McMafia: The World's Shadow Economy
May 22, 2008 7:24 PM   Subscribe

In EU and NATO member Bulgaria, the state is a part of the Mafia. The world's "shadow economy" accounts for 10 trillion dollars each year. Chechen mobsters bent on revenge kill a young woman in London in a case of mistaken identity. Welcome to the global pillage following the fall of Communism and the 'liberalization' of trade. Misha Glenny travels through the underworld.
posted by lukemeister (28 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Overnight, a vast number of Russians were impoverished, while a tiny minority was able to buy up vital commodities at up to 40 times less than their global market price. 'This process of enrichment,' Glenny writes, 'was quite simply the grandest larceny in history and stands no historical comparison.'

As deplorable as the Russian oligarchs are, and as aesthetically repulsive as overweight Eastern European mafiosi wearing Speedos are, a correction is in order here. The "grandest larceny in history" remains the Bolshevik coup. No oligarch, however bloody his hands, can compare Lenin and his tiny cabal, who accompanied their mass robbery with, first, regicide, the machine gunning of the princesses, then the slaughter of tens of millions of peasants, kulaks, and bad artists. Let's not let our disgust with these fat men with their vulgar jewelry and great bellies hanging over their tiny bathing trunks cause us to forget the real historical villains of Eastern Europe, the greatest Russian mafiosi of all time, the Bolsheviks and their greedy, grasping, murdering, vulgar progeny. Today's fat boys are pussy cats by comparison compared to the "people's" criminals who preceeded them.
posted by Faze at 7:47 PM on May 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


As deplorable as the Russian oligarchs are, and as aesthetically repulsive as overweight Eastern European mafiosi wearing Speedos are, a correction is in order here. The "grandest larceny in history" remains the Bolshevik coup. No oligarch, however bloody his hands, can compare Lenin and his tiny cabal, who accompanied their mass robbery with, first bla bla bla...

Oh come on. What about the "theft" of the United States from the Native Americans, or for that matter from the British? By that metric, any revolution or change in government could be considered a theft. That's absurd.
posted by delmoi at 7:55 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


One thing I learned recently, in Israel the going price for a white Eastern European sex slave is $8 to $10,000. Apparently Israel has a lot of them.
posted by stbalbach at 8:00 PM on May 22, 2008


As customers' demands for slave trade workers who do not have HIV or AIDS increases, the age of victims proportionally decreases. UNICEF has determined that approximately 1.7 billion children are victimized annually.

I can only imagine that that's a typo.
posted by duende at 8:04 PM on May 22, 2008


McMafia (2008) is a welcome addition to a growing genre: Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah (2007), Loretta Napoleone's Rogue Economics (2008), Tim Phillips' Knockoff (2005), Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun's Merchant of Death (2007), Peter Andreas and Ethan Nadelman's Policing the Globe (2006), Peter Reuter and Edward Truman's Chasing Dirty Money (2004).
This genre, does it have a name? I think of it as "Dark Tourism" - critics say it overplays the importance, in balance, for the sake of a good story - the raw numbers seem big, the individual stories harrowing, but in the scope of the global economy not a large factor.
posted by stbalbach at 8:20 PM on May 22, 2008


What about the "theft" of the United States from the Native Americans

As bad as that was, it cannot compare to the massive property theft that was at the heart of the Bolshevik coup. In the space of a few years, Lenin and company quite simply robbed the land and possessions of millions, murdered many millions more, and went on to "steal" the nations of Eastern Europe and all their possessions as well. The slow-motion genocide against the American Indians took place over generations, was not accomplished by a small, centralized cell, and is not in any way comparable to the Bolshevik coup, which was a virtual holdup perpetrated by Russians against their fellow Russians. The American Revolution involved property theft, and was criminal in its own way, but nothing can compare to the Soviet robbery of a nation -- unless it was Mao's Chinese thieves, or Castro's little Caribbean crooks. The essence of Marxism is taking other people's property, and it is motivated by the same ugly greed and envy that inspires the Eastern European mafia.
posted by Faze at 8:21 PM on May 22, 2008


As bad as that was, it cannot...

Ayn?
posted by Electrius at 8:26 PM on May 22, 2008 [10 favorites]


What's the argument, Faze? That the Slavic mafias are misunderstood (perhaps traumatised by growing up under the horror of Gorbachev)? Or that any discussion of Eastern Europe should be turned into a Cracked.com 15 Most Evil Revolutions, with all the top spots occupied by the ones committed by poor people?

Also, how did Lenin and his "small centralized cell" sneak into the Palace and "machine-gun princesses", and then stalk through the Russian countryside, going from house to house, murdering peasants? Were they invisible?
posted by stammer at 8:30 PM on May 22, 2008


and then stalk through the Russian countryside, going from house to house, murdering peasants? Were they invisible?

Didn't you see the new Indiana Jones movie? They totally had mind-control powers.
posted by delmoi at 8:36 PM on May 22, 2008


That's a great site you link to there, stbalbach. I just read more and found that 9/11 never happened. And nor did the Holocaust. More news as I get it.
posted by motty at 8:47 PM on May 22, 2008


I'm looking forward to reading McMafia. One of my favorite aspects of the Russian Mafia is the schism that was a result of the "Bitch War" that took place in Russian prisons in the 1950s.* During World War II Stalin offered paroles to criminals who would join the army to fight Hitler. However, the Russian mob had strict rules against doing anything to aid the government, including fighting Hitler, so when the criminals returned from the war, went back to crime and wound up back in prison, they were branded "bitches" and attacked by the old-school gangsters. In return, the "bitches" figured if they were going to be attacked for breaking one rule, they might as well break them all, and therefore became far more violent and vicious, eventually forming an entire new type of criminal not bound to the Thieves' Law.

That Hitler ruined everything.

*all facts taken from my memories of Comrade Criminal


posted by Bookhouse at 8:48 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Transnistria is a little known, but fascinating Mafia state.
posted by eye of newt at 9:13 PM on May 22, 2008


Ah. I now see that Transnistria is mentioned extensively in McMafia.
posted by eye of newt at 9:26 PM on May 22, 2008


It's just a Faze.
posted by telstar at 10:06 PM on May 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


Speaking of Transnistria: A recent New Yorker article focuses on Stella Rotaru, a woman in Chisinau, Moldova who helps victims of the global sex trade.

A fat file on Rotaru’s desk contained a man’s photocopied passport photograph. “Here is a guy who trafficked a lot of women from Transnistria to Emirates,” she said. “He was arrested in Dubai.” She leafed through faxed pages of travel documents, all with the same man’s picture on them, but under various names.

“Is he still in business?”

Rotaru pursed her lips. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “His friends are still in business.”

posted by lukemeister at 10:12 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


That New Yorker article was particularly depressing.

Skip this quote if you don't want to have nightmares:

One company said that it was looking for surrogate mothers. Interaction had called the contact number, a cell phone in Ukraine, and learned that its real business was in stem-cell-rich spinal fluid and other tissues, which were taken from the fetuses and sold. “We called the police after that conversation. They did nothing.” (The ad later stopped appearing.)
posted by eye of newt at 10:53 PM on May 22, 2008


I am fortunate to live where I do. For that I am always grateful.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:29 PM on May 22, 2008


Transnistria is a little known, but fascinating Mafia state.

A mere half-million people and it's trying to claim itself as a country? Absurd. They've barely enough people to make a decent city!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:36 PM on May 22, 2008


I just read more and found that 9/11 never happened. And nor did the Holocaust. More news as I get it.

Oh MAN, that is some AWESOME crazy.

9. And remember this. Jews are the ones whose soldiers in Israel deliberately shoot little children in the head so they can harvest their organs and use them in other Jews. This is truly cannibalism.

I... don't quite know what to say. I mean, I've seen some crazy antisemitism on the Internet, but this tops everything.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:38 PM on May 22, 2008


9. And remember this. Jews are the ones whose soldiers in Israel deliberately shoot little children in the head so they can harvest their organs and use them in other Jews. This is truly cannibalism.

10. Even littler-known fact: when they've collected a full set, they build entirely new Jews with them. They're called Cy Bergs.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 1:56 AM on May 23, 2008 [8 favorites]


A somewhat inebriated Filchev rose to recite a poem: "No other country on earth is as powerful as Russia, it is our rock, it is our paragon." Then, with tears in his eyes, he spoke of the common destiny of Russia and Bulgaria, while the numerous uniformed personages in attendance nodded in agreement.

Wow. This reminds me of probably one of the most influential Russian jokes ever:
The UN has declared "The Year of the Elephant." Member nations are publishing elephant-themed books.

The Germans released a 5-volume set entitled Brief Introduction to The Study of the Elephant.

The Americans released a pocket brochure entitled Everything About Elephants.

The English released a 700-page monograph entitled Elephants and Empire.

The French released a 3-volume set entitled Elephants and Love. 1st volume: "Elephants and Women." 2nd volume: "Women and Elephants." 3rd volume: "Women."

The Soviets released a 2-volume set. 1st volume: "USSR: The Birthplace of the Elephant." 2nd volume: "The Soviet Elephant: Largest Elephant in the World."

The Bulgarians released The Bulgarian Elephant: The Soviet Elephant's Best Friend.
posted by nasreddin at 4:11 AM on May 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


Misha Glenny can be a little sensationalist/one eyed/plain terrible at times.

In The Balkans, 1804-1999: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers he describes the British air force bombing some retreating forces in during world war one as "carpet bombing". Given they would have been dropping hand grenades out of bi-planes, it's hardly Dresden.

The rest of the book is pretty poor too. When he discusses the 1878 Berlin treaty, it's almost as if he's amazed that the great powers didn't act in an altruistic manner. He seems stunned that they happily carved the continent up in a way that would best serve them and f*ck the little guy. Sure, we would expect/hope better now, but to expect them to behave back then is anachronistic at best and simply wrong at worst.
posted by fatfrank at 5:31 AM on May 23, 2008


I definitely want to read the Glenny book. Thanks for the post, lukemeister, and no thanks for the pathetic derail, Faze.
posted by languagehat at 5:41 AM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is a fascinating topic, a good post, and a potentially good thread, and Faze wants to talk about events that happened 90 years ago? I'm not sure what Bolshevism circa 1917 has to do with international crime centered around Eastern Europe circa 2008, but if he thought the case was being overstated in the post about the rise of crime in the wake of the Soviet collapse, then a lengthy digression about the Russian Revolution was completely irrelevant.
posted by ornate insect at 7:07 AM on May 23, 2008


Corrupt governments and organized crime are huge problems on their own, but when they become one and the same a citizen becomes essentially helpless. Especially in these so called democracies with their 'free press' and 'independent judiciary'. When I talk to friends and relatives in Albania and when I visit I get the distinct sense that people have been frustrated into apathy.

How could things change? More pressure on governments from the EU? Peaceful domestic protests? I don't know.
posted by preparat at 8:01 AM on May 23, 2008


I'm sorry I didn't make my point better, which was to take issue with Guardian review of the book in question (linked to the words "global pillage" in the FPP), which more than implied that the current state of widespread brigandage in Eastern Europe somehow represents an immoral plunge from the virtuous heights of achieved in the years of Soviet domination. The writer goes on to say, more or less, that "see, this is the kind of monsterous moral decline that happens when people abandon the good and decent ways of socialism for economic 'liberalism."
What I am trying to point out is that the today's fat guys are evil, but no more so than the socialist thieves and slavemasters who preceeded them. Probably, a lot less so. We are all shocked by sex slaves, but really, how does sex slavery compare to the Gulag? Ugly crime is ugly crime, whether it is carried about by a "revolutionary" state, or the grandchildren of those same revolutionaries. The post-Soviet nightmare is nightmarish to those of us who have lived all our lives in free countries, but in Russia and Bulgaria, it's just the privatization of the former state monopoly on evil.
posted by Faze at 12:47 PM on May 23, 2008


BBC World service documentary with Glenny: "How crime took on the world". Four parts in .mp3 format. It's pretty good.
posted by gsb at 11:44 PM on May 23, 2008


Faze,

Fat men in Speedos aside, do you disagree with this statement in the Guardian review?

Overnight, a vast number of Russians were impoverished, while a tiny minority was able to buy up vital commodities at up to 40 times less than their global market price.

Glenny is prone to hyperbole - he's a reporter, not a historian, and he does make ill-advised comparisons - but I do think his reporting addresses a serious issue.
posted by lukemeister at 9:29 AM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


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