Silovye Gruppirovki (Bulgaria)

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Silovye Gruppirovki
Location: Bulgaria
Bulgaria map.png
Author: Igor Mitchnik
Affiliation: School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London

Original text by Igor Mitchnik

The Bulgarian term silovye gruppirovki can be literally translated as violent groups. The term, which is widely known in Bulgaria, can also be understood as a pun; in Bulgarian sila means both power and violence (Langenscheidt 2005: 180[1]). The term is also commonly translated in English as ‘violent entrepreneurship’ and is used to describe a form of organised crime that developed in Bulgaria during the transition period of the 1990s (CSD 2009: 3[2]).

The members of these violent groups are known as mutri, meaning ‘thug’, ‘bully’ or ‘gorilla’ (Bagasheva/ Pencheva 2009: 455[3]; Bulanova-Hristova 2011: 342[4]; Carvajal/ Castle 2008[5]). Vadim Volkov described the Russian equivalent of silovye gruppirovki as racketeers, who produced ‘both, the danger and, at a price, the shield against it’. They were – and to some extent still are – 'violent entrepreneurs' who ‘convert organized force (or organized violence) into money’ (Volkov 2000: 710; 725[6]). In the 1990s members of the silovye gruppirovki groups in Bulgaria were responsible for an increasingly insecure environment and thereby they created a demand for their services from both business and members of the public who sought a guarantee of personal security. The rates offered to clients were two-to-three times cheaper than the cost of hiring police officers (Dzhekova/ Rusev 2015: 32f.[7]).

The noticeable success of the Siloviye Gruppirovki resulted from the specific social and political circumstances prevalent in post-communist Bulgaria. Firstly, the collapse of the centralised Bulgarian communist system in 1989 left immense resources, which had to be transformed from state assets to private property (Bulanova 2008: 57[8]). During the period of the chaotic privatisation process in Bulgaria, Communist elites, who were fully cognisant of the extent and value of the resources, sought to accumulate wealth by buying and selling them (Ganev 2007: 186[9]; Bulanova 2008: 57[10]). This personal accumulation of wealth was facilitated by the ‘gradual loss of statehood’ during the transition period – characterised by legal chaos, lack of institutional and judicial regulation, as well as widespread insecurity (Bulanova 2008: 66[11]). Under these circumstances, the post-communist Bulgarian state failed to guarantee either property rights or contract compliance. Therefore the absence of state power created, among other things, the demand for private security services.

Georgi Iliev, notorious businessman and former boss of Vasil Iliev Security, was assassinated in 2005.

A further contributory factor to the growth of the security service sector was that it was particularly appealing to former wrestlers who lost their jobs with the collapse of the communist system. In the People’s Republic of Bulgaria, wrestling had been a popular sport in which the Communist party had invested a substantial amount of money establishing sporting facilities and organising tournaments. Bulgarian wrestlers were successful on the international stage and thus considered to enhance the reputation of the Republic in the world. In return for this perceived contribution to the country’s international status, the sportsmen were compensated with a comfortable lifestyle, guaranteed by the state (Appelius 2006: 169[12]; Bulanova-Hristova 2011: 341[13]). After the sudden cessation of the totalitarian state control in November 1989 and during the first years of the transition, the sportsmen were deprived of their privileges. The former wrestlers found themselves in urgent need of alternative employment. A large number of these wrestlers decided to use their physical strength, together with their connections to former communist elites to fill the gap in the supply of security services. Businesses with security services – sourced through either private security companies or so-called ‘insurance companies’ – became the main source of income for the former wrestlers. Serving their own monetary interests, the former wrestlers organised in gangs and became 'violent entrepreneurs' – the so-called Siloviye Gruppirovki. The gangs were registered as official companies offering a variety of security services. These 'problem solving services' ranged from violent 'persuasion' of private persons, often contract partners on behalf of their clients (Appelius 2006: 169[14]; Volkov 1999: 750[15]; Bulanova-Hristova 2011: 342-44[16]), to vandalism, kidnapping and assassinations (Outhwaite and Ray 2005: 81[17]).

