Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Mob rule

/ mobs / smart / ruthless /
Misha Glenny, journalist and author of quite a few books about the Balkans and Yugoslavia, of which I found The Fall of Yugoslavia especially informative and balanced, writes in the New Statesman about the rise of Mob rule all over the planet and especially Eastern Europe and those countries "fortunate' enough to taste the benefits of the West's humanitarian interventions. Glenny points out that:

Recent research into the use of gangsterism in the former Soviet Union and the Balkans suggests that the west contributed significantly, if unwittingly, to the phenomenon [of gangsterism] in the early 1990s. And once organised crime has begun the process known as "state capture", through which it influences policy, it is very difficult to reverse the process.

The "shadow economy" has always played a critical role in both armed conflict and violent state formation. But since the 1980s shadow activity has increased fourfold as a proportion of the global economy. According to estimates collated from the World Bank, the IMF and academic research, shadow transactions accounted for between $6.5trn (£3.6trn) and $9trn (£6trn) in 2001, which is between 20 and 25 per cent of global GDP...

He then goes on to highlight Russia and the Balkans as areas where Mobs thrived in the aftermath of the collapse, as a direct result of, among other things, the sort of financial deregulation and capital mobility that has characterised these past couple of decades. Glenny notes that:

...All recent military interventions by the west (with the partial exception of East Timor) have proved a real boost for organised crime...

and makes a point rarely mentioned either in the naive accounts of Balkan turmoil in the West or by the wingnut nationalists in our little corner of the globe:

...In public, the criminal bosses from the various republics were denouncing their national enemies as demons bent on genocide and extermination. But in private, the Croatian, Bosnian, Albanian, Macedonian and Serbian money men and mobsters were thick as thieves. They bought, sold and exchanged all manner of commodities, knowing that the high levels of personal trust between them were much stronger than the transitory bonds of hysterical nationalism. They helped foment this latter ideology among ordinary folk to mask their own venality...

(He also mentions an episode of Greek involvement in a hostage situation in Bosnia, just before Srebrenica, which I've never heard mentioned here, and about which I'll go around checking to see if I can find something more...)

[The link is non-permanent and is valid only as long as this issue is the current issue]


kkk said...

Fascinating stuff talos, and makes a lot of sense.

Reminds of Chelsea Football Club supporters over here, who, when asked whether they object to their club being owned by Russian Mob money, generally reply "no, not really" or "so long as it's good for the club".

Big money talks, regardless of how it's got!

Anyway, if you permit me a rant of non-pc bile, I would say that the capitalist system worked in the West BECAUSE people were more evolved, NOT the other way round as some would dream....

To assume that all will be well n the former Soviet block because they now have "our" system (haha) is infantile thinking. These eastern block, erm, people are still unevolved, on the whole they like to have some bastard crushing them under a jackboot, if it can't be the Czar, or Stalin, then it's got to be some Grand Mafioso.

That's just what they prefer. I once heard a Romanian woman say: "The Secret Police is the mother of a country". These guys want Vlad back, not a free market! And if they do get a free market (or anything else for that matter, they'll sure as hell turn it into Vlad)

Do you know what a Grouper is?
It's a big fish that swims with a shoal of small ones. If another big fish attacks, the grouper will defend the shoal, but, in return, it can eat as many of the minnows as it likes!

Not unrelated to our subject, methinks

Ok, end of rant ;-)

kkk said...


I would appreciate your opinion on why Slovenia (currently my favourite country in the world - for various reasons) seems to have escaped the whole Yugoslav slaughter and former Soviet-block madness (on the whole, anyway)

I don't really know, myself, but I am very curious, and I have some out-of-this-world hunches on the matter.

Would reading Glenny's F.o.Y. help me understand, d'you think?

I am not really interested in the rest of that sorry bunch, Serbs, Bosnians and what have you... just the Slovenian issue.

Anonymous said...

Glenny's Fall of Yugoslavia is skimpy on Slovenia, though it's a worthwhile read anyhow.

You could go over to www.carniola.org and ask Michael to make it his "question of the week". It's a light-hearted blog, but occasionally it tackles more serious issues.

Organized crime seems to thrive in areas where society has been badly disrupted. War can do that, but so can a lot of other things. Albania, Romania and Bulgaria all avoided war in the 1990s, but all have serious problems with organized crime anyway.

The Greek incident: Neither Serbia nor Greece have been eager to publicize the details of how the relationship between the "Orthodox Brothers" evolved in the 1990s. Hundreds of Greeks fought in Bosnia, and Greek volunteers were present and participating at Srebrenica.

