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How to Be a Member of the Russian Mafia in 5 Easy Steps

Designer Wear, Gravestones

If you’ve always wanted to be a member of a crime organization, the Russian Mafia is the choice for you! Brutal enough to satisfy your primal urges, and tech-savy enough to keep up with the times, the Russian Mafia is also loosely organized, which means that there’s a lot of room for the right candidate to move swiftly up the ranks. And no other mafia in the world has better taste in gravestones! Lucky you! You’ve definitely made the right career choice…

Step 1: The Clothes Make the Man

Are you a “bull” or a “killer”?
If you’re the guy who does all the work, you need to be able to make a quick getaway!
You need:

•A jogging suit, preferably Adidas (interesting fact: the gravestones of some young mafia members picture them wearing jogging suits -how cool!)
•A leather jacket to show your masculine power
•Athletic shoes (for the quick getaway part)
•Short hair (don’t want your enemies grabbing your ponytail in a struggle, now do you?)
•Your baptism cross (the Russian mafia is strangely religious)

Are you a brigade boss? An “authority” or a “brigadier”?
To show your higher status and your complete separation from the average Russian citizen, you need to be as flashy as possible. Think designer. Wear enough jewelry to support a small country. Because you’re worth it -and you can certainly afford it!
You need:

•A cashmere suit: expensive
•A silk shirt: no tie, top few buttons unbuttoned
•Shoes: over $500 whenever possible
•Watch: Rolex, preferably gold
•Roughly $50,000 in jewelry: at least 2 rings, one of which is a seal and the other some kind of gemstone; at least one necklace has to be a cross, the more the better

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Recommended for all mafia, regardless of your status:

•Your tattoos! Stars on the shoulders show off your prison affiliations
bratskie smertniki: id bracelets with your blood type on them; you know, in case you get shot?

Step 2: Talk the Talk

Some mafia slang to get you started:

brigada / bratva : brigade or brotherhood -this is how you refer to your mafia cronies.
chainik : prison bully (literally cheap teapot, like the ones used in Russian prisons).
grokhnut : to shoot; literally to bang (sound); one of several slang words for killing.
krisha : literally, roof. Pay-off to a protection racket.
limoni / tri limona : one lemon (million rubles) / three lemons (three million).
ment : cop.
mussor : cop; literally garbage.
po ponyatiyam : way of offering security services; gentlemen’s agreement.
roskrychivat’ : to scheme, commit fraud, etc.
vor v zakonye: thief in law. Full name of leader of old Russian gang -this refers to the old style of criminals: roots of which are traced to the Soviet prison system, specifically Stalinist gulags. They follow only their own laws and reject any involvement with or obligation to the legitimate world.

Pronounciation guide: Generally, in two-syllable words, the stress is on the first syllable. In three-syllable words, the stress is on the second syllable. In four-syllable words, the stress is on the second and fourth syllables. Ex: ponyatiyam is pronounced pawn-YA-tea-YUM.

(sources: pbs.org, personal knowledge)

Step 3: Gender is Not Negotiable

Please take this moment to check that you are indeed male. Women have absolutely no role in the Russian mafia except as wives or merchandise (more often, the latter).

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Step 4: Pick the Right Car (the tachka makes all the difference)

It is extremely important to pick the right car in order to show the world how important you are. The quality of the car (and the price) naturally increases as you move up in the ranks (see the Russian series “Brigada” for a perfect example).

•The mafia prefers SUVs (who cares about the environment? After all, you’re probably not going to live past 35, anyway)
•Mercedes is, of course, the most desirable make
•It follows that a Mercedes SUV is the epitome of mafia cool
•Bonus points: make sure the picture on your gravestone has the Mercedes keys hanging out of the pocket of your leather jacket so that everyone will know how awesome you were

Step 5: Select Your Extracurricular Activities with Care

Now that you’re mafia, you have to spend your time wisely. Here are some examples of what you can do to make a little extra babki on the side:

•Start a website to “set up” lonely American men with lovely Russian wives: “I lov you very much and want hav hapy life with you ferever. Sned monney fer arplane tiket. use Western Union. -lov ferever, Olga”
•Steal debit card numbers and load them onto fake ATM cards: empty hundreds of personal bank accounts in no time flat ($4 million was successfully stolen in New York in just such a manner -CDI Russia Weekly #258; how’s that for sneaky, eh?)
•Launder money and lots of it (take the Bank of New York scandal in 1998 for example -nearly $10 billion laundered. Ka-ching!)
•Politely suggest that businesses should pay you money for protection…from yourself
•Extort, extort, extort

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Congratulations! You are now a biznesmen!


  • Buy Brigada online- it’s an entertaining and realistic series about how organized crime operated in Russia during the ’90s. You won’t be able to tear yourself away.