Through her photography and activism, Letizia Batalia sought to rob Palermo from the mafia’s rule. Laura Letza / Getty Images
When the Italian photographer Letizia Batalia died on April 13, 2022, the biggest shock we wrote about her was that she did not die in the hands of the Mafia.
For nearly fifty years, she fearlessly fought a criminal enterprise. Equipped with a 35mm camera, she touted the terrorist politics of the Sicilian mafia with photographs of civil servants, innocent bystanders, and bodies studded with mafia bullets. She later worked as a politician and a local activist, destroying the streets and squares of Palermo from Mafia control.
Exposing the Mafia Death Culture
Battalia is internationally acclaimed for its photographs of the beauty, poverty, spirit and perhaps the most famous violence of Sicily.
The first year of working as a photojournalist in Palermo’s daily L’Ora coincided with the first Mafia murder in the 1970s and the year of the Second Mafia War in the 1980s. This was simply known as the “genocide.”
The battle for power and interests has fought the rural clans of Corleone, led by Salvatore Riina, with the major clans operating in Palermo, the capital of Sicily. During the conflict, machine gun fires and car bomb explosions became commonplace in Palermo and the surrounding cities.
Roman politicians responded to the national crisis by asking General Carlo Alberto Dara Chiesa to become the chief of Palermo. After spending four months restoring order, Dara Kiesa, his wife, Emanuela Setti Cararo, and police bodyguard Domenico Russo were killed in a machine gun spray on September 3, 1982. I did. The death of Dara Chiesa, along with attacks on police chiefs, prosecutors and investigators, made honest citizens feel desperate and abandoned.
One day, Battalia rushed from one city to another, shooting the bodies of Mafioshi, judges, police, politicians, journalists, and more with “massive blood.”
Mafia murders have become so commonplace that from 1981 to 1983 alone there were about 600 people, and I happened to come across a crime scene.
This was also the case with her famous photo of the corpse of former Sicilian president Piersanti Matarella. On January 6, 1980, while riding in a car with her daughter and photojournalist Franco Zeckin, Battalia saw a small group gathering around the car. She captured the current Italian President Sergio Mattarella and voluntarily took a shot from the window of her car as she tried to help her brother shot in her ambush.
Spring in Palermo
Battalia’s photographs of mafia violence were regularly posted on the cover of Lola. She also exhibited those large prints at pop-up exhibitions held by her and Zeckin in downtown Palermo and at local schools.
In doing so, she forced people to face what they denied: the mafia existed and it was killed.
Of course, most Sicilians knew the influence of criminal gangs. They saw a public park attacked by drug dealers and turned over used syringes scattered on the beach. Approximately 80% of Palermo’s businesses regularly paid the “Pizzo” or money that the Mafia demands to protect the company from the Mafia’s own violence.
However, the image of Battalia’s bloodshed made it impossible to keep closing his eyes, and the shift gradually occurred.
Since 1983, prosecutors and uncompromising police officers anti-mafia pools have begun arresting numerous mafia members. More than 450 of them were finally tried in the famous Maxi Trial, which began in 1986.
A social, cultural and political revolution took place between 1985 and 1990 as public confidence in the judicial system increased. Everyday people and new members of the city council have begun to face the Mafia directly and work to loosen control over the area. It became known as the “Fountain of Palermo” and Battalia was the driving force behind it.
In 1985 she was elected councilor. She worked with Mayor Leoluca Orlando, who appointed a commissioner for gardens and public life, to prevent the Mafia from dismissing Palermo for decades. Mafia leaders and their political alliance aimed to devastate schools, historic Palazzo, and gardens, ultimately destroying downtown, and profiting from a plunge in reconstruction.
Battalia was driven by the belief that providing all citizens with free access to magnificent gardens, parks, beaches and historic sites is essential to creating a culture of respect and appreciation for Palermo and its heritage. .. Through her project to make Palermo more beautiful and livable, Battalia has reclaimed the mafia-managed space block by block. She worked with fellow city councils to remove scrapped cars, create a pedestrian paradise in downtown, and restore the original beauty of public gardens.
Battalia’s actions challenged the bosses directly on the streets and squares dominated by clan bosses, where seemingly and false words could represent crimes worthy of violent retaliation. However, public support soon merged behind Battalia and its allies.
One instance is especially impressive. After carrying a pile of trash off the beach near Foroi Tarica near the Karsa district, famous for its dense mafioshi, she has several benches to enjoy the scenery bolted to cement. I did. The next day they were gone.
Journalist Antonio Roxzo was with Battalia. He went straight to the neighborhood how she said, “I know who you are. The bench is not yours. They are everyone. If you don’t bring them back within an hour, I’m going to raise hell! “
After an hour, the bench was bolted.
Keep the invisible mafia in the public eye
In 1992 and 1993, a series of bombings killed Judge Giovanni Falcone, a famous architect of the Maxi Trial. Francesca Morbiro, a prosecutor of the Juvenile Court in Palermo and his wife. And Paolo Borsellino, who worked closely with Falcone to investigate his murder. Bodyguards and bystanders from Sicily, Rome, Milan and Florence have also died.
In these bombings, known as “slaughter strategies,” the Mafia attacked the state’s symbols of justice, government, finances, and culture. Their goal was to intimidate politicians to undermine the law against organized crime.
However, violence caused even more civil backlash, and criminal organizations quickly went underground and adopted a strategy of quietly continuing their diverse criminal activity. This change marked a spectacular bombing on the streets of the city, a serious assassination, and a break from gunshots.
Still, the mafia threat remains. Most of the victims of their murder are now dead by “Lupara Bianca”, and traces of their bodies are destroyed by fire and acid.
In the absence of visible evidence, Battalia’s shots of the mafia’s bloodshed and bereavement continue to work to keep the effects of the mafia’s violence in the public eye.
These painful images are also a means of expressing hope. Battalia is a project started in 2004 and is known as “Rieraborazioni” or “Re-refining”. She takes original images of violent death, often overlaying symbols and signs of renewal through vibrant female figures. In her reconstruction of Falcone’s iconic photographs at the funeral of Darakiesa in 1982, a young woman appears in the foreground in the water sprayed from a fountain.
Even after dying, Battalia’s ardent effort to create beauty and hope in her beloved Palermo, just like life, survives. You can see it in the streets of the reborn city and in the faces of honest and well-meaning citizens.
This article has been republished by The Conversation, a non-profit news site aimed at sharing ideas from academic experts. Author: Robin Pickering-Iazzi, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee..
Robin Pickering-Iazzi does not work, consult, own shares, or receive funds for any company or organization that benefits from this article.