Roberto Saviano (Italian: [roˈbɛrto saˈvjano]; Naples, September 22, 1979) is an Italian journalist, writer and essayist. He is the author of international bestsellers Gomorrah and ZeroZeroZero. He is the creator of the TV series Gomorrah.
In his writings and television programs, Saviano has primarily dealt with the culture and activities of organized crime with a specific focus on the Camorra crime syndicate of Italy. In 2006 he received death threats from the Casalese clan, a Camorran cartel, which he had denounced in an exposé and in the piazza of Casal di Principe during a demonstration, Saviano was placed under police protection - a state of affairs that has stood since October 13, 2006.
He has written for numerous prominent Italian and international newspapers. Currently he writes for the Italian publications l'Espresso and la Repubblica. Internationally, his writings have appeared in the United States with The Washington Post, The New York Times, Newsweek and Time; in Spain with El Pais; in Germany with Die Zeit and Der Spiegel; in Sweden with Expressen; and in the United Kingdom with The Times and The Guardian.
His investigations and defiance in the face of threats on his life have drawn praise from many important writers and other cultural figures, such as Umberto Eco.
In 2015 he launched his own website, RSO (Roberto Saviano Online).
Roberto Saviano was born in Naples on September 22, 1979. Son of Luigi Saviano, a Neapolitan doctor, and Miriam Haftar, of Jewish origins, he grew up in Caserta. Roberto Saviano received his high school diploma from the State Scientific High School "Armando Diaz" and then graduated in Philosophy from the University of Naples Federico II, where he was the student of historian Francesco Barbagallo. He began his career in journalism in 2002, writing for numerous magazines and daily papers, including Pulp, Diario, Sud, Il manifesto, the website Nazione Indiana, and for the Camorra monitoring unit of the Corriere del Mezzogiorno. His articles at the time are already important enough to spur judicial authorities at the beginning of 2005 to listen to him regarding organized crime. He can be found in various anthologies such as Best Off. Il meglio delle riviste letterarie italiane (2005) and Napoli comincia a Scampia (2005). In the periodical 'Roberto Saviano' published by Feltrinelli (publisher), Saviano published a piece dedicated to Enzo Baldoni in which he declares, among other things, "I am an atheist."
His writing is influenced by anti-fascist thinkers such as Giustino Fortunato, Gaetano Salvemini, by the anarchists Errico Malatesta and Mikhail Bakunin, and by the poet Rocco Scotellaro. Additionally, he has said that his educational background includes "many authors recognized by traditional and conservative culture as Ernst Jünger, Ezra Pound, Louis Ferdinand Celine, Carl Schmitt and Julius Evola, whom he often reads.
In March 2006, he published Gomorrah. He is the author, along with Mario Gelardi, of a theatrical work of the same name and is a screenwriter for Gomorrah (film), the movie drawn from his novel.
In 2006, following the success of the non-fiction Gomorra (Gomorrah in English), which denounces the activities of the Camorra, Saviano received ominous threats. These have been confirmed by police informants and reports that have revealed attempts on Saviano's life, by the Casalesi clan. Investigators have claimed the Camorra selected Casalesi clan boss Giuseppe Setola to kill Saviano over the book, although the alleged hit never occurred.
After the Neapolitan Police investigations, the Italian Minister for Interior Affairs Giuliano Amato assigned a personal bodyguard and transferred Saviano from Naples. In autumn 2008, the informant Carmine Schiavone, cousin of the imprisoned Casalesi clan boss Francesco Schiavone, revealed to the authorities that the clan had planned to eliminate Saviano and his police escort by Christmas on the motorway between Rome and Naples with a bomb; in the same period, Saviano announced his intention to leave Italy, in order to stop having to live as a convict and reclaim his life.
