Mafia State


The term mafia state is a political buzzword to describe a system of government that is tied to organized crime, such as when government officials, police, and/or military take part in illicit enterprises. The term mafia is a reference to any organized crime groups strongly connected with the authorities.

According to US diplomats, a former officer of the Russian FSB secret service who specialized in organized crime, Alexander Litvinenko, coined the phrase ‘Mafia state.’ Both the Italian mafia and Japanese Yakuza have have, at times, established a close and friendly relationships with their respective governments.  Scholar of Law and Economics Edgardo Buscaglia describes the political system of Mexico as a ‘Mafiacracy.’ Buscaglia characterizes the condition between the state, the economy and organized crime in Mexico as a mutual interweaving.

In Italy, the actions of the mafia can continue to affect people’s lives today. The Italian ‘Camorra’ Mafia network became powerful in the city of Naples in the 19th Century; although it can trace its origins back to 15th Century Spain and today extending its influence to European countries above Italy as well. The ‘Cosa Nostra’ and ”Ndrangheta’ were confederations of about 150 different groups, each with their own organizations and ruling body. Part of the network, known as the ‘Casalesi clan’ became involved in business in the 1970s and 80s, eventually gaining control of large areas of the local economy ‘partly by manipulating politicians and intimidating judges.’

Among the contracts the clan gained was for the disposal of toxic waste, however, much of it was dumped illegally. This dumped toxic waste is thought to be cause of a rise in the number suffering from cancer in towns around Naples. The rise was first noticed two decades ago, and has been calculated that there has been a 40 and 47 per cent increase in cancer in women and men respectively. The Italian Senate is currently investigating the causes of the cancers, with illegal dumping thought to be the likely cause.

Kosovo, a partially recognized independent state formerly part of Serbia, was called a ‘mafia state’ by Italian Member of the European Parliament Pino Arlacchi in 2011, and also by Distinguished Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Moisés Naím in his 2012 essay ‘Mafia States’ in ‘Foreign Affairs.’ Naím pointed out that Prime Minister of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi is allegedly connected to the heroin trade. Many other crime allegations have been made, and investigated by several countries, against Thaçi. Naím also labeled Montenegro as a ‘mafia state’ in the same essay, describing it as a hub for cigarette smuggling.

Transnistria, an unrecognised break-away state from Moldova, has long been described by journalists, researchers, politicians and diplomats as a quasistate whose economy is dependent on contraband and gunrunning. In 2002, Moldova’s president, Vladimir Voronin, called Transnistria a ‘residence of international mafia,’ ‘smuggling stronghold,’ and ‘outpost of Islamic combatants.’ The allegations were followed by attempts of customs blockade. Russia and Transnistria call the claims a planned defamation campaign paid by the Moldovan government and aimed at producing negative image of Transnistria.

‘Mafia state’ has been used by defector Alexander Litvinenko and some Western media to describe the political system in Russia under Vladimir Putin’s rule. This characterization came to prominence following the United States diplomatic cables leak, which revealed that US diplomats viewed Russia as ‘a corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy centered on the leadership of Vladimir Putin, in which officials, oligarchs and organized crime are bound together to create a ‘virtual mafia state.” In his book titled ‘Mafia State,’ journalist and author Luke Harding argues that Putin has ‘created a state peopled by ex-KGB and FSB officers, like himself, [who are] bent on making money above all.’ In the estimation of American diplomats, ‘the government [of Russia] effectively [is] the mafia.’

According to the ‘New Statesman,’ ‘the term had entered the lexicon of expert discussion” several years before the cables leak, ‘and not as a frivolous metaphor. Those most familiar with the country had come to see it as a kleptocracy with Vladimir Putin in the role of capo di tutti capi, dividing the spoils and preventing turf wars between rival clans of an essentially criminal elite.’

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