A la guerre comme а la guerre

On September 4 Dmitry Medvedev introduced a bill to fight organised crime. Oleg Morozov, vice-speaker of the parliament, expects it to become law within two months.

The Russian president seeks to widen the definition of membership of a criminal organisation. It would include, Kommersant reports, ‘so called ‘thieves-in-law’ and other leaders of the criminal world.’ ‘Participation in the gathering of the criminal leaders’, if the bill is passed, would lead to imprisonment for 12 – 20 years, ‘if the get-together had the purpose of committing a crime’.

Long sentence would, therefore, be possible not for certain, identifiable, crime but for connection to the netherworld. Thus, the state has acknowledged the existence of the criminal community and declared war against it.

The law follows the example of Georgia, a former Soviet republic, where an act ‘On Organised Crime and Racketeering’ was adopted in 2004. In tiny Georgia the law merely meant an offer to the criminal leaders – which they could not refuse - to leave the country. To neighbouring Russia.

Criminal society, it seems, has always existed in Russia. After the Great Social Revolution in 1917 it did not disappear, as the Bolsheviks hoped, but revived and hardened. And developed its remarkable feature: it is organised not around criminal leaders, thieves-in-law, but around a more or less firm system of rules.

The Soviets made several attempts to put an end to the power of criminal leaders.

The hardest and the bloodiest was the ‘bitch war’, backed by the state. In the 1940-s and 50-s thieves-in-law and the ‘bitches’, the traitors who broke criminal rules and agreed to work for the state, killed one another. Thousands of criminal leaders were murdered.

In the 1980-s many met their end in the ‘White Swan’, the Russian Alcatraz in Siberia.

These were quiet wars, wars behind prison doors, wars without wide publicity. Vociferous crusades usually meant the beginning of a fight within political elites.

In the 1960-s, says Alexandra Orlova from the Nathanson Centre for the Study of Organized Crime and Corruption, Yury Andropov, the newly appointed head of the Soviet secret police, the KGB, announced a campaign against organised crime. It brought to power his personal protégés: Mikhail Gorbachev in Stavropol, Grigory Romanov in Saint-Petersburg, Yegor Ligachev in Tomsk, Edward Shevardnadze in Georgia and Geidar Aliyev in Azerbaijan, key political posts at the time.

In 1989 Mikhail Gorbachev started a campaign against crime to get rid of the old guard, the allies of his political predecessor, Leonid Brezhnev and in 1991, as a weapon against Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia.

The latter fought crime to discredit his political opponents, first of all, Russia’s vice-president Alexander Rutskoy. The war ended in 1993 with the controversial decree # 1400, dissolving the country’s legislative bodies, and with tanks storming the house of parliament.



September 7, 2009.


Long sentence would be possible not only for certain, identifiable, crimes but for connection to the netherworld. Thus, the state has acknowledged the existence of the criminal community and declared war against it.