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Russia's Criminals

Ten years ago, Americans expected that Russia would be reborn by the rise of the new millennium.  Its political system would be democratized its economy transformed to solid capitalism and its social culture shifted toward democratic law and order.  After all, aren’t those the natural companions of democracy?  Russia’s political, economic and social realities in 2000 show that order is not inherent in democracy.

Russia's Criminals

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that approximately “80 major organized criminal groups operate in Russia.”  The rise in organized crime has practically halted Russia’s progression toward democratic consolidation.  Russia’s political sector is infiltrated with gangsters, the economy is devastated by mafiya-related capital flight, and Russia’s people have little faith in the new government’s ability to halt crime

This paper will analyze crime, particularly organized crime, in Russia and its effects on the democratic transition.  In the first section, the origins of organized crime in Russia will be discussed along with the evolution toward today’s Russian Mafiya.  In addition, Russia’s organized crime problem will be analyzed with close attention to the tangible effects in the mafiya nation.  The connection between organized crime and the new Russian government will be analyzed, particularly in relation to the government’s inability to halt organized crime.  Finally, the impact of organized crime on Russia’s future will be discussed.  This thorough analysis of Russia’s crime problem will show that the current problem is a legacy of Russia’s past rather than a consequence of recent democratic transition

Russia’s criminal element is not solely a product of the transition to democracy.  Rather, the combination of the results of this transition and the traditional Russian criminal society created opportunities for unlawful enterprise.

In Tsarist Russia, criminality flourished because of the government’s inability to adequately police the country of approximately 124 million people.  Not only were law enforcement officers few in number, they were poorly trained. An author states: “Whereas British constables would patrol a beat, their Russian counterparts were simply assigned placed to stand within earshot of each other and waited for trouble to come their way.” Russians in the Tsarist era had little trust in the police, mainly due to their lax morals and their inability to enforce the law against the wealthy and powerful.

In this environment, Russia’s criminal element flourished.  Tsarist bureaucrats had to supplement their meager salaries with bribes and scams.  This practice earned the name kormlenie (feeding).  In 1856, “a government commission… concluded that a bribe of less than 500 rubles… should not even be thought of as a bribe at all.”

This corrupt bureaucracy fostered a criminal culture in Russia.  Because the government’s representatives blatantly committed crimes against society, Russian citizens considered crimes against government perfectly legitimate.  For instance, plundering of the Tsar’s forests was acceptable practice.

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