Death of “old boys”
09 August, 2014
The Soviet Union used to pride itself on safety of its citizens and being crime-free. Just like everything else, this was a barefaced lie, and upon the state’s collapse, all the rot and corruption it concealed within spilled outside, not dissimilar from that of the intestines of a gutted animal. The 90’s were a hard time for all post-Soviet states: what was not ruined by USSR before its dissolution largely ceased to function after it. Poverty, hunger and political turmoil
were common almost everywhere, but the most rampant problem was crime. Gangs of organized criminals who ruled the Soviet underground refused to give up their power and continued to ravage their respective homelands. With post-Soviet space in disarray, no one could effectively keep them in check. “Thieves in law” became the scourge of all countries freed from the Soviet Union’s yoke.
What followed, however, was a bizarre veneration of these criminals, especially among the youth. Teenagers as young as 12 emulated the behavior and mannerisms of gutter gangsters; their older counterparts entertained themselves by shaking down and sometimes mugging passers-by for their belongings. Running into trouble with the police was a sign of prestige; having done time in prison was a status symbol; being “raised by the street” made one respected among his fellows. Being educated was considered distasteful among these people, getting income from work instead of crime was a shame for their kind. Being acquainted with one of the “thieves in law” was considered highly prestigious among the aspiring criminals. Mentality of Soviet prisons kept the lower class youth in a firm grip, giving birth to “gopnik” subculture in Russia and “dzveli bichi” (old boy) subculture in Georgia. If being a lowlife thug can be called a subculture, that is.
In a way, their logic made sense. Back in the 90’s, when everything was in shambles, “thieves in law” were the only ones with money, influence and power. They were the only ones who threw lavish parties, wiped their backsides with money and projected an image of living a carefree life. In a twisted sense, they were celebrities of that age, and like any other celebrities, they became role models. Not only was the entire concept of worshipping criminals morally degenerating for society, but it also contributed to a steep decrease in general safety: anyone in the street, regardless of age or sex, could run into a group of these “unruly youths” and lose everything, starting with one’s personal belongings and ending with life. The young criminals rationalized their behavior by portraying their victims as foolish and unworthy of possessing property in the first place; they employed a crude parody of Darwinist philosophy by stating that “if he/she had been smart, he/she wouldn’t have been robbed”. Street thugs were so abundant in the 1995-1999 period that quite a few citizens had to resort to carrying weapons for self-defense. The media picked up on the growing trend and exacerbated the issue, releasing movies and series that featured “noble criminals” and told about their hard lives, trying to elicit sympathy for them.
However, in the 2000’s the amount of “old boys” started to decrease. First they vanished from central streets of Georgian cities, then from the outskirts. Nowadays they are something akin to a sasquatch. What happened, one might ask. Well, for starters, very many “thieves-in-law” got either imprisoned or killed in a series of crackdowns. In a rather unconstitutional move, an unwritten order was given to humiliate them in prison, so that they would no longer be considered authorities according to their own code. This destroyed the pinnacle of Georgian criminal hierarchy, while any who aspired to replace the toppled crime bosses were quickly isolated and prevented from gaining any power. Thus, the role models were removed. Then it came to turning the youth away from the life of crime. Along with harsher penalties for misdemeanors, lower-class families received support from the state and were obliged to commit their children to educational facilities. Workplaces for them were also created. It was a lengthy, rocky and bumpy road, but to a certain extent, it was successful. The image of a street thug was disparaged and mocked in the media. A shift in society’s mentality slowly followed – from viewing young criminals as an unavoidable evil it changed to despising them. Unfortunately, many of the youths were too warped by their past to be redeemed. This “lost generation” is yet another in the long list of evils perpetrated by the Soviet Union against the countries it annexed.
The seed of criminal lifestyle was not stamped out completely, however. Vestiges of it still linger in poorer areas of Georgia, and given the right circumstances, it might flourish again. It falls not only to our government, but to every Georgian to prevent this from happening by instilling values of hard work, education and honesty into their children, brothers, sisters, cousins and everyone of a young age.

By Zura Amiranashvili