Borsellino’s wife Agnese had refused a state funeral.
A few days earlier, on July 19, a car bomb had exploded killing Borsellino and his security escorts in Via d’Amelio, where the prosecuting magistrate’s mother lived.
The atmosphere in Palermo was tense and the locals, exasperated.
During the funeral of the bodyguards in Palermo’s cathedral, an enraged crowd broke through the 4000-strong police cordon. The protesters’ fury became incandescent upon the arrival of the government officials. The air was ripe for lynching. The chief of police and the newly-elected president, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, were jostled around by the demonstrators and forced to flee.
The scenes were poignant, moving...chilling.
The whole of Palermo was in the square that day. The rallying cry of “Fuori la Mafia dallo Stato” (oust the Mafia from the State) erupted. Everyone realised then, that all of Sicily held those representatives accountable for the death of the two magistrates, the two men who had given hope to an entire island and to a nation.
Just three months before the tragic event, on the freeway to the Palermo Airport, Borsellino’s close friend and colleague, Giovanni Falcone, had also been assassinated by a TNT-bomb blast.
It was May 23, 1992, and from that day onward, Paolo Borsellino tried in every way possible to arouse the conscience of the people. His voice was weary, his expression doleful; he seemed resigned to the same fate that awaited him sooner than later.
Borsellino was aware of what was happening, as Falcone had probably been. In a moment of weakness, Paolo revealed something of major importance to his wife, his junior associates and collaborators. It was a painful admission; one too intense to keep to himself.
Slumped on his office couch, his eyes glistening, the judge confided in younger colleague, Alessandra Camassa (now president of the criminal section of the Tribunal of Marsala).
“I can’t believe that a friend has betrayed me,” he said.
The identity of this friend was never revealed.
A couple of days before the explosion, in the entrance hall of Palermo’s Community Library, Borsellino gave a very touching speech in honour of Giovanni Falcone. He appeared calm, stoic. His gaze seemed expressionless but it was fuelled by anger and despair. The prosecutor was beginning to convey what years of investigations alongside Falcone had brought to the fore: ever-present, underlying traces of “lethal” evidence.
A number of high-profile members of the government and judiciary were colluding with the Mafia. Some of them wanted to segregate the anti-Mafia pool and any law-abiding crusaders, while others were actually responsible for the executions, including that of Falcone, and ultimately for his own.
Borsellino mentioned those who had sacrificed themselves for the cause. His voice broke as he issued a challenge and made an appeal to society - one which still applies today.
“They died for us,” Borsellino remarked.
“We are greatly indebted to them.”
“We need to repay this debt with joy and continue in their path,” he added, “and refusing to reap any benefits from dealing with the Mafia. We can do this not accepting the mobsters’ help nor their recommendations or their offers of jobs. We need to be steadfast in our duty.”
“The battle against the Mafia,” Borsellino continued, “is the first problem to solve in our beautiful but wretched land. This should not merely be achieved by a mechanical process of suppression. It should be attained by an ethical and cultural movement involving everyone, especially the younger generations - the ones who instinctively sense the fragrance of freedom, who refute the stench of compromise, of indifference, connivance and conspiracy.”
“I remember how happy Falcone was when, during a brief period of enthusiasm, he had declared: ‘The people are on our side’. By that he didn’t just mean the moral support of the masses and the reassurance it afforded the magistrates. It meant something more: that our work also served to reawaken consciences,” the heroic anti-Mafia campaigner concluded.