Linking the two together, it would surprise me not at all to find that some of the volunteers were, or became, petty gangsters and/or respected members of the armed forces, intelligence units, or special police. (I note in passing that Voume III of the Dutch report on Srebrenica specifically stated that the Greek paramilitaries were in "close and regular" contact with Greek intelligence.)

But that's speculation on my part, and I'll freely admit that I don't know that much about modern Greece. So I may be projecting from my experiences in neighboring countries.

Doug M.

talos said...

kkk: Slovenia. As Doug suggested Michael over at carniola would be a better guide, but generally Slovenia was lucky enough not to contain too many national minorities. Croatia, on the other hand, had a large Serbian minority, Bosnia had every conceivable minority etc. Thus there was little ground for nationalist agitation.

Re Eastern Europe: I disagree. Completely. Hungary put up a fight, so did Czechoslovakia. Also note that in Eastern Europe there was generally something that could be meaningfully called popular resistance against the Nazi occupation. Unlike most of the West.

Compare the Romanian woman to the (many) idiots that are nostalgic for the Junta, in Greece.

And of course the Russians *did* revolt when they got rid of the Czars.

(BTW, the only index of intellectual evolution that I care about, namely the number of *first class* physicists or mathematicians, has the Soviets *way* ahead of most western nations...
The Yugoslavs were *significantly* more advanced in most areas (say computerization of their public services) compared to Greece. Plus they played better basketball.)

One could argue the reverse about Western Europe and the West. It got to be so "evolved" *because of* the spectre of the USSR - making the whole system more generous, and producing the most sustained period of near universal economic improvement in recorded history...

Doug: Those volunteers that fought in Bosnia (what little one hears of them anyway) seem to fall under two categories; retired army officers and ultra-right wing ideologues (fascists and ultra nationalists pretty much). There were also a *few* who were plain idiots.

I really don't think that the Greek Government had anything to do with these folks. By the time of Srebrenica, Papandreou was in power again, and I don't think he had any direct control over the sort of radical rightists that were involved in this. I don't however doubt that the retired army personnel had *contact* with the Greek Intelligence - just that they weren't Papandreou's idea.

Also I really doubt that these volunteers were involved in Gangsterism per se - they didn't stay that long over there. The Greek mafias that were connected with their "Orthodox brethren" (but also with the "hated Skopjian" mobs and *most emphatically* with the Albanian mob) were semi-legitimate or indeed legitimate entities.

On the other hand, the Greek embargo against the Republic of Macedonia, made a lot of people very wealthy - on both sides of the border...

Anyway, the more I think about it, the more it seems to me unlikely that the Greek gvt. actually coughed up 20 mil $, on its own accord (without Milosevic's approval? what on earth for? I can't imagine a motive). It is more probable that they served as intermediaries between Karadzic and countries that had nationals among the peacekeepers.

Anonymous said...

I figured I'd leave the whole "unevolved" business for you. Heh.

Note that Slovenia did contain about 10%-15% minorities. But no single minority was more than about 5%, and there was no move for geographic separatism.

Mind, there are times when Slovenes have acted more Balkan than Central European WRT their minorities... google up the saga of the Ljubljana mosque (short version: there isn't one) or the story of the "delisted", the people who were denied Slovene citizenship. (All non-ethnic Slovenes, with a strong tilt towards "undesirable" minorites like Albanians and Roma.)

I like Slovenia a lot, but "much better than Croatia or Serbia" is still far from perfect.

"Unlike most of the West"... meow. Resistance correlated roughly with the brutality of Nazi occupation. The Germans were pretty easy on France in the first half of the war -- hell, they let 2/3 of the country stay self-governing -- so resistance was slow to form. By 1944, the Germans had become almost as nasty as they had always been in Eastern Europe, and resistance soared accordingly.

Physics and math? Really? You must be in complete awe of Hungary, then.

"the most sustained period of near universal economic improvement in recorded history..."

That would be either Europe 1849-1914 if your metric is "length of expansion", or China since 1980 if you mean "number of people involved".

Papandreou was just as supportive of Serbia as Mitsotakis, though. No?

Doug M.

talos said...

Physics and math? Really? You must be in complete awe of Hungary, then.
Oh, absolutely. I'm not sure how this correlates with educational system though. Whether this was something more than a random concurrence of brilliant minds...

The metric I had in mind is increased welfare across all sections of society. Ask the Chinese peasants about the ubiversality of the past two decades of growth. (Unrelated to the post, but check out this review about the Chinese Peasant Survey)

Resistance correlated roughly with the brutality of Nazi occupation.
True, but then the brutality of Nazi occupation correlated with the strength of the resistance... Some sort of feedback. In Greece in 1941 the Nazis were not into random slaughter. By 1944 they were slughtering men women and children (i.e. in Distomo) indiscriminately because of the strength of the resistance (which became stronger because of the increased German brutality etc.)...

