Resurrection by David Remnick

Resurrection by David Remnick

Author:David Remnick [Remnick, David]
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi
ISBN: 978-1-101-87216-1
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2014-04-01T16:00:00+00:00

In the anxious period between Yeltsin’s triumph over the pitiful coup attempt in August 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union on Christmas night, interested parties—old apparatchiks, young entrepreneurs, mafiosi—all began to wonder about the new world that was so obviously on the horizon. What would be the new arrangement of power and property? Or, as Russians have been saying for centuries, Kto kogo? Who beats whom? Who benefits?

In early December 1991, with the dissolution of the union just days away, thirty of the biggest organized crime leaders in the empire held a summit meeting at a dacha outside Moscow. These men, known as Vori v Zakonye (“Thieves in Law”), descend from a mob legacy in Russia that dates back to the seventeenth-century highwaymen and Cossack robbers who, before setting out on raids, sometimes killed their own wives and children to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. Over the centuries, Russian mafiosi developed codes of almost monastic discipline. There was, above all, an absolute insistence on keeping aloof from the state, with its czars and general secretaries. Mobsters who fought with the Soviet army in the Great Patriotic War were scorned when they returned from the front; at home and in the gulag, they were branded scabs and beaten. Under the Bolsheviks, these mobsters controlled innumerable markets: car sales, spare parts, cigarettes, food distribution. Where the official mafia—the Communist Party—failed as a producer or marketer, the underground moved in. Even in the last year of communism, 1991, the shadow economy was the most efficient distributor of goods and accounted for over $60 billion in revenues.

The mobsters who gathered for that meeting outside Moscow that December saw opportunities in the collapse of the Soviet Union, but they also knew it would bring chaos, decay, uncertainty. Many Communist Party bureaucrats prepared themselves for the coming fall by turning themselves into private businessmen. They became consultants, rainmakers, men who could use their influence and access to bureaucratic power to cash in. Even some of the members of the would-be junta in 1991—a group pledged to the maintenance of a communist system—went into business as bankers or industrialists after their coup failed. It turned out, though, that the Thieves in Law had an even keener sense of the post-Soviet future than the politicians. The collapse of the Communist Party and its imperial control over the economy—over prices, production, wages, over everything—would lead to an economic free-for-all unprecedented in modern history, for without a Communist Party there would be no way to impose discipline.

The land of the police state turned into what Russians call bespridel: anarchy, lawlessness, unchecked greed. The temptations now were enormous. There were resources like oil and gas to be sold off, money to launder, currency games to play, territories to control. Because the stakes were so high, the world of the mafia became wildly competitive and brutal. The old spheres of influence in cities like Moscow were now battlefields, with groups from Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Chechnya fighting with Russians, Jews, Ukrainians.


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