Vorovskoy Mir

It had for centuries been a wholly closed society. Extravagantly depraved and despairing, rejecting morality, politics, patriotism and even social intercourse with the outside world. The Thieve’s World…Vorovskoy Mir…this is the name given to the direct predecessor of the Russian mafia.

Born in a time when all property was owned in theory, by the Tsar, felonies were not only crimes, they were attacks on the state. Organized crime in Tsarist Russian developed into a highly ritualized secret society. A society complete with it’s own complicated customs and traditions, strict rules and codes of honor. Members distinguished themselves from one another using an elaborate series of tattoos. These told the story of where the man had been and what he had accomplished. One rule above all others ruled The Thieves’ World: Never sell out to the state.

The extermination of Vorovskoy Mir was of primary importance to Vladimir Lenin upon his ascension to power through the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. They were too powerful, too anti authoritarian, and they needed to be eliminated. Members were hunted ruthlessly and tirelessly during the early years of the Soviet Union. By the 1930′s the whole of the culture, what was left of it, had been shifted to the infamous Soviet gulag.

Within the walls of the prison camps the tradition of the tattoo came even more to the fore. Created through the use of melted rubber to color the skin, these tattoos reached a whole new level of ornate design. They would detail a man’s life story: his level and rank within the prison and the criminal world, where he had done time, what crimes he had committed.  The location and design of a specific tattoo were recognized as sending a specific message to those who would observe them.

The Thieves World could very well have died within Stalin’s prison camps, yet history intervened. The German invasion and World War 2 would set off a chain of events that would transform Vorovskoy Mir into the most powerful and ruthless criminal organization on Earth: The Red Mafiya.

The Soviets lost 20 million people to the Germans during World War 2. Facing huge manpower shortages Stalin offered those languishing in the gulags a deal: fight for the Motherland and they would gain their freedom. This experience allowed the members of the Thieves World to gain knowledge in the use of arms and see the impact of an organized effort toward a particular goal. Military experience provided the training needed to create a more organized system for these ex-prisoners when the war would come to an end. In many cases near the end of the war weapons and valuables were collected for use in the future.

Come the end of the war the prisoners did not gain their freedom however. They were returned the gulags from whence they came. This set the stage for the second conflict that would shape that which would become the Red Mafiya. From 1945 to Stalin’s death a civil war, and a series of brutal killing sprees raged in the prisons between those who had fought for the Soviets and those who refused to take the deal and were left behind; the Bitch Wars.  Inmates who had refused to serve in the military believed that the ones who did serve, called "bitches" by the inmates, had broken the most sacred rule of the culture; they had sold out to the state.

Each faction attempted to destroy the other and control in the camp and prison systems swung to one faction to the other over time. While the two factions fought with each other, both factions could not help but also learn from each other. Each side did have in common distrust and rejection toward the powers of the Soviets and this bound over time to bring an end to the constant warfare and created a new and better-organized movement.

Stalin’s death brought wide release from the prison camps and a return to greater Soviet society. he new organization quickly reassembled itself in the new a more liberal society and began to form opportunities to expand its operations. The stash of weapons gained through the war and the cooperation formed through the prison wars had developed an organized that was much more organized and specific goal oriented that the organizations that had existed prior to WWII. Even more important the new efforts of the Soviet government to create a more liberal society, as a reaction the years of autocratic Stalinist rule, provided opportunities of expansion for the new organized crime movements. With the attempts to lessen complete government control, room was provided to the crime organizations to flourish taking advantage of the rationing and call for sacrifice during the war that was being replaced for a call for more consumer goods and expansion of business opportunities. These new crime organizations were more than willing to provide what was needed to meet post-war needs and demands. A bond of corruption created links between the organizations of crime and the membership of the Communist Party. Links that would in the future allow the “Russian Mafia” to rise to a level that placed it in many cases on the par of Party control. This new situation was shifting power to the crime organizations, that could cut through the miles of government red tape in the providing of services and goods.

By the 1960s, a vibrant black market was operating in the Soviet Union, with the gangsters acting as unofficial middlemen, circulating privately produced goods or state materials with the tacit cooperation of the factory managers and civil servants. As profits grew, elements within the Vorovskoi Mir began to work more closely with the government officials in their regions. By the time perestroika began in the 1980′s, the line between the Vorovskoi mMir and the Soviet government was difficult to distinguish. Both groups had amassed fortunes through the black market and corruption. In fact, Soviet prosecutors first used the word mafiya to describe corrupt Soviet bureaucrats.

As the Soviet government fell in the early 1990′s, it was this group that had the will, knowledge and strength to grab the power, ushering in the age of the oligarch. The unusual coalition of professional criminals, former members of the underground economy, members of the former Party elite, and the police formed a group that transcends traditional conceptions of organized crime groups. It has created a political and economic power of a criminal class more powerful and advanced than anything Russia has ever experienced before. Here was an organization that bound the power of the government and the gangs, operating with resources and global reach previously reserved only for the nation state.

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