On October 20, 2008, six Nobel Prize-awarded authors and intellectuals (Orhan Pamuk, Dario Fo, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Desmond Tutu, Günter Grass, and Mikhail Gorbachev) published an article saying that they side with Saviano against Camorra, and they think that Camorra is not just a problem of security and public order, but also a democratic one. They also think that the Italian government must protect his life, and help Saviano in having a normal life. Signatures were collected on the web site of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
On December 10, 2009, in the presence of Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo, Saviano received the title of Honorary Member of the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera and the Second Level Academic Diploma in Communication and Art Teaching Honoris Causa, the highest recognition by the Brera Academy equivalent to a postgraduate degree. Saviano dedicated the awards to the people from the south of Italy living in Milan.
Saviano contributed an op-ed piece to the January 24, 2010 issue of the New York Times entitled, "Italy's African Heroes". He wrote about the January 2010 riots between African immigrants and Italians in Rosarno, a town in Calabria. Saviano suggests that the Africans' rioting was more of a response to their exploitation by the 'Ndrangheta, or Calabrian mafia, than to the hostility of Italians.
In November 2010, he hosted, along with Fabio Fazio, the Italian television program "Vieni via con me", which was broadcast over four weeks by Rai 3.
On January 22, 2011, the University of Genoa awarded him a bachelor's degree honoris causa in law "for the important contribution to the fight against crime and to the defense of legality in our country". Saviano dedicated the honor to the judges of Milan's district attorney office who were investigating Rubygate. This led to the controversy with Marina Berlusconi, daughter of Silvio Berlusconi and president of the publishing house Arnoldo Mondadori Editore.
His book ZeroZeroZero, was published by Feltrinelli in 2013, and the English translation was published by Penguin Random House in July, 2015. This book is a study of the business around the drug cocaine, covering its movement across continents and the role of drug money in international finance.
Saviano began "with a story imitating Tommaso Landolfi and sent it to Goffredo Fofi, who made it clear that, although he wrote well for his age, he was writing 'crap.' 'The postmark told me where you're from,' he told him, 'write about your area.'" Saviano owes a lot to writers like Fofi and Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, writers whom he defines as "fighters," or masters who use the pen as a weapon.
In March 2006, his first book, Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System, was published as part of Mondadori's Strade Blu series. It is a journey into the business and criminal world of the Camorra and of the places where the organization was born and lives: the region of Campania, the city of Naples, the towns of Casal di Principe, San Cipriano d'Aversa, and the territory around Aversa known as the agro aversano. Having grown up there, the author introduces the reader to a reality that is unknown to outsiders. The book talks about criminal bosses' sumptuous villas copied from Hollywood films; rural lands filled with the toxic waste of half of Europe; a population that not only cohabitates with this organized crime but even protects it and approves of its actions. Therefore, the author writes about a System (this is the real name used to refer to the Camorra) that attracts new recruits before adolescence, making them believe that theirs is the only possible life choice; about baby-bosses who are convinced that the only way to die like a real man is to be killed; and about a criminal phenomenon influenced by media spectacle, in which bosses base their clothes and movements on film stars.
As of August 2009, the book had sold 2.5 million copies in Italy alone and was translated in 52 countries. In the rest of the world, about 2 million copes of Gomorrah were sold. It was present in the bestseller lists in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Albania, Israel, Lebanon, and Austria.
A stage show was based on Gomorrah, which earned Saviano the best actor of a new Italian play at the Olimpici del Teatro/Theater Olympics in 2008. A film of the same name, Gomorrah, directed by Matteo Garrone, was also based on the book; it won the prestigious Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008. In 2009 the film won the Tonino Guerra Prize for best script at the Bari International Film Festival (BIF&ST).
Later on, a television show titled Gomorrah (TV series) was produced by Sky Italia, Fandango, Cattleya, Beta Film and LA7, under the supervision of Saviano and the direction of Stefano Sollima (previously the director of the acclaimed series Romanzo criminale), Francesca Comencini, and Claudio Cupellini. The series, composed of twelve episodes, aired on the channel Sky Atlantica starting on May 6, 2014, and was then broadcast on Rai 3 on Saturdays in the late evening in January and February 2015. After the first season's success, production for the second season was announced; filming began in April 2015.
Threats and life under police protection
The success of his book created numerous problems for Saviano, starting with threatening letters, silent phone calls, and, above all, a sort of environmental isolation.
