Anti-Mafia fight starts at school: Palermo education chief campaigns for end to 'string-pulling' to pass exams

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The Independent Online
AFTER days of demonstrations and commemorations for the first anniversary of the murder of the anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, the question remains: how to root the Mafia out of Sicilian society. And Mario Barreca, Palermo's chief education officer, has appealed to schoolchildren: start with your own lives, stop pulling strings to get good exam marks.

He has circulated a letter to sixth-formers who are facing the Maturita, the school-leaving examination, and many of whom demonstrated against the Mafia. 'We have begun this school year with a march against the Mafia and for the rule of law . . . the moment has come now to do one's own small part. Therefore I ask you not to pull strings this year. Do not let your parents do it. Let us all show that customs are changing.' He promised he would throw away any raccomandazioni (letters of introduction) he received. 'My wastepaper basket is ready.'

'It is easy to take part in a march, much more difficult to be consistent when one is affected personally,' he explained later. He also appealed to teachers to set an example by not 'going sick' so as to avoid the hated task of sitting on examination boards, often far away from their own home towns.

The system of raccomandazioni is viewed in southern Italy, and particularly Palermo, as the only way to get anything one wants out of public bodies, and is part of the general law-dodging mentality that has bred the Mafia.

Luciano Campagna, a teacher who is often on examining boards in Sicily, said the practice is a nightmare for examiners. Every year his mother, who lives in Sicily, 'is deluged by string-pulling phone calls from friends and acquaintances'.

Practically every scholar mobilises some sponsor or other, whether a politician, an under- secretary, distant relative, friend of the teacher or simply a parish priest. Examiners usually promise to do their best, if only to avoid trouble. For a 'no' can bring unpleasant reprisals. 'My wife and I have been woken up many times in the middle of the night by abusive phone calls.' It is usually all a waste of time, he added. 'In fact it almost never affects the final results.'

The national association of driving examiners is demanding four-door cars for tests - so they can escape when candidates they have failed try to beat them up. The candidates are usually accompanied, and sometimes assisted in the punch-up, by their instructors while the examiners sit in the back.