A crucial element within the social networks of the former wrestlers were a number of dismissed employees from the former communist security service Darshavna Sigurnost (DS), as well as former employees of the interior ministry of the People's Republic of Bulgaria (Outhwaite and Ray 2005: 81[18]; Bulanova-Hristova 2011: 342f.[19]) The use of personal networks – which may be regarded as the Bulgarian version of blat (Ledeneva 2011: 720[20]) – involving former state employees, was exceptionally valuable for the violent entrepreneurs, thanks to the former employees specific knowledge of Bulgarian politics and economy, as well as their durable international networks, established during the communist era. Accordingly, the former employees of Darshavna Sigurnost are considered to have presided over and been the main initiators of the culture of 'violent entrepreneurship' (Bulanova-Hristova 2011: 343[21]).

Photograph of biographies of famous Mafia figures at Petrol station.

The racketeering business, however, was not the only source of income for the Siloviye Gruppirovki. While the Bulgarian state officially boycotted Serbia in the Bosnian war (1992-1995), the criminal gangs ensured the supply to the Serbian regime of goods such as fuel (Appelius 2006: 170f.[22]; Carvajal and Castle 2008[23]). In brief, the political and economic networks of the Siloviye Gruppirovki facilitated their impunity and thereby paved the way for the continuous undermining of the state’s monopoly on the control of security (Bilefsky 2010[24]; Bulanova 2008: 54-57[25]; Bulanova-Hristova 2011: 343f.[26]; Carvajal and Castle 2008[27]; Outhwaite and Ray 2005, 81f.[28]; Dzhekova and Rusev 2015: 32f.[29]).

Between 1990 and 1994 the private security companies were essentially unregulated. In this environment, the Siloviye Gruppirovki were able to launder money earned through other illegal businesses, which included trade in stolen cars, the supply of drugs and arms, and earnings gained from prostitution (Bulanova-Hristova 2011: 344[30]; Dzhekova and Rusev 2015: 32f.[31]). Yet the high visibility of the Siloviye Gruppirovki increased the pressure on state institutions to react. From 1994 onwards, an increasing number of investigations and enhanced law enforcement measures saw a decline in the number of so called security companies. As a result of institutional pressure, it became harder to receive a license to start a security company and licenses were denied to companies where the founders or employees of the company were under investigation. As a consequence, between 1994 and 1997, a number of private security companies repositioned themselves as insurance companies. In practice these so-called insurance companies were able to continue their semi-legal businesses simply by adopting a new name (Dzhekova and Rusev 2015: 33[32]). One of the biggest and most notorious of those security companies was Vasil Illiev Security (VIS); registered in 1992 it changed its name to VIS2 in 1994 (Appelius 2006: 170[33]).

Since 1995, much of the illegal money brutally earned by the Siloviye Gruppirovki has been invested in legal and increasingly prosperous sectors, such as in Bulgarian tourism. Former gang members invested in hotels and in the fruit trade on the Black sea coast in Varna and Burgas, additionally money was laundered through waste disposal companies (Appelius 2006: 171[34]). Some rich gang members even bought soccer clubs, attracted by the possibility of a scenario ‘where money can be laundered through huge fees paid for transfers of players’ (Carvajal and Castle 2008[35]). Over the last decade the process has continued. In recent time the well-established system of money laundering saw investment in real estate in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. It enabled several former leading gang members to successfully transform their image into that of well-respected businessmen (Appelius 2006: 176[36]). A World Bank Enterprise Survey in 2013 found that nearly 75 per cent of Bulgarian private companies pay for security – a much higher percentage than in most other East European countries (Dzhekova and Rusev 2015: 42[37]; Carvajal and Castle 2008[38]).

