Showing posts with label Giuliano Amato. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Giuliano Amato. Show all posts

22 September 2018

Roberto Saviano - writer and journalist

Author of ‘Gomorrah’ who lives under police protection

Roberto Saviano has lived under police guard since writing his groundbreaking Mafia exposé, Gomorrah
Roberto Saviano has lived under police guard since
writing his groundbreaking Mafia exposé, Gomorrah
The author and journalist Roberto Saviano, whose 2006 book Gomorrah exposed the inner workings of the Camorra organised crime syndicate in his home city of Naples, was born on this day in 1979.

Gomorrah was an international bestseller that was turned into a film and inspired a TV series, bringing Saviano fame and wealth.

However, within six months of the book’s publication, Saviano had received so many threats to his life from within the Camorra that the decision was taken on the advice of former prime minister Giuliano Amato to place him under police protection.

Some 12 years later, he remains under 24-hour police guard.  He travels only in one of two bullet-proof cars, lives either in police barracks or obscure hotels and is encouraged never to remain in the same place for more than a few days. His protection team includes seven bodyguards.

Saviano has written three more books including a collection of his essays and Zero, Zero, Zero - an exposé of the cocaine trade. His latest, published this week, is called The Piranhas. Whereas Gomorrah and Zero, Zero, Zero were non-fiction, The Piranhas is a novel, though one set in Naples with the Camorra at the centre of the story.

Yet Saviano has complained that, although he has so far avoided being killed, he has no real life. In an interview with an English newspaper, he said that since he was placed under guard he has not boarded a train, ridden a Vespa, taken a stroll or gone out for a beer.  He has admitted that if he had known the consequences, he probably would not have written Gomorrah.

Born the son of a Naples doctor and a mother originally from Liguria, Saviano attended the University of Naples Federico II, where he obtained a degree in psychology.  He began his career in journalism in 2002, writing for numerous magazines and daily papers, including the Camorra monitoring unit of the Corriere del Mezzogiorno.

His inspiration for writing Gomorrah came from his own experiences in the province of Caserta, where he grew up, which witnessed a gang war as rival Camorra groups battled for control of territory.  Violence on the streets became an almost daily occurrence in full view of ordinary citizens, some of whom became victims themselves when, occasionally, an innocent person was mistaken for a target.

Saviano’s journalism meant that he became acquainted with workers in businesses run by the Camorra, and in time with messengers and look-outs who worked for the clan. He pored over court records, news reports and trial transcripts, eventually pulling together all his knowledge to write Gomorrah.

Roberto Saviano signing a copy of  one of his books
Roberto Saviano signing a copy of
one of his books
Its focus is city of Naples and the towns of Casal di Principe, San Cipriano d'Aversa, and the territory around Aversa known as the agro aversano.  It describes how criminal bosses lived in sumptuous villas while burying toxic waste in the surrounding countryside with no regard for the health of the local population, many of whom were protective of Camorra activities not only out of fear but of distrust of legitimate authorities.

Saviano revealed details of the System - as the Camorra refer to themselves - never before brought to the public domain. It is written in the style of dramatic fiction but describes events that, Saviano says, actually happened.

This is supported by the reaction of the Camorra, who felt the book revealed details that compromised their activities. The last straw was probably an anti-Mafia demonstration in Casal di Principe in September 2006, when Saviano publicly denounced the bosses of the Casalese clan, Francesco Bidognetti and Francesco Schiavone, both of whom were in prison, as well as the the two ruling bosses at the time, Antonio Iovine and Michele Zagaria, insulting them and calling on them to leave Italy.

After threats to Saviano and members of his family were investigated by the Naples police, Amato, then Minister for Interior Affairs, assigned Saviano a personal bodyguard and moved him from Naples to a secret location.

Saviano makes speaking engagements around the world,  campaigning against organised crime
Saviano makes speaking engagements around the world,
campaigning against organised crime
Two years later, after the informant Carmine Schiavone, cousin of Francesco Schiavone, revealed to the authorities that the clan had planned to eliminate Saviano and his police escort with a bomb under the motorway between Rome and Naples, Saviano announced his intention to leave Italy.

For obvious reasons, no one outside his immediate circle knows where he now lives. However, he makes public appearances at speaking engagements and is still writing regularly for many newspapers and magazines at home and abroad, including l'Espresso, la Repubblica in Italy, The Washington Post and The New York Times in the United States, Die Zeit and Der Spiegel in Germany, and The Times and The Guardian in the United Kingdom.

In 2008, six Nobel Prize winners  - Dario Fo, Mikhail Gorbachev, Günter Grass, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Orhan Pamuk and Desmond Tutu - launched a joint appeal to the Italian government to do more to defeat the Camorra and to support citizens such as Saviano in speaking out against them.

The incredible sloping watercourse is one of the features of the Royal Palace in Caserta
The incredible sloping watercourse is one of the features
of the Royal Palace in Caserta
Travel tip:

The biggest attraction for visitors to Caserta is the former Royal Palace - Reggia di Caserta - which is one of the largest palaces in Europe, built to rival the palace of Versailles outside Paris, which was the principal residence of the French royal family until the French Revolution of 1789. Constructed for the Bourbon kings of Naples, it was the largest palace and one of the largest buildings erected in Europe during the 18th century and has been described as "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque”.

A typical street scene in the Quartieri Spagnoli in the heart of Naples
A typical street scene in the Quartieri
Spagnoli in the heart of Naples
Travel tip:

The area that used to be seen as a notorious Camorra stronghold, the Quartieri Spagnoli - Spanish Quarters - to the north of Via Toledo, is now much less threatening. The area consists of a grid of around narrow 18 streets running south to north by 12 going east to west towards the harbour. It represents a flavour of old Naples, with lines of washing strung across the narrow streets and lively neighbourhood shops catering for the residents, who number about 14,000. Although it is a poor area blighted by high unemployment, the Camorra are less visible here now than in some of the city’s run-down suburbs. The area takes its name from its original purpose in the 16th century, which was to house Spanish garrisons, whose role was to quell revolts from the Neapolitan population.

More reading:

How the capture of Camorra boss Paolo di Lauro struck at the heart of crime in Naples

The Camorra bride who became a mob chieftain after avenging the death of her husband

Dario Fo - the playright who sought out corruption in high places

Also on this day:

1929: The birth of motorcycle world champion Carlo Ubbiati

1958: The birth of singer Andrea Bocelli


14 September 2018

Tiziano Terzani - journalist

Asia correspondent who covered wars in Vietnam and Cambodia

Tiziano Terzani spent 30 years working as a journalist in East Asia
Tiziano Terzani spent 30 years working
as a journalist in East Asia
The journalist and author Tiziano Terzani, who spent much of his working life in China, Japan and Southeast Asia and whose writing received critical acclaim both in his native Italy and elsewhere, was born on this day in 1938 in Florence.

He worked for more than 30 years for the German news magazine Der Spiegel, who took him on as Asia Correspondent in 1971, based in Singapore.

Although he wrote for other publications, including the Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, it was Der Spiegel who allowed him the freedom he craved. To a large extent he created his own news agenda but in doing so offered a unique slant on the major stories.

He was one of only a handful of western journalists who remained in Vietnam after the liberation of Saigon by the Viet Cong in 1975 and two years later, despite threats to his life, he reported from Phnom Penh in Cambodia after its capture by the Khmer Rouge.

He lived at different times in Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and New Delhi. His stay in China came to an end when he was arrested and expelled in 1984 for "counter-revolutionary activities".

By chance, in the summer of 1991, Terzani was on holiday in Siberia, exploring the region's boundary with China, when news of the coup against President Gorbachev reached him.

Terzani at first saw life in Asia as an  antidote to western capitalism
Terzani at first saw life in Asia as an
 antidote to western capitalism
Realising that the Russian empire was on the brink of collapse, he decided to stay in the country, embarking on a journey westwards that took him through Central Asia to the Caucasus, speaking to people about how they felt about what was happening and what they hoped for from the future. He wrote a book based on his experiences, Buonanotte, signor Lenin (Goodnight Mr Lenin), which was a bestseller.

Another book, another hit with Italian readers in particular, described how an encounter with a fortune teller in Hongkong persuaded Terzani to spend the whole of 1993 avoiding air travel - a huge challenge in a continent the size of Asia. Despite their scepticism, Der Spiegel again indulged him and for 12 months he travelled only by rail, road, on foot or by water.  It was a decision in which he felt vindicated when a helicopter he would have travelled on did indeed crash, as foreseen by his mystic soothsayer.

Terzani was born into a working-class family in Florence, a city he loved but at the same time despaired of for having allowed itself, in his eyes, to become an open-air museum, overrun with tourists.

Exceptionally intelligent - in time, he could speak five languages fluently - his teachers encouraged him to study law at the University of Pisa, where his room-mate was Giuliano Amato, a future Italian prime minister.

Tiziano Terzani, pictured on a visit to his homeland, Italy, in 2002
Tiziano Terzani, pictured on a visit
to his homeland, Italy, in 2002
After graduating, he worked for Olivetti, the office equipment manufacturer, in Japan and South Africa, enjoying the experience of being abroad but quickly becoming bored with the job. Interested in trying his hand at journalism, he sent a story to an Italian newspaper while working for Olivetti in Cape Town, about the assassination of Henrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid.

Terzani then decided to go to America, taking advantage of a Harkness scholarship to study Chinese at Stamford and Columbia universities, before returning to Italy and finding work with the daily newspaper, Il Giorno.  He found Italy’s news values to be too parochial, however, and after knocking on many doors in different countries across Europe at last found someone who would take him on and allow him to base himself in the part of the world he most wanted to explore.

Terzani’s fascination with Asia stemmed in part from his disillusionment with the capitalist west. Left-leaning in his politics, for a time he saw Asian communism as a kind of antidote.

He immersed himself in Asian culture, learning their languages, adopting their dress, melting into the crowd so that he could prowl about without attracting attention and grow to understand fully the countries and people about whom he was writing. In time, though, after his experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia and China, he came to realise that communism was no more an ideal than capitalism.

Terzani's book on the end of the Soviet  Union, Goodnight Mister Lenin
Terzani's book on the end of the Soviet
 Union, Goodnight Mister Lenin
Eventually, he decided the country and the people with whose values he would feel spiritually most at home was India, although the realisation coincided, unfortunately, with the discovery in 1997 that he was suffering from stomach cancer.

He was warned, initially, that he might have only a short time to live, but after treatment in the United States he survived, in the event, for seven years, finding the energy to carry on working and to campaign against western intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he visited after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Terzani remained in India, where he drew comfort from meditation and spending periods in isolation in the Himalayas, returning to Italy only towards the end of his life and spending his final days in Orsigna, a village in the Apennines, near Pistoia.  His book, Un altro giro di giostra (One More Ride on the Merry-Go-Round), which was in part about coming to terms with his illness, was another bestseller.

He died in 2004 and was survived by his wife Angela, whom he had met in Florence before moving to Singapore, and by his two children, Fulco and Saskia.

Piazza della Signoria - the Loggia dei Lanzi
Piazza della Signoria - the Loggia dei Lanzi
Travel tip:

Terzani’s description of Florence as a museum was thought to be a reference mostly to Piazza della Signoria, situated right in the heart of the city, close to the Duomo and the Uffizi Gallery, which is home to a series of important sculptures, including Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine Women and his Equestrian Monument of Cosimo I, Baccio Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus, the Medici Lions by Fancelli and Vacca, The Fountain of Neptune by Bartolemeo Ammannati, copies of Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes and Il Marzocco (the Lion), and the copy of Michelangelo’s David, at the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio.  Most days, summer and winter, will see the square thronged with tourists.

The mountain village of Orsigna, in the Apennines above Pistoia in Tuscany
The mountain village of Orsigna, in the Apennines
above Pistoia in Tuscany
Travel tip:

The village of Orsigna, close to the border of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna about 30km (19 miles) north of Pistoia, was once an important centre for timber cutting and sheep farming. It has been in decline in recent years, although a mill has recently been renovated, for the drying and milling of chestnuts for chestnut flour.  The village was used  for location shooting of a film about Tiziano Terzani , entitled La fine è il mio inizio (The End Is My Beginning), taken from his book of the same name. The church of Sant'Atanasio has some 19th century frescoes by the Pistoia painter Bartolomeo Valiani.

More reading:

How foreign correspondent Oriana Fallaci became one of Italy's most controversial journalists

How Enzo Biagi became the doyen of Italian political journalists

The story of pioneer war photographer Felice Beato

Also on this day:

1321: The death of the poet Dante Alighieri

1937: The birth of award-winning architect Renzo Piano