Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ukrainian obshchak

In recent months some of the activities of the current Ukrainian authorities, e.g. grain export quota machinations, selective application of customs control and import duty on petroleum products, etc., below-cost selling off of prime development sites and property to favoured buyers and so on, have been ever more frequently described by some commentators as the creation of an 'obshchak' set up for the benefit of 'those who now must be obeyed'.

The excerpt below from this academic paper provides an explanation of this term.

"Thieves and bandits

The legendary Soviet criminal underworld, the world of thieves (vorovskoi mir), has received a fair amount of scholarly attention. Formed in labor camps and prisons in the early-Soviet times, the world of thieves became a powerful informal organization that survived until the end of the Soviet system.

Thieves observe a complex set of mores and prohibitions that regulate their relations with one another, with authorities and with outsiders. Prohibitions are particularly strong with reference to having a legitimate job and a family, the cooperation with prison or any state authorities, the use of violence towards other thieves unless a collective decision is taken, and personal luxury.

The central element of the world of thieves is the so-called obshchak, the communal fund which accumulates the money acquired by theft and other illegal methods. Having donated the money to the obshchak, the thieve then receives from it his share that makes his living. But the bulk of obshchak is used to support those who serve their prison term. The elite of this underworld consists of the so-called "thieves-in-law" (vory v zakone), whose main function is obshchak management and exercise of criminal justice"

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