Magazine article Russian Life

Gangs of Russia

Magazine article Russian Life

Gangs of Russia

Article excerpt


by Svetlana Stephenson

(Cornell Univ. Press, $22.95)


The implosion of the Soviet Union toppled not only the powerful, centralized state and the teetering command economy; it also upturned social structures. Gangs, bandity, gruppirovki--informal, mostly harmless groups of youths that have been around all through Russia's modern history, gave disoriented young men, who previously might have transited into the working world, as Stephenson writes, "a structure that was available, familiar, and well adapted to developing new projects of accumulation."

Absent the previous controls of the Strong State, the groups created protection rackets, parking lot scams, extortion and a myriad of criminal and semi-criminal operations that allowed many of the generation of the 90s to use their gang or group affiliations to accumulate wealth, cement social connections and build power bases for later advancement. As Stephenson notes:

"The generation that started their adult lives in the 1990s now occupies the top positions in the government, business, academia and the media. Among the members of the State Duma, leaders of political movements, leading businessmen and university rectors, we can find many of those who rose from the streets or progressed in life via unsavory collaborations with bandits. …

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