During a demonstration for legality in Casal di Principe on September 23, 2006, the writer denounced the business of the bosses of the Casalese clan: Francesco Bidognetti, Francesco Schiavone (currently in prison), and the two ruling bosses at the time, Antonio Iovine and Michele Zagaria. He addressed them in fiery tones ("You are not from this land! Quit being part of this land!) and invited residents to rebel. Because of the threats and intimidations Saviano endured, the then Minister of the Interior, Giuliano Amato, decided to assign police protection to the writer beginning on October 13, 2006. (Saviano was returning from Pordenone where he had been promoting Gomorrah).
On March 14, 2008, during the Spartacus Trial, the attorney for Casalese bosses Francesco Bidognetti and Antonio Iovine, Michele Santonastaso (assisted by Carmine D'Aniello), read a letter written jointly by Bidognetti and Iovine (while both were in prison) to the president of the First Section of the Appellate Court of Assizes, Raimondo Romeres. The letter contained a request to move the trial due to legittima suspicione, or doubt surrounding the impartiality of the judicial body, caused by the alleged influence of Roberto Saviano, Rosaria Capacchione and the district attorneys Federico Cafiero de Raho and Raffaele Cantone on the judges. Following the letter, the Minister of the Interior decided to strengthen the security measures for the writer, increasing his police escort from three to five men. The bosses, Francesco Bidognetti and Antonio Iovine, and their attorneys, Michele Santonastaso and Carmine D'Aniello, were charged with intimidation for "mafia purposes" of Saviano and Capacchione (the case against the alleged threats of the magistrates were taken up in Rome). Before the third criminal section of the Court of Naples, the Assistant Prosecutor of the District Anti-Mafia Directorate (DDA), Antonello Ardituro, requested conviction: one year and six months of prison, the maximum sentence, for boss Francesco Bidognetti and attorneys Michele Santonastaso and Carmine D'Aniello. (Acquittal due to insufficient proof was requested for the other boss, Antonio Iovine). The attorney general for Reggio Calabria, Federico Cafiero de Raho, testified during the trial that Saviano was a "mortal enemy of the clan" and recalled that Saviano was among the few journalists present at all 52 of the prosecutor's closing speeches for the Spartacus Trial.
On October 14, 2008, there is news of a possible assassination attempt on Roberto Saviano. A police inspector of the Anti-Mafia Investigation Department (DIA) of Milan informed the District Anti-Mafia Directorate (DDA) that the pentito, Carmine Schiavone (cousin of boss Francesco Schiavone, aka Sandokan), had informed him of a plan, already in operation, to kill the writer and his bodyguards before Christmas through a spectacular attack on the highway between Rome and Naples in the style of Capaci. Yet, when interrogated by magistrates, Carmine Schiavone denied knowing about a plan hatched by the Casalesi to kill Saviano, provoking the writer's immediate response: "It's obvious that he'd say this; if he were to talk [about the plan], it would mean implicitly admitting to still having connections with organized crime". In the end the district attorney heading the investigation requested and obtained dismissal of the case after the news was revealed to be unfounded. Carmine Schiavone denied knowing anything about the attack but confirmed that Saviano was condemned to death by the Casalese clan.
In October 2008, Roberto Saviano decided to leave Italy "at least for some time and then we'll see", also as a result of threats, which were confirmed by reports and statements from informants, revealing the Casalese clan's plan to eliminate him.
The appeal from Nobel Prize winners
On October 20, 2008, six international Nobel Prize winners - Dario Fo, Mikhail Gorbachev, Günter Grass, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Orhan Pamuk, and Desmond Tutu - rallied in support of Roberto Saviano, asking the Italian government to do something to protect him and to defeat the Camorra and emphasizing the fact that organized crime is not merely a problem for police that only concerns the writer, but is a problem for democracy that concerns all free citizens. The appeal of the six Nobel laureates concludes that these citizens cannot tolerate the fact that the events described in Saviano's book are taking place in 2008 in Europe, just as they can't tolerate that the price one pays for denouncing these events means losing one's freedom and safety.
