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Summary And Analysis Of Mcmafia By Misha Glenny

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 3019 words Published: 2nd May 2017

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In Misha Glenny’s book McMafia- A Journey through the Global Criminal Underworld he aims at uncovering the mysteries that lie behind organized crime. His scope in this literature is to give new insights on the ever growing transnational organized crime by painting an intimate portrait of black economies and dark societies which are now everywhere from the mountains of Afghanistan to British Colombia. One of the main theses of Glenny’s book is that the collapse in 1989 of the communist superpower, the Soviet Union, is the single most important event prompting the exponential growth of organized crime around the world in the last two decades. [1] In his book he proves that the conflicts of today can no longer be understood without understanding the connection behind organized crime and the state, between what is legal and illegal. Furthermore, he goes on to explain how it is often inevitable for illicit networks to be created when there are power structures such as natural resources are violated for private gain. These issues of corruption are only accentuated further by the careless policy making of the West and to some extent the U.N.


Glenny in his book goes back and forth between events that have made a significant mark towards the escalation of organized crime. Early in the book he describes the covert action that was organized between the British Intelligence, the Bulgarian police, the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bolivian Special Anti-trafficking force where they seized 700 tons of cocaine, the largest amount ever seized by authority. The drug had been molded into medicinal clay and then mixed into a container which contained powdered mashed potatoes and it was to be transported to Varna, Bulgaria through Chile. The Columbian Drug cartel had been smuggling Colombian chemists into Bulgaria in order to train Soviet chemists to extract the coke from various seemingly harmless substances. [2] 

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According to the UN drug trafficking accounts for 70% of organized crime and the economy of organized crime makes up 20% of the world’s GDP. Even in countries such as Canada there is one of the largest per capita concentrations of organized crime syndicates in the world. Marijuana cultivation is prominent in British Columbia even though Glenny makes it clear that he believes such a business should be legalized as it has very little to do with more serious crimes such as human trafficking. Furthermore, he explains how the owners of these cultivations have been offered to deal with cocaine dealers in Florida but are far from the ‘international gangland’.

Most of Glenny’s anecdotes regarding organized crime are connected to Eastern Europe. He mentions Russia’s President Boris Yeltsi , the first president after the fall of the Soviet communist regime. Boris Yeltsin executed a reform where he liberalized the prices of everything in Russia except those of natural resources such as oil, diamond, gas and metal. This action gave way to the beginning of corruption within the new founded Russian government. Those people who had connections to the state and had some immoral inclinations in their characters were able to obtain the natural resources at ‘state mandated’ prices and sell them at market rate in the rest of the world. This resulted as Glenny puts it’ an overnight creation of a generation of Russian oligarchs…quite simply the grandest larceny in history’. [3] 

As an enormous amount of money left Russia to be laundered and invested elsewhere the Russians gave ‘Mafyia’ a deeper meaning. Ex cops, wrestlers and soldiers were all there to be the ‘muscle’ of this new founded organized mob. This development happened so fast that ‘the police and even the KGB were clueless as to how one might enforce contract law’. Even though the mob (with its protection rackets and Mafiosi) is described by Glenny as a ‘parasite on an otherwise healthy economy’ it was of extreme importance to the transition from socialism to capitalism. Glenny states that the Russian economy quickly became ‘a giant Petri dish of the Chicago school of market economics’. [4] 

This capitalistic explosion in Eastern Europe was largely encouraged by the West. Both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher did not give much attention to the sudden deregulation of the financial market. There was an enormous amount of pressure on the post Soviet satellite states to open their economies to foreign imports. Furthermore, both the United States and the European Union continued to protect their agricultural industries and therefore stalled any real hope for development for Eastern Europe which could compete economically only in that sector.

The complicity of the West was a fertilizer to the blossoming of the organized crime franchise. The UN imposed sanctions on Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro in 1992 in order to stop trading with Yugoslavia. This made it very difficult for Yugoslavia to legally survive without illegal imports. The US pursued its personal struggles by silencing the EU when the illegal smuggling of cigarettes from Montenegro to Italy estimated £4-6 billion annually in foregone tax revenue. The EU was allowed to approach Montenegro and monitor the speed boats on the Adriatic Sea only when the war against Serbia was won and a lot of money was lost. Regardless of these struggles, gangsters did not have problems with ethnic conflicts as long as the economic deals between the gang members were honored. While Sarajevo was shelled by the Serbs, Bosnian Muslim warlords made deals with their enemies in order to raise the price of basic food in order to gain profit.

The Western nations negatively influenced Eastern Europe not only through their economic policies but also through their political ones. Not recognizing Transnistria in eastern Moldova as a country instigated its people to make a living through unethical trade of Soviet weaponry. Glenny calls it the ‘ quintessential gangster state’ as there are enough weapons there to supply an entire army. The weapons that are produced by these unmonitored weapon factories are transported from Transistria to all the major war areas of the world such as: The Caucasus, The Middle East , Central Asia and many countries in Western and Central Africa. The money obtained from these transactions sponsors the Transistrian soccer team that cannot legally compete in any international games as the country it represents is non- existent to the rest of the world. [5] 

Glenny also blames the attitude of Europeans which has greatly changed in the last 20 years. He describes it as a: conscience free consumerism that is infecting the entire planet.’ He condemns the educated European young men who find nothing wrong with flying to Estonia or a similar East European destination on stag weekend where ‘hiring prostitutes is part of the fun.’ Balkan gangs enrich themselves through not only the transport of tax free cigarettes but also through prostitutes which they place on the ‘Highway of Shame’ that connects Prague to Dresden. The women are held captive and some buy their way out of sexual slavery by recruiting other women by promising them waitressing jobs.

Women are not only exploited within Europe but often they are transported illegally to the two main prostitution capitals of the Middle East: Tel Aviv and Dubai. Glenny tells a story about a Moldavian woman who had been kidnapped, imprisoned, beaten and terrorized into servicing 20 men a night. When she tried to escape she was kneecapped and left to die in the Negev desert. A large portion of people who make use of these services are American teens that are sent to Israel by their parents with phone numbers of rabbis and synagogues but decide to head for the brothels. Glenny claims he witnessed a sad change in an Israel which was a socially committed land of service idealism where prime ministers lived in humble two-bedroom apartments. [6] He believe this change is due to the many Jewish Russian and Chechen oligarchs who were entitled to an Israeli passport and saw Israel as a great place to store their foreign money and create more illegal business. [7] 

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Organized crime is also predominant in Africa and Glenny gives Nigeria (one of the most corrupt countries in the world) as an example. He describes it as a kleptocracy where the ruling elite usurps the natural resource of oil and the desperate low class citizens mimic their behavior by involving themselves in scams such as credit card and identity thefts. This type of scam is called a 419 scam referring to the section of Nigerian penal code. This type of scam is so commonplace in Nigeria that its characteristics have also been depicted in a song where the main characters are a white man and a Nigerian scam king. Not surprisingly the pop hit is called ‘I Chop Your Dollar’. One famous victim of such fee frauds was the director of Banco Noreste in Brazil Nelson Sakguchi. He was asked to send $191 million by a man who claimed to be Paul Ogwuna, director of the Central bank of Nigeria. [8] 

In the books epilogue Glenny claims that westerners are all complicit in such criminality. He says ‘Organized crime is such a rewarding industry in the Balkans because ordinary west Europeans spend an ever-burgeoning amount of their spare time and money sleeping with prostitutes, smoking untaxed cigarettes, snorting coke through 50 Euro notes up their noses; employing illegal untaxed immigrant labor on subsistence wages; stuffing their gullets with caviar; admiring ivory and sitting in teak; and purchasing the liver and kidneys from the desperately poor in the developing world’. [9] 


