Not pizza, that’s something completely different, although originating from the same country.
Pizzo, in Italian, means something like “a birds beak.” A birds beak is something that dips in and out of many things. It also means paying a tax to the Mafia, a mafioso will dip into many shops and business’ to take his money.
In Sicily, traditionally a Mafia stronghold, there is a movement amongst business to resist paying it. There had been efforts before but due to lack of support from the business community and the authorities, they have generally failed and with dire consequences for those who tried. Libero Grassi was a Palerman businessman who wrote an open letter in the Giornale di Sicilia entitled “Dear Extortionist.” He wrote the letter in January 91, refusing to pay his “taxes” any longer and in August the same year he was shot dead in the street.
This, understandably, calmed the ardour somewhat but in 2004 five young graduates, having been told by the bank that they hadn’t factored in the pizzo in their business plan for a bar, decided to try again.
They founded a movement called “AddioPizzo” goodbye pizzo, designed a logo and tried to get business to sign up to their cause. Initially all was done anonymously, aided enormously by the widow of Libero Grassi and slowly the movement grew. They placed posters all over the city, including on the mayor’s door, saying “a whole people that pay the pizzo is a people without dignity.”
If you consider that in 2008, a study estimated that the Mafia extorted over 160 million euros just in Palermo, with Sicily as a whole paying 10 times that amount, a tiny movement wouldn’t seem to be worth the bother but near the start of the campaign, a businessman refused to pay pizzo when the mafioso came knocking. In the morning he found that the exact amount of money had been taken from his till, the rest of his money had been placed in a bag outside and his factory burned to the ground. In the first show of public unity against pizzo in living memory, the mayor found another factory for the company to use rent free, and donations of time, money and equipment came in from all over the city and wider.
In the same year two Sicilians set up the first pizzo free supermarket in the old centre of Palermo. Expecting the usual threats of bullets in the post and severed animal heads on the door, they only took goods from suppliers who, like them, refuse to pay pizzo. They also sell organic wine and olive oil, grown, ironically, on estates confiscated from the mafia. They received no threats at all and many Palermans will drive a long way to do their weekly shop there.
There are now around 800 business’ in Palermo that refuse to pay pizzo. If you go on holiday you can download an app which allows you to find tour companies and hotels that refuse to pay it and a quick look before entering any shop will show you if the logo above is on the door, allowing you to make your own decision. It is whispered that there is a tacit agreement by the police that they will look after the addiopizzo shops and a phone conversation between two top mafia men was apparently recorded by the police in which one urged the other to leave them alone as the movement was becoming too powerful.
There will soon be another business refusing to pay. This shop is in the centre of the city, awaiting its opening. Each country flag has an explanation in that language written next to it, which explains, in very colourful language, that the only taxes to be paid will be to the Italian government.
In a place where Mafia rule has been a way of life for generations, Addiopizzo is a true breath of fresh air, is growing from strength to strength and is being seen by the authorities as being the beginning of the end of organised extortion on the island. The five young men finally didn’t open their bar, but the legacy of their movement will arguably live far longer than anything they would have left from a drinking establishment.