The appeal was signed by writers such as Jonathan Franzen, Javier Marías, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jonathan Lethem, Martin Amis, Chuck Palahniuk, Nathan Englander, Ian McEwan, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, José Saramago, Elfriede Jelinek, Wislawa Szymborska, Betty Williams, Lech Wałęsa, Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Peter Schneider, Colum McCann, Patrick McGrath, Cathleen Shine, Junot Diaz, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Taslima Nasreen, Caro Llewelyn, Ingrid Betancourt, Adam Michnik and Claudio Magris. Foreign media—from El Pais to Le Nouvel Observateur and from Courrier International to Al Arabiya and CNN—also spread the initiative.
After the initiative, various radio stations opened their microphones to debates and comments on the subject. The program Fahrenheit on Italy's Rai Radio 3 organized a marathon reading of Gomorrah in which celebrities from the world of culture, news, theater, and civil society participated. Numerous Italian cities also offered honorary citizenship to the writer, while many schools subscribed to the appeal. The Casa della Memoria e della Storia ("House of Memory and History") in Rome hosted an eight-hour choral reading of Gomorrah.
In addition to the signatures of the six prominent figures, normal citizens were able to sign the appeal on a special page created by the newspaper La Repubblica. More than 250,000 signatures were collected.
In 2013 Saviano and the Arnoldo Mondadori Editore publishing house were sentenced for plagiarism on appeal. The Appeals Court of Naples recognized that some pages of Gomorrah (0.6% of the entire book) were the results of an illicit reproduction of some lines from two articles from local daily papers, Cronache di Napoli and Corriere di Caserta. Therefore, it partially modified the sentence from the first-degree court in which the court had rejected the accusations made by the two newspapers and had, instead, condemned them to pay damages for having "abusively reproduced" two of Saviano's articles (this sentence was confirmed in the appeal). In the appeal, the writer and Mondadori were ordered to jointly pay reparations for property and other damages of 60 thousand euros plus a portion of legal costs. The writer appealed the ruling at the Court of Cassation, and the Supreme Court partially confirmed the sentence of the Appeals Court, but called for a reconsideration of the damages, evaluating 60 thousand euros to be an excessive sum for newspaper articles with a very limited readership. The Supreme Court did not agree with Saviano's appeal, rejecting almost all of the findings and largely confirming the basic structure of the Appeals Court's sentence.
In September 2015, journalist Michael C. Moynihan wrote an article for The Daily Beast, criticizing ZeroZeroZero and accusing Saviano of having used sections of text, including from Wikipedia, without citing his sources. In an article for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Saviano demonstrated how the passages from ZeroZeroZero and the presumed sources identified by Moynihan were manipulated in order to appear similar. The English newspaper The Guardian reported on the controversy with an article entitled "Roberto Saviano dismisses plagiarism claims over latest book" in which Saviano says, "I'm not a journalist (or a reporter), but, rather, a writer, and I recount real facts." Saviano adds that "Interpretations and theories have a provenance, not mere facts: those belong to all, to those who recount them and to those who read them, making them their own".
Among the various public personalities who have expressed their support of Roberto Saviano (Fabio Fazio, Gianni Riotta, Chiara Valerio, Francesca Borri, Stefano Piedimonte), the then editor in chief of La Repubblica, Ezio Mauro, appeared in a video on the paper's website on September 28, 2015, to give his contribution to the "Saviano case." He repeated that "the facts of the news are available to all" and spoke about the "typical iconoclasm toward famous people who have constructed success and visibility based on their own hard work and studies." He continued by saying, "Saviano is paying for having an enormous following and, above all, for the fact that he hasn't remained comfortably in cultural obscurity".
Awards and honors
- 2011 PEN/Pinter Prize
- 2011 Olof Palme Prize together with Lydia Cacho.
- "2011 – Lydia Cacho och Roberto Saviano". Olof Palmes minnesfond. January 23, 2012. Retrieved January 23, 2012.