According to Bulgarian police sources, the majority of security and insurance companies are no longer involved in extortion or racketeering. Exceptions however are found within the agriculture sector in the Bulgarian provinces and in low-grade nightclubs where a culture of ‘protection’ is still evident (Dzhekova and Rusev 2015: 53f.[39]) Actors involved in the shadow economy are found to be implicated in violent ‘debt collection’ in the aforementioned sectors. Since the end of the 1990s, the re-establishment of state power and the increasing re-enforcement of the rule of law by the Bulgarian state have succeeded in marginalising the Silovye Gruppirovki. Yet analysts of the security sector agree that informal contacts between the political class and the heads of private security and insurance companies, which replaced the Silovye Gruppirovki, still persist (Dzhekova and Rusev 2015[40]).

Notes

  1. Langenscheidts Universal-Wörterbuch Bulgarisch. 2005. Bulgarisch-Deutsch. Deutsch-Bulgarisch. Berlin und München: Langendscheidt KG
  2. Center for the Study of Democracy. 2009. Crime without Punishment: Countering Corruption and Organized Crime in Bulgaria (Report Summary), Sofia, URL: http://www.csd.bg/fileSrc.php?id=2655
  3. Bagasheva, A. and Pencheva, M. 2009. Bulgarian-English Dictionary. Sofia: Naouka i izkoustvo
  4. Bulanova-Hristova, G. 2011. Von Sofia nach Brüssel. Korrupte Demokratisierung im Kontext der europäischen Integration. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft
  5. Carvajal, D. and Castle, S. 2008. ‘Mob Muscles Its Way Into Politics in Bulgaria’, The New York Times, 16 October, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE4DE1431F935A25753C1A96E9C8B63&pagewanted=all
  6. Volkov, Vadim. 2000. 'The Political Economy of Protection Rackets in the Past and the Present', Social Research, 67: (3): 709-744
  7. Dzhekova, R. and Rusev, A. 2015. ‘Bulgaria’, in: Franziska Klopfer and Nelleke van Amstel (eds.), A Force for Good? Mapping the private security landscape in Southeast Europe. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces: 31-60
  8. Bulanova, G. 2008. ‘From Sofia to Brussels – Corrupt Democratization in the Context of European Integration’, Romanian Journal of Political Science, 8: 53-68
  9. Ganev, V. I. 2007. Preying on the State: The Transformation of Bulgaria after 1989. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press
  10. Bulanova, G. 2008. ‘From Sofia to Brussels – Corrupt Democratization in the Context of European Integration’, Romanian Journal of Political Science, 8: 53-68
  11. Bulanova, G. 2008. ‘From Sofia to Brussels – Corrupt Democratization in the Context of European Integration’, Romanian Journal of Political Science, 8: 53-68
  12. Appelius, S. 2006. Bulgarien. Europas Ferner Osten. Bonn: Bouvier Verlag
  13. Bulanova-Hristova, G. 2011. Von Sofia nach Brüssel. Korrupte Demokratisierung im Kontext der europäischen Integration. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft
  14. Appelius, S. 2006. Bulgarien. Europas Ferner Osten. Bonn: Bouvier Verlag
  15. Volkov, Vadim. 1999. 'Violent Entrepreneurship in Post-Communist Russia', Europe-Asia Studies, 51 (5): 741-754
  16. Bulanova-Hristova, G. 2011. Von Sofia nach Brüssel. Korrupte Demokratisierung im Kontext der europäischen Integration. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft
  17. Outhwaite, W. and Ray, L. 2005. Social Theory and Postcommunism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  18. Outhwaite, W. and Ray, L. 2005. Social Theory and Postcommunism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  19. Bulanova-Hristova, G. 2011. Von Sofia nach Brüssel. Korrupte Demokratisierung im Kontext der europäischen Integration. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft
  20. Ledeneva, A. 2011. 'Open Secrets and Knowing Smiles', East European Politics and Society, 25 (4): 720-736
  21. Bulanova-Hristova, G. 2011. Von Sofia nach Brüssