Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Svetlana Stephenson's "Gangs of Russia"

Svetlana Stephenson is Reader in Sociology at London Metropolitan University. She is the author of Crossing the Line: Vagrancy, Homelessness and Social Displacement in Russia and coeditor of Youth and Social Change in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Gangs of Russia: From the Streets to the Corridors of Power, and reported the following:
If you open my book on page 99, you will find a discussion of the structure of territorial Russian gangs. Like many other gangs around the world, Russian gangs (called “streets”) unite young people (the “lads”) living in the same city area. Some “streets” are relatively small, others form large associations (“families”) that can have several hundred members. Many of these gangs date back to the Soviet times. Although we tend to associate the rise of organized gangs with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the rise of crime and violence at the start of market reforms, as I show in my book many of these gangs first emerged back in the 1970s. A massive shadow economy was then emerging in the Soviet Union and some young street delinquents formed entrepreneurial gangs to racketeer Soviet shadow producers and corrupt service sector managers. At the beginning of the 1990s both old and recently formed gangs moved to racketeer newly privatized companies and individual entrepreneurs. By the late 1990s many gang leaders (those who did not perish in gang fights and did not end up in prisons) managed to legalize their wealth and become heads of corporations and even members of parliament.

But the streets lived their own lives and by the time I conducted my research in the Russian city of Kazan in the 2000s, some of them had become stable neighbourhood institutions. As I explain on page 99, young people join gangs from the age of 17, and from the age of 25-30 they tend to drift away from everyday gang activity, when family and work obligations take over. Only the most committed remain in the gang, those young men who want to continue with their criminal careers and join organized crime networks.

But even members who have drifted away (such as Ispug, the gang member I quote on this page) continue to attend obligatory gang meetings, so as not to lose touch with other lads. The gang becomes a social club rather than a business network. Members seeking to pursue legitimate careers see contacts with their former gang mates as still useful. Gang leaders know the “right” people in local councils and the police, who can help if current and former members - or their relatives - become victims of crime. The gang therefore becomes a source of social capital for ambitious young people, and, as one of my interviewees said, “being with the lads is no trouble, and everyone needs connections in life”!
Learn more about Gangs of Russia at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue