COMRADE CRIMINAL by Stephen  Handelman


Russia's New Mafiya
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 The most thorough and comprehensive assessment published to date of the extent and seriousness of criminal activity in Russia. Handelman, Moscow bureau chief for the Toronto Star from 1987 to 1992, provides an unprecedented degree of detail to document prevailing charges of the pervasiveness of organized crime, which allegedly accounted for 30 to 40 percent of national turnover in goods and services in 1993, according to Russian law enforcement agencies. Handelman rightly points out the difficulty of arriving at an agreed definition in a country where high taxes and red tape make it hard for business to be conducted honestly. But among the useful points he makes are that smuggling and the black market had become vital to the functioning of the state in the last 20 years of the Soviet Union's existence--which gives, as he says, new meaning to the phrase ``evil empire.'' The KGB and government officials have commandeered the whole process of privatization. And despite repeated declarations of war on crime, the government has failed to deal with the phenomenon. (Some statistics are ambiguous, however. Numbers showing how widespread corruption is--in 1993, 46,000 officials from all levels of government were tried on charges of corruption or abuse of power--could also prove the diligence and incorruptibility of those bringing the charges). Finally, according to Handelman, this wave of criminality has led not only to a disenchantment with capitalism, but to ``an overwhelming sense of defeat.'' While Handelman disclaims pessimism and pays tribute to the ingenuity and grit of many Russians, his last chapter, titled ``Who Lost Russia?,'' is not reassuring. Somewhat journalistic in style, but a careful and serious- minded effort to understand the significance of a pervasive criminality that threatens the structure of the state.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1995
ISBN: 0-300-06352-0
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1995