Russia’s Mafia Pop Culture

eastern-promises1114.jpg Mafias and pop culture were made each other, at least judging by the international popularity of the Godfather, Sopranos, and countless other locally interpreted spin-offs of the organized crime genre – which often bleeds over into an appreciation if not sympathy for these activities among the public (just look at the Gotti reality show). Russia’s mafia groups certainly have their popular appeal as well, as a very interesting New York Times article details the recent media obsession Vory v Zakone, a “mafia-like caste forged in the Soviet gulag,” which recently suffered a highly public series of arrests that appear to have been staged for the media (suspects were nearly all later released). This is the same gang portrayed in last year’s popular film Eastern Promises (photo). Very interesting reading.

Though the Vory’s influence appears to have waned, Russians have long had an affinity for the group, perhaps because it has come to symbolize opposition to the country’s often arbitrary political and legal practices, academics and other experts say. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the Vory v Zakone “hit platinum,” said Andrei D. Konstantinov, a journalist and novelist who has written about criminal subcultures. “Everyone started to sing about this topic, to talk about it, to make television series, write books,” he said. “It became fashionable.” (…) In modern Russia the Vory have a certain allure, in part because of their association with prison life. “Very many people have passed through prison, even those who have had no special connection to the criminal world,” Mr. Konstantinov, the journalist, said. “This is a theme that has been very relevant for many families.” This intimacy with imprisonment has spawned a pop culture particular to Russia, in which the Vory and other criminal elements have taken center stage.