The lost generation of Naples

A couple of weeks ago it became clear that the children of Naples thought that the camorra, the network of strong local mafia clans, were something like the police – a protection force. Indications enough already that a new generation of Neapolitans are growing up with a completely warped vision of the world. But it gets worse still.

After an inhabitant of one of the local Roma (“Gypsy”) encampments in and around Ponticelli (a suburb of Naples) was arrested for the attempted kidnapping of an infant, a full blown revolt broke out and camps were burned to the ground. Let me be clear about this: there is no proof at all that the burglar wanted to kidnap the baby – but it’s an old story about Roma. When you or I break in, we’re burglars. When a Rom does so, it is assumed he wants to steal a kid. And this time the mob had their way before any judge could even begin an inquest. Thankfully, noone was hurt – physically.

Drawing by a kid in NaplesAnd today, drawings the kids of Ponticelli made in school came to the surface. They show the fathers and mothers of these 9 to 11 year olds, holding Molotov cocktails and throwing them at the Roma settlements. “Us Neapolitans have done well to hunt them off”, they said, “and to do that we had to burn down their camps.” Among the people applauding the subsequent exodus of the nomads, their meagre posessions packed in little three-wheeler trucks, were the children of those responsible for this action which smacked heavily of a pogrom.

There is, at least to these kids, no law in Naples. The police, if present at all, is looked at with hostile suspicion and the local camorra, responsible for so many of their beautiful city’s ills, is their friend and protector. And when there’s a problem, mob justice is the right answer.

One of the election promises of Berlusconi was that he would resolve the camorra-induced trash crisis in the city – with trash sometimes reaching up to three meters high in the streets. He might pull it off, although I doubt that he will find more than a temporary solution. The next generation of camorristi is watching and learning and aspiring to be just like mom or dad. Like we were when we were that age.



  1. This is a too pessimistic view. Many mothers of those kids try their best to keep their offspring outside ‘the mob’. The same is the case in Sicily, where mothers have some success in persuading their boys to go to school and get a decent job. Of course this is not enough. Mafia you can find in any place in the world — I don’t have to mention Holland. And Italy is worse because many politicians are heavily involved too. To fight the mafia, Mussolini perceived, fight them with their own means and give their people a sensible alternative — which in the case of Mussolini of course was that of a rival kind of mafia. (Not to speak of the fact that the e.g. the Sicilian mafia bettween the world wars was something completely different from what it is now.)

  2. Sante, Naples is not Sicily. There are no anti mafia demonstrations in Naples. When they enter the narrow streets, Neapolitan police and carabinieri run the risk of being pelted with trash from above. Neapolitans turn their back on any officialdom.
    Of course there is hope – Naples brought us Roberto Saviamo for example, the man who wrote Gomorra. But that’s a very small glimmer of hope indeed.

  3. […] De kinderen van Ponticelli vonden dat ze dat goed gedaan hadden, het platbranden van dat kamp. Die negen- tot elfjarige jongens en meisjes – die thuis hadden moeten spelen – stonden erbij, keken er naar en moedigden hun ouders aan. Ik noemde hen destijds de verloren generatie van Napels. […]

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