Bitch Wars

The Bitch Wars occurred within the Soviet labor camp system between 1945 and 1953 (around the death of Joseph Stalin). The Russian word ‘suka’ (literally, ‘bitch’) has a stronger negative connotation than its English equivalent.

In Russian criminal argot, it specifically refers to a person from the criminal world who had cooperated with law enforcement or the government, or ‘went bitch.’ Within the Russian prison system, there was a historical and social structure that had existed since the Tsarist era. One of the important tenets of the system was that members would not serve or collaborate with the Tsarist and later Soviet government. This rule encompassed any kind of collaboration, not only ‘snitching’ or ‘ratting.’

As World War II progressed, Joseph Stalin offered pardons to many prisoners in exchange for military service. After the end of the war, most former criminals eventually returned to their criminal activities and promptly found their way back to prisons and labor camps. The veterans who returned to prison were declared ‘suki’ and placed on the lower end of the prisoner hierarchy.

As a result they sought to survive through collaboration with prison officials, and in return got some of the better jobs within the prison. This started an internal prison war between the military veterans and the leaders of the Russian criminal underground, or ‘Thieves in Law.’ Many prisoners were killed in the Bitch Wars. Prison authorities turned a blind eye, since prisoner deaths reduced the overall prison population – a population that was difficult to maintain during the famines of the times.

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