balance between education and fun. We all believe that AEGEE has to be both, fun and education, but finding the equilibrium is always hard. I can say that this year we did it.