The mafia T-shirt you can't refuse

Mafia merchandising wars have broken out in Sicily over the burgeoning fashion for Cosa Nostra T-shirts - popular since the arrest of mafia godfather Bernardo Provenzano.

Mafia merchandising wars have broken out in Sicily over the burgeoning fashion for Cosa Nostra T-shirts - popular since the arrest of mafia godfather Bernardo Provenzano. Shops in Palermo are doing brisk business selling the clothing, which plays on the island's notorious links with organised crime. One of the best sellers is a black T-shirt that proudly states 'Mafia - Made in Italy'.

But the Sicilian authorities, waging a high-profile battle against the crime syndicate, have not seen the funny side and are trying to clamp down. Last week they authorised the issue of T-shirts proclaiming 'La Mafia fa Schifo' (The Mafia is Disgusting).

The anti-mob logo is being given free to any company that wants to put the message on merchandise, as long as a portion of sales goes to charity. Launching the initiative, Sicily's governor Salvatore Cuffaro said it was irresponsible to glorify organised crime and the authorities wanted to disabuse people of any idea that the mafia was glamorous. Ironically, Cuffaro is facing charges of aiding and abetting the mafia. He is accused of warning a mobster that his conversation was being recorded by police. Cuffaro has denied wrongdoing.

Cosa Nostra T-shirts have been available for some time, but sales boomed after the arrest of 73-year-old Provenzano in April. He was found hiding in a shepherd's hut in Corleone after 42 years and seven months on the run.

T-shirts are a harmless way to make cash out of one of Sicily's negative stereotypes, according to shopkeepers such as Giovanni Ceraulo of the Prima Visione chain in Palermo. 'We have been selling them since the start of May and they've been going really well,' he said. 'On average we sell 10 a day, even though the price of €32 is quite high.'

Some politicians who take another view plan a formal request to the authorities to ban the shirts from shops. Any ban is likely to be ineffective, since mafia clothing and other souvenirs can be bought on the internet.


Barbara McMahon in Rome

The GuardianTramp

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