Misha Glenny in his book McMafia gives hints at what could be done to solve the problem, however, does not go into detail about ways to help organized crime fall apart. His ideas, although optimistic do not seem very realistic given the political divisions of the world. He makes a good claim in saying that there is a contradiction in the idea of Wars on Drugs and Terror as he believe the illegal trade created by the wars sustain the terrorist enemies. He goes on to claim, however, that the problem would be solved by legalizing drugs as undertaking this action would be a ‘deadly blow’ on the criminal franchising. He does not talk about the consequences that an action to legalize drugs could bring. First of all it would be extremely difficult to figure out a global policy on which all nations agree, furthermore, it is a contradiction as one of the main theses of the book is that we should not consider organized crime as a separate non-state actor which is not linked to the state and policy making. He clearly states that cooperating with key players within the government is a precondition for criminal syndicates to thrive. The main reason why organized crime is thriving and is currently exponentially growing is that the government is involved; for example it does not ask questions about the large sums of unaccountable bank deposits which often happens in the Middle East. Glenny also points out that in the Balkans there is direct control of the top level of ministerial posts by different mobsters. One of the many examples he gives is Bulgaria’s Ilya Pavlov, a former wrestler who married the daughter of a high ranking secret police officer in order to have enormous opportunities after the collapse of the state. He did business in all the illegal sectors such as prostitution, extortion, smuggling, car theft and drug trafficking in many countries including the United States with his subsidiary Multigroup. [10] The lawlessness in the collapsing state and the governmental help he had through his father in law made him one of the greatest Bulgarian mobsters of all time. How can one believe legalizing drugs would simply solve the problem when democratic countries like Canada that serve as an example for other democracies in the world have a lot of drug smuggling going on? Glenny also does not take into consideration the social consequences such an action (if ever followed through) would create. How would a world where drugs are in the norm cope? How would a new generation of teens grow up with such an easy accessibility to something so dangerous and devastating?

Glenny also brings up another proposal. He insists globalization must be done right and in order for it to work the world needs to be a level playing field: The west has to stop protectionist practices and it has to reassess its resistance to the free or at least freer movement of labor. He clearly supports the ‘snakeheads’ who change a fortune to illegally smuggle peasants into the West’s wealthier labor market as this behavior is helping both China and the West and is not causing any harm. He wants the West to adopt better immigration policies as it is not only necessary to help developing nations but to also help developed countries in which population growth is stagnant and a large number of people are too old to work. This is a good proposal as it would not bring anything but positive consequences as every nation developing and developed could gain by such a change in policies. Glenny states that ‘Globalization needs regulation but everyone is reluctant to demand it for fear it may discriminate against them.’ [11] He believes that if this attitude continues the consequences will be devastating and the costs of a global free market will be deducted from our ‘collective humanity as well as our wallets’. Glenny states that the current abuse of the markets is a mix of aggressive American liberalism, European incompetence, Russian cynicism and Sino-Indian ambition. He makes a good point in saying that one nation alone would not solve the problem of irresponsible capitalism and globalization; it is clear by all the criminal accounts he describes in the book that even though capitalism and criminality are not the same thing they cross paths and when they do, that action should be consciously controlled.

Misha Glenny’s proposals may not be very realistic given the lack of leadership present in the world. Countries continue to fuel their own interest without understanding the importance to address transnational interests. He makes a couple of proposals regarding the regulation of Globalization, the legalization of drugs and the open market of labor, however, he does not take the argument further in terms of policy. The book is filled with interesting anecdotes on the criminal underworld and helps the reader become more aware of the dangers of this type of franchising and how much it is part of one’s daily life. The suggestions to take certain actions, however, leave us with a bitter sweet taste in our mouth. It is pleasant to hear such positive words when talking about solutions to such problems, however, one clearly feels disillusioned by the end of the book due to Glenny’s unrealistic proposals.

The criminal underworld has been growing at a very fast rate for the past twenty years. The author believes this is just the beginning of something that could be controlled if action is taken in time. One of the main theses of Glenny’s book is that the collapse in 1989 of the communist superpower, the Soviet Union, is the single most important event prompting the exponential growth of organized crime around the world in the last two decades. In his book he proves that the conflicts of today can no longer be understood without understanding the connection behind organized crime and the state, between what is legal and illegal. He clearly proves that no state has as much power as its laws and institutions claim and the organized crime should never again be perceived as a separate non-state actor. Furthermore, he goes on to explain how it is often inevitable for illicit networks to be created when there are power structures such as natural resources are violated for private gain. These issues of corruption are only accentuated further by the careless policy making of the West and to some extent the U.N. Glenny may not have the most illuminating proposals for the solution of such conflicts, however, he does one fundamental thing which is to make the world aware that it is all real, more real and far worse than any James Bond movie. Communication is key and that is what he is trying to do; making the masses aware of these toxic problems that obscure the future for many people and will only slowly bring the world to its own destruction.


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