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The Russian Mafia or Vorami v Zakone  (“Thieves-in-Law”) has its origins in the Gulag Prison sytem of the Communist Soviet Union.

Origins Of Russian Mafia 

The Gulags which produced the Vorami v Zakone Mafia were essentially hard labour Prison Camps created in the Soviet Union from the 1920s until the late 1950s. 

Most Gulags were built by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 October Revolution in order to house political opponents as well as average criminals. These Gulags were greatly expanded from the 1920s as a result of Stalin’s Politcal purges.

Following Stalin’s death in March 1953, however, the Soviet political leadership made the decision to  dismantle the Gulags which bred the Vorami v Zakone even though some of the Prison camps  were turned into standard Civil prisons which stayed operational until the 1980s.

The term Gulag represented the Political repression of the Soviet State.

Gulags were also used to supply the Soviet State with free forced labour which had been vital to the industrialization of USSR just before World War 2.

It’s been suggested that the Russian Mafia in its modern form emerged in the Soviet Gulag in the late 1920s or early 1930s.

The Gulag system also allowed the spread of Vorami v Zakone Mafia culture with its strict code of Conduct, mysterious initiation rituals and restricted membership throughout the Soviet Union.

The strict rules of the Vorami v Zakone Mafia prohibited cooperation with Russian State Prison authorities and Communist Government officials.

Additionally, the code of conduct of the Russian Mafia did not allow them to serve in the Army or any Organ of the repressive Communist State.  

It would seem that membership of the Vorami v Zakone was viewed by Members as an act of individual autonomy against an Oppressive, Collectivist and Totalitarian Soviet State.

The Russian Mafia experienced 2 Major periods of intense War and upheaval.

The first known as the Bitch Wars arose during the 2nd World War and lasted until 1954.

This War was between the traditional Russian Mafiosi who followed the strict code of the Vorami v Zakone and those that had served in the Red Army during World War II.

In the early 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a scramble for wealth and power as new property rights and economic opportunities were viciously contested  by Russian Mafia Organised Crime figures.

This led to a period of intense killing and violence which lasted until 1996 when the various Underworld figures in the Russian Mafia had consolidated their positions and the Russian State was better able to exert its power and control.

It was during the 1990s that Russian businessmen hired contract killers to eliminate their competition. 

Today, the Vorami v Zakone has evolved and merged with the world of legitimate business.

As a result, its criminal activities now focus on maintaining high level Political influence as a means of securing control of business gains made during the era of fierce violence in 1990s Moscow. 

In addition, Russian Culture has changed considerably with the fall of the Soviet Union which has seen more Western influence in Moscow.

As a result, the next generation of Russian Criminals does not adhere to the original strict code of the Vorami v Zakone as shown by the decline and corruption of the Vorami v Zakone’s old system of Tatoos held sacred by the Russian Mafia since its inception in the Russian Gulags of the 1920s.

Today, its uncertain whether the Russian Mafia will survive in its most Orthodox form as Russian Culture including that of the Vorami v Zakone is affected by Western Cultural influence since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the Documentary Thieves By Law, we get an intimate look the History of the Vorami v Zakone from Members of the Russian Mafia who seek posterity to preserve the old ways of the Vorami v Zakone.