Of Russian origin: Po ponyatiyam
In the 1990’s the Soviet Union collapsed, along with the fear of law. In fact, rule of law as such ceased to exist. To solve business disputes or domestic issues, “po ponyatiyam”, or “the codes of the underworld”, became the new rule.
It was the beginning of the so-called “reckless 90’s ”. The Soviet Union legalized private entrepreneurship, allowing free trade. However, the new law said nothing about regulations and the security of the market economy. After the August “putsch” of 1991, which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country fell into chaos, so did the economy, which resulted in social decay. While nobody agreed to obey official authorities, organized criminal groups/syndicates were gathering momentum. The vast country was torn apart by hundreds of small and dozens of big mobs… Solntsevskiye, Orekhovskieye, Koptevskiye, Kazanskiye are just few of the most notorious organized criminal groups, that controlled Moscow. An occasional mention of a criminal group would indicate who your krysha (or roof in Russian) is, оr otherwise who's your patron and protector. All issues were to be settled between mobs. A syndicate which had more members and which was better equipped with weapons (including explosives and rifles) took over in the conflict. Disputes were settled down at so-called strelkas (or a meeting of two conflicting groups of criminals). With harsh words, fists, knives and bullets, a dispute would be solved 'po ponyatiyam'…
According to this code, punishment for a debt would be a kidnapping of a family member as the initial warning and chopping off his or her fingers as the second. The murder of a mob's member would be followed by a similar murder of a member of a competing group. The most fierce vendetta would be for a death of a syndicate's leader. They were considered as godfathers by their mobs and would be buried accordingly.
But protection of a mob did not come for free. On a regular basis criminals would come to small and big entrepreneurs 'to collect render' and raid those who refused to share voluntarily. Gasoline stations, shops, restaurants and even singers and actors were all 'taxed'. And, of course, the amount of the tax was decided "po ponyatiyam". By 1993 the majority of Russia's banks were owned by the mafia, and 80% of businesses were paying protection money. In that year alone, 1,400 people were murdered in Moscow – mostly businessmen who refused to pay to the organized criminal groups.
A popular method "to tame the shrew" would be to introduce yourself to a businessman and offer him help "just in case" without putting pressure or threatening. The next step would be to send armed men to the same businessman as if from a different mob. The scheme worked perfectly. Almost everyone got hooked and turned to 'a kind patron' for protection. The problems which organized criminal groups offered to solve were very often created by themselves.
As most of the mobs' leaders were former prisoners, between themselves they abided by certain rules taken from the prison system. One such rule was that cooperation with the authorities of any kind was forbidden. During World War II, some prisoners made a deal with the government to join the armed forces in return for a reduced sentence, but upon their return to prison they were attacked and killed by inmates who remained loyal to the rules of the thieves. This story would be often rehashed by Russian mafia in the 90’s.
Written by Ekaterina Gracheva, RT correspondent