Frontline World

Sicily - A Bridge Too Far? , April 2004
a FRONTLINE/World Fellows project
Nino Calarco
The Strait
Il Postino
Nino Calarco
Anna Giordano
No Dolce Vita
The honorary president of Stretto di Messina, the company created by the government to build the Messina bridge, has made it clear that he won't let naysayers interfere with his vision.

Nino Calarco made international headlines last year with his response to concerns that the Messina bridge would become a major Mafia project.

"If the Mafia was able to build the bridge, welcome the Mafia," he told a journalist working for the investigative television program Sciuscia.

Nino Calarco

Nino Calarco says the bridge will bring jobs and progress to Sicily and the rest of the Mezzogiorno (southern Italy), considered to be the least developed regions of Italy.
His comment infuriated Sicilians and anti-Mafia activists, who have since demanded that his company carefully investigate any contractors working on the bridge to make sure they don't have ties to organized crime.

To try to find out more about the bridge's possible Mafia connections, I set up a meeting with Calarco. But interviewing him was not easy.

Almost immediately after I walked into his office, he launched into his explanation of how the bridge will transform Sicily. "It's an innovation that will bring progress. It's society's obligation to built it," he said. "The bridge will be built."

Once he started talking about the bridge, it was hard to stop him. His deep voice echoed through the room, which was quickly filling up with the smoke from his cigarettes. He offered no apology for his comment about the Mafia, which he said was "just a joke."

Calarco also dismissed questions about whether it is a conflict of interest for him to be honorary president of the bridge company while running a newspaper covering bridge plans.

Gazzetta del Sud newspaper

Nino Calarco, the director of Gazzetta del Sud, insists that his newspaper covers Messina bridge plans objectively even though he is honorary president of the bridge company.
"Do you really think that La Gazzetta del Sud, which is distributed only in Sicily and Calabria, could have influenced the parliament, the government and the national industries?" he asked, peering through his thick eyeglasses. "Don't attribute to me a power and an authority that I don't have." (Calarco's critics disagree. They say that he has used his paper for years to gain support for Stretto di Messina's bridge plans.)

Rather than dwelling on his critics, Calarco was eager to talk about past leaders who have inspired him.

"Look at the great example of Napoleon and his grand vision of infrastructure," he said. "Napoleon transformed Europe not through his ideas, but through infrastructures."

Napoleon certainly changed Europe. But Napoleon was a man who came to power following a coup, installed a military dictatorship, and invaded countries near and far before dying in exile -- perhaps not the best model for modern development policies.

He added that the project will transform Sicily. "This bridge will be a symbol. Look at the Eiffel Tower -- it's a symbol of Paris."

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