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Book Review December 11, 2002
The Dictatorship of the Pumped
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 3 of 3
Along the way, Volkov clarifies some of the murkiest aspects of the Russian racketeers' world. For example, most of us have read about the "vor v zakone," "the law-obeying thieves," who ruled the labor camps. And most of us have seen their rivals, the mid-90s gangsters who strutted around in Adidas, wore too much gold, and drove a Mercedes SUV. But in Volkov's book I encountered for the first time a clear delineation of the differences between these two criminal worlds and the amazing tale of what happened when the two rival codes argued and fought over control of the extortion racket. The short version: the newer bandits won because they were more flexible, disciplined and pragmatic. But that's only a very, very simplistic summary of a truly fascinating tale. To get the full, astounding story, buy this book and read it!

Volkov answers many questions which have puzzled observers of recent Russian racketeers. Take the case of that infamous "bandit uniform" of the mid-90s: the Adidas, gold, and Mercedes which made the bandits so conspicuous. Those of you who read the last issue of eXile will remember that our new "Russian Junkie" columnist, Vlad the Impaler, described such a character, then wondered aloud why such people dressed in a way that made them obvious targets for police harrassment and bribe-taking.

Volkov explains this phenomenon with typical clarity, beginning with the key difference between "vory" ("thieves") and "bandity": "A thief's major task is to steal...[so thieves] tend to keep a low profile...The bandit, on the contrary, considers himself a provider of certain services or at least makes such claims to his clients....This capacity must be conspicuous, since it represents the [bandit] group's major market resource and the source of income. Hence the elaborate system of external symbolic attributes (gold jewelry, sports haircuts, leather jackets)...."

After delineating the key groups in the racketeering world, Volkov brings them to vivid life with some of the most interesting crime stories you'll ever read. There's the story of how a group of Afghantsy (Afghan vets, one of the major new racketeering groups of the 90s) hijacked a T-90 experimental model tank in order to make a point about their capabilities to their Azeri rivals. Or the story of what happened when another Azeri tried to show his courage by saying to a rival, "Okay, shoot me" and pointing to his forehead. (Actually, you can probably guess the punchline to that one.)

But no matter how many wonderful stories Volkov offers the reader, he never strays from his clear and powerful thesis: the racketeers of the 90s were the true essence of the Capitalist model as it appeared in Russia in Yeltsin's time. After reading Volkov's book, I'm wondering, not for the first time, why conservative Western academics like McFaul lack the courage of their convictions. Why have these advocates of the free market been so loath to recognize the key place that Russian "organized crime" played in 90s Russia?

Really the highest praise one can offer Volkov is to say that he is utterly unlike his cowardly Western colleagues. By having the courage to pursue Capitalist ideology to its logical conclusions; to seek out and interview the scary people who form his subject; and to write his conclusions in lucid, jargon-free prose; Volkov has created a masterful book which goes far beyond its ostensible subject to offer the best account of Yeltsin's Russia you'll ever read.

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Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

Scanning Moscow’s Traffic Cops
Automotive Section
We’re happy to introduce a new column in which we publish Moscow’s raw radio communications, courtesy of a Russian amateur radio enthusiast. This issue, eXile readers are given a peek into the secret conversations of Moscow’s traffic police, the notorious "GAIshniki."

Eleven Years of Threats: The eXile's Incredible Journey
Feature Story By The eXile
Good Night, and Bad Luck: In a nation terrorized by its own government, one newspaper dared to fart in its face. Get out your hankies, cuz we’re taking a look back at the impossible crises we overcame.

Your Letters
Russia's freedom-loving free market martyr Mikhail Khodorkovsky answers some of this week's letters, and he's got nothing but praise for President Medvedev.

Clubbing Adventures Through Time
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eXile club reviewer Babooshka takes a trip through time with the ghost of Moscow clubbing past, present and future, and true to form, gets laid in the process.

The Fortnight Spin
Bardak Calendar By Jared Lindquist
Jared comes out with yet another roundup of upcoming bardak sessions.

Your Letters
Richard Gere tackles this week's letters. Now reformed, he fights for gerbil rights all around the world.

13 Toxic Talents: Hollywood’s Worst Polluters
America By Eileen Jones
Everybody complains about celebrities, but nobody does anything about them. People, it’s time to stop fretting about whether we’re a celebrity-obsessed culture—we are, we have been, we’re going to be—and instead take practical steps to clean up the celebrity-obsessed culture we’ve got...


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