Carter Lowe Creator, entrepreneur, and self-care advocate
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The Russian mafia is not like Cosa Nostra.

From the point of view of historical origin, the Russian mafia and the Sicilian mafia are two completely different phenomena.

In Sicily, in the near future, a master's program in Mafia Psychology will be established, which will study various aspects of mafia personalities and their social and other relationships with each other and with the outside world. An expert on mafia-type organized crime, author of numerous books on mafia structures in Italy, an expert on the role of women in everyday life Cosa Nostra, professor Legal Sociology of the Italian University of Palermo Alessandra Dino.

- Why suddenly psychology?

- I immediately want to place the right accents. I do not agree with my fellow psychologists who sometimes say that the mafiosi is characterized by a special type of personality. This is dangerous, because in such a context, the mafia personality begins to be perceived as a “deviation” from the norm, and the mafiosi themselves as sick. Mafiosi do not suffer from special pathologies that explain their belonging to the clan. And there is no scientific evidence to support the contrary. Moreover, many of the characteristics inherent in the mafia are also inherent in other people. For example, nepotism or the role of the clan - an important role of kinship relations that go ahead of any other social or human relations, can be found not only outside of Palermo, but also outside of Italy. The internal totalitarianism inherent in Cosa Nostra, the code of honor, and male chauvinism are also characteristic of other groups.

It is very difficult to single out one feature that Cosa Nostra would have that no other criminal organization would have. These traits are characteristic of certain social groups, and the mafia only elevated them to the rank of official rules, but they did not invent them. So I reject this interpretation of the concept of "mafia psychology". In no case should the mafia be taken outside the framework of the “normal world”. I am convinced that mafiosi are completely normal people, and the mafia should be approached exclusively as a phenomenon of a criminal nature. This organization was created for the personal enrichment of its members and for political control over the territory, which is the source of this enrichment. In order to become a part of such an organization, one does not need to have a certain type of personality, but one must share common goals, as well as the rules inherent in this organization.

At the same time, if we talk about mafia culture, about the system of rules that are created by the mafia for survival and that become part of the life of its members, become their own rules, then here we can really find serious differences from ordinary people. However, I emphasize once again that at first there is an accession to the structure, which requires the adoption of certain rules that will operate 24 hours a day. This is not just a set of rules, it is an approach to life, a special interpretation of what is happening around, this is a special way of building relationships. It determines what place in life is played by feelings, the opposite sex, friends, religion, etc. However, I believe that this is more of a cultural dimension than a psychological one. Otherwise, it is very difficult to explain how a killer and a head of state or a doctor belong to the same organization. I spoke with many people who were part of Cosa Nostra, and they were all very different.

- That is, you should not compare mafiosi with psychopaths, although both of them do not feel any remorse about the murders they committed, or with religious fanatics who commit certain acts for the name of the great goal?

- No. Religion for mafiosi is not a system of beliefs, it is a traditional element of society within which they find justification for what they do. They do not act for the sake of God, not in the name of God, but they use faith in order to wash away the dirt from their deeds, to calm their conscience. Mafiosi are engaged in drug trafficking, illegal sale of weapons, trafficking in toxic waste, and, as you understand, religion has nothing to do with these activities.

On the subject of pathology, of course, mafiosi are not psychopaths. However, I would like to note that in the process of studying the behavior of mafiosi, we encountered certain reactions that are difficult to understand for a normal person. I will give an example of a conversation with one former mafia who told me that when he was a killer, he went to church and calmly prayed, but when he decided to start cooperating with the authorities, he could no longer pray, because he felt like a traitor. Another mobster told me that he had killed more than thirty people, and when I asked him if he felt guilty about this, he told me no, because he was not paid for murders, he killed because he believed that it is only right that these people did not deserve the right to live. Another one told me about his uncle, who calmly killed people like cattle, and then went to the graves of the people he killed and prayed for their repose. Another mafioso, answering the investigator's question about how he felt killing people, asked him to imagine that a war had begun between Italy and Yugoslavia, and the investigator was sent to the front. The mafiosi asked who would the law enforcement officer consider himself in this case - a hero or a criminal? And after that he said that the mafia at that moment was at war with the Italian state, which means that he is a hero and should not have remorse. How can this train of thought be explained?

I, as a sociologist, believe that the explanation is the so-called "techniques of neutralization or rationalization", in other words, a way to give a normal explanation for the abnormal behavior that is adopted by all mafiosi. If you, being a normal person, don't have an explanation for the abnormal things you've done, you'll go crazy. And here the mafia has very successfully put into use psychological and sociological mechanisms that help to cope with this burden. We have a whole group of people who commit the same inhuman acts and justify each other.

Curious is the fact that mafiosi living in the wild never go to sessions with a psychotherapist. Wives go to the psychotherapist, children - those people who did not decide to become part of the mafia, did not decide to accept the rules of the mafia as their own, and on whom these decisions were imposed. These people live in conditions of the most difficult internal struggle, because they cannot find an excuse for what they see and know. Until they also find a way to neutralize reality, find an explanation. So, talking with the wife of a mafioso who was involved in the murder of Judge Falcone, I asked her what she experienced when it became known to everyone that her husband was a killer. She answered me that she had not experienced anything, because even if her husband was a killer, he always treated her well, was affectionate and did nothing wrong to her. Wives deny reality, lie not in order to avoid public shame, but in order not to go crazy. Because it is very difficult to find an explanation for how you could live with a killer, give him children, take care of him, love him. This behavior is the result of many years of internal suffering and contradictions. These women know everything, they are the ones who hide the weapons, wash the blood off their clothes, but, on the one hand, they pretend that they do not understand what is happening and try to find an excuse for the behavior of their husbands.

- Could you compare the Russian mafia and the Sicilian?

- From the point of view of historical origin, the Russian mafia and the Sicilian mafia are two completely different phenomena. The main role here is played by the connection with the territory. The Russian mafia is more like the American mafia, it is a mafia-enterprise, a mafia-company that does business on a large scale. Here the main role is played by the scale of revenue, and not control over a particular territory and the population that lives on it. The Russian mafia is called the mafia because it uses mafia methods, but it does not have a cultural and historical tradition that would make it look like the Cosa Nostra. Rituals, family ties, territory, religion do not have the same meaning for the Russian mafia as they do here in Sicily. The Russian mafia will not go to the kiosk at the bus stop and demand from him a monthly tribute in exchange for patronage. For Russian mafiosi, this is nonsense, a waste of time. The Russian mafia has a transnational character.

Unlike Cosa Nostra, which is a source of identity for its members, the Russian mafia has weaker ties inside, which means that it is easier to get out of it than from the Sicilian mafia. The Sicilian mafiosi who left Cosa Nostra are going through a huge identity crisis, they don't know who they are without her, and I know this from personal conversations. As a result, many come back.

I believe that in the Russian case this is not the case and it is much easier to leave a criminal group from a psychological point of view. Of course, the threat to life always remains, but there is no identity crisis. The Russian mafia is united by the ultimate goal - enrichment, while within the traditional mafia there are much deeper relationships. Another feature of the Russian mafia is ostentatiousness, ostentation of wealth, acquisition of restaurants, etc., which is simply unthinkable in Sicily. Everyone is trying, on the contrary, to hide the loot. This is again due to the fact that the Sicilian and Calabrian mafias are also trying to gain political power, and therefore it is necessary to mask illegal activities.


Interviewed by Julia Netesova