Today’s international crime syndicates are more powerful than ever, and likely to become more so.
So warns Glenny (The Balkans: Nationalism, War & the Great Powers, 1804-1999, 2000, etc.), formerly a BBC correspondent in Central Europe. That region’s particular brand of organized crime is spreading around the world, he demonstrates in persuasive, alarming detail. When ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia finally subsided, it left in its wake “a wrecked local economy and a society dominated by testosterone-driven young men who [were] suddenly unemployed.” This combination, which quickly led to society-wide corruption and crime in the Balkans, proved just as toxic in parts of the disintegrated Soviet Union and civil war–ravaged Africa and Latin America. Glenny’s animated prose describes a slew of countries stretching from Bulgaria to Brazil and Nigeria in which the shadow economy of protection, kidnapping, gambling and smuggling threatens to overtake legitimate business—if it hasn’t already done so. (Globalization and web-based technologies have opened opportunities for gangsters as well as entrepreneurs.) Based on the author’s skillful investigative journalism, this survey of international wrongdoing makes for fantastic reading that surprises on more than one occasion: Who knew that western Canada had more organized criminal syndicates per capita than any other nation? In this world, gangsters and politicians, criminals and law-abiding citizens are rarely far apart. Highlighting those links, Glenny writes, “no organized criminal is as successful as the one who enjoys the backing of the state.” He loses his cool when tying all the bloodletting back to those who consider themselves quite apart from such things: Western consumers who, wittingly or not, feed the beast with their appetites for everything from drugs to prostitutes to cheap plastic goods. In his view, globally organized crime is a worldwide crisis linked to and nearly eclipsing terrorism as a threat.
A bracing, frightening ride through a dark world experiencing “a vigorous springtime.”