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john-wick-2014-full-movie-720p-hd-free-downloadMy novels and stories deal heavily with the (so-called) Russian Mafia – that mythic Eastern European organized criminal organization that was so badly portrayed in Eastern Promises and portrayed with far more realism in John Wick. There is already an established ‘mafiya’ genre in Russia, which is typified by the amazing TV drama series Brigada. But despite this, the Russian Mafia doesn’t actually exist, per-se.

It may seem strange to be writing about something I claim doesn’t exist, but here’s what that means in Alexi’s own words:

The term ‘Russian Mafia’ is a poor analogue for the many unallied brigadi that make up Slavic organized crime. For one thing, any given Organizatsiya has members from all corners of the Eastern Bloc, as well as Turkey, Israel, and Chechnya. For another, the term ‘mafia’ conveys a certain sense of conservative, orderly unity, evoking images of hereditary Families led by a single Don. Every one of the organizations that could be described as ‘Russian mafia’ does things their own way. If the Italian Mob is a family business, then the Russian Mafia is a fast-food franchise: a cluster of para-military cells unified around a team of managers, with each cell branching out further into a web of patsies, fall-men, bookies, dealers and common street thugs.

Vassily and I occupied a strange position within our own brigada. We were both immigrant children born in America to long-time Thieves-in-Law. Our hereditary position conveyed a certain hollow prestige, in that the senior authorities invested more time into us, but they also expected more.

Essentially, the Russian Mafia is a fractured collection of individual criminal organizations, most of which are not Russian at all. They operate internationally and within the former Eastern Bloc, and the ones based in Russia, Ukraine and surrounding countries are heavily involved in business (especially the gas and oil industries), politics, banking and the Eastern Orthodox church. There are some who cooperate (and even hold ‘councils’ between leaders), but more of them are rivals for the same

Eastern Promises was just about the gayest thing ever, which was great, but it was highly inaccurate.

Eastern Promises was just about the gayest thing ever, which was great, but it was highly inaccurate.

business. Russian mafia organizations range from small gangs of semi-rural youth led by petty criminals through to advanced, complex organizations with ties to the Kremlin and access to military-grade weapons. They compete and convolve in ways that have mystified law enforcement for decades, form crazy alliances with forces as diverse as Nigerian pirates, the Mumbai Mafia, Thailand’s tourism industry and ISIS – and this fluidity one of the reasons that they are currently the most successful criminal enterprise in the world.

Fictional Depictions

In terms of fictional depictions, Brigada is without a doubt the best (semi-sympathetic) portrayal of an Organizatsiya, detailing the life of a young soldier returning to his hard-scrabble regional town and entering into a life of crime. Poverty is still a major driving force behind the formation of Eastern European criminal organizations. The old Soviet factory towns where so many people still live are deprived of opportunity and jobs, and are often bleak, conservative places often falling into disrepair. Soldiering, crime, or luck are the only ways a lot of these young men break out. This is especially true of the old ‘Stans south of Russia, rural Ukraine, and Bulgaria – where are not coincidentally where the Russian Mafia draws most of its members.

Eastern Promises really tried, but it was heavily exoticized and basically took Italian Mafia tropes and vaguely converted them to a Russian cast: about the only thing they got right was the mafia’s involvement in human trafficking. But let’s be frank – I think most of us were watching it for the naked Turkish bath knife-fight, right? John Wick reduced the Organizatsiya to a series of mooks whose only purpose was to be gunned down by Keanu Reeves, but the cultural and social depictions were far more in line with the reality.

Next in the series, I’ll elaborate on this inaccurate exoticism a bit more: specifically, the infamous hand tattoos and the ‘language’ of these tattoos that are now practically iconic.

Want to learn how to swear like a sailor in Russian and Ukrainian? Check out this post:

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