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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 November, 2004, 11:23 GMT
Law students take on the Mafia

By Tamsin Smith
BBC News, Rome

Marlon Brando in The Godfather
Films, books and music have led people to misunderstand the Mafia
A university lecture hall packed full before 11am is a rare sight.

But law students taking part in Italy's first Mafia studies course at Rome University fill the aisles and stairways.

"Can you believe it - 500 students have enrolled," says a surprised Professor Mario Trapani, one of the course directors at Rome University's law faculty.

"We never expected this many applications. This course is really the first of its kind in Italy."

A high profile panel of experts provide the first lesson.

The students listen, captivated, as a leading Sicilian magistrate from Palermo recounts gruesome details of how a Cosa Nostra Mafia boss disposed of one unfortunate teenager.

A global cartel

But the teaching goes far beyond Godfather stereotypes.

It sets out to explore and explain the very roots of organised crime and the complex web of economic, social and political factors that nourish Italy's most notorious criminal network.

Martina, a Mafia studies student
I know I am part of a future generation that can fight this. I want to work as an anti-Mafia lawyer even though it's a tough life choice.
Martina, 21
Mafia studies student
"There simply isn't enough knowledge about how the Mafia is structured and how it operates. Only people who see it in action really know," says Doctor Pierluigi Vigna, Italy's chief anti-Mafia prosecutor.

"We will use real legal cases to discuss and explain the issues because this is one of Italy's most real problems.

"By bringing this knowledge into the university, we are also hoping that new ideas will be generated to help tackle Mafia."

Students will learn about the very different types of Mafia networks that exist in Italy: the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, La Camorra in Campania, La Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia and the Ndrangheta in Calabria - which investigators say is now the most powerful.

They will also examine involvement with Russian, Chinese and Albanian mafia gangs.

"The problem with the Italian Mafia today is that it's like any good business which has made the most of globalisation and transnational mergers," says Senator Roberto Centaro, president of the Italian parliament's anti-Mafia commission.

"Even though we have made huge progress in our fight against it, the problem is that it is so engrained it is preventing healthy economic growth."

Understanding the mafia

In the university hall there are no yawns or early exits, just applause at the end of every lecture.

"This is a great chance to learn more about the Mafia," says Alberto, a law student. "I find it really interesting."

Palermo, Sicily
In the south of Italy the Mafia is part of the fabric of society
Many students choose to study the course because of strong personal convictions.

"My father lived and worked in Calabria in the south of Italy and I saw how the Mafia affected every aspect of his life, from buying a car to renting a house," says 23-year-old Alessandro.

"Understanding the Mafia is the best way to understand Italy and taking part in this course is like paying a tribute to my country and its problems."

Petra, from Sicily, feels the same way.

"We talk a lot about Mafia at home but I think people need to know more," says Petra, who is not sure that she actually wants a career fighting the Mafia.

"I want to become a lawyer but not an anti-mafia lawyer because it's too dangerous."

Martina, 21, disagrees: "I know I am part of the future generation of important people who can fight this. I definitely want to work as an anti-Mafia lawyer even though it's a tough life choice."

The Mafia has inspired books, films and music but now there are high hopes that the first course in Mafia studies will inspire a new generation of committed lawmakers.

"This course signals the start of better understanding of how we legislate against the Mafia," says Senator Centaro, pointing at the packed lecture hall.

"And these young people are the lawyers, judges, policemen and women of the future. We are looking to them."

Andreotti cleared of Mafia ties
15 Oct 04 |  Europe
Italy launches anti-mafia raids
22 Sep 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Italy
13 Oct 04 |  Country profiles

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