Oh and Yes Papandreou was just as supportive, but rather more cautious.

Anonymous said...

"Increased welfare across all sections of society" would cover Liberal 19th century Europe. (Which I'm somewhat arbitrarily defining as Europe 1849-1914.) If you exclude Native Americans and Aborigines, it covers North America and Australia as well.

China, well. If 2/3 of a society is doing much better while the other 1/3 stagnates in poverty, I still have to call that progress. Without implying that the 1/3 can or should be neglected. China has lifted nearly half a billion people out of absolute poverty, and moved another couple of hundred million from poverty into the global middle class. Without ignoring those left behind, this is no small thing.

Repression: up to a point. In some places (Lidice massacre, some parts of the Ukraine) the Nazis used the hoof-and-mouth solution to the partisan problem, and made it work very well.

Geography played a part too, of course. Much of the Balkan penninsula is suitable for partisan warfare in a way that, say Belgium is not. If you index in suitability of terrain, then the Poles become the resistance champions of all space and time.

I'm less sure of Papandreou's clean hands (though I agree about the intelligent caution). Slobo & Co. continued to launder money through Greece throughout this period. Not as blatantly as they did in Cyprus, but blatantly enough. Milosevic, his family and his cabinet had over 200 accounts in Greek banks. It's hard to believe none of that money ended up with anyone close to PASOK.

And it's not as if Papandreou was reluctant to jump in bed with extreme nationalists. (Or, more accurately, to seduce them into bed with him.)

Doug M.

talos said...

Doug, no real disagreement on this (although, as you seem to agree, China doesn't fit the "universal" part of the description)

Re: Papandreou, I'm not talking about "clean hands" - I'm quite sure of the opposite. He was more *careful* and thus I doubt that what Glenny describes could have come from the Greek taxpayer - possibly it was "other people's money"?

Yet, I just discovered that in early June 1995 (possibly Glenny was off by a few weeks), pro-PASOK Greek newspapers hailed the release of the hostages as a Greek diplomatic victory. So conceivably this was part of a strategy of appearing "helpful" and taking an active part in the Bosnian crisis? I'm not sure...
I've got the link if anyone is interested....

kkk said...

Re: "unevolved"

OK guys, I DID say it was a rant!! :-)

I do stick by the essence of what I said, though...

Let me propose a different metric:
HOW FREE (or freedom loving) THE PEOPLE ARE!

And you may well say, well that's pretty subjective. I'll try to make it less so:

1) To what extent does the civil service believe in its Divine Right to mess people around? How passively is this accepted?
2) How liberated is the nation from hero worship? (e.g. Russia is about 0, Romania, Albania, Caucasus are negative )
3) How dire are the consequences of "stunts"? You know, abseiling into the presidential palace in a Superman suit, etc. (can vary from a ticking off (UK) to execution)
4) How slack is military security in general? How easy is the public around guns, incl. farmer's shotguns, etc.?
5) How attached are the grandmothers to any church or state apparat (as appropriate)?
6) How seriously is the "sanctity" of identity papers viewed by the population? Is all a bit of joke, or does everybody get all huffy?
7) How welcome is for an unconnected lone tourist to tour the country on a bike? How much suspicion will he generate?
8) How evolved is the youth's taste for rock?

I think the above give an idea of what I'm driving at...

Now, don't get me wrong, I admire all dem mathematicians and physicists too, but we could ONLY use them as a marker, if they could APPLY their brainpower, and system analytical capability to dig their countries out of the holes they're in.

They can't, so a fat lot of use all that maths is! Bet you they all end up working for the Chinese (as we all may, yet!)


BTW, I'll give you Hungary and the Czechs, I don't quite count them in with the other lot. I believe Hungarians are as fractuous as Greeks, they have a saying that if you put two of them on a desert island you'll get 3 parties, so that's a start! The Czechs had Bohemia, so with any luck they'll find their feet again at some stage. At the moment, I understand they're doing so by promoting one of the biggest porn industries in Europe. Glad to see they're not wasting talent.

Even the Yugos were OKish, hell, they exported cars to Greece! I still remember how shocked everyone I knew was when the first Serb-Croat shite hit the fan. (Everybody knew at least one "nice", apparently totally normal Yugoslavian! Of course I am talking about people who didn't know what "Balkan" meant)


Hey talos this Greek involvement stuff seems a bit heavy, I'm glad I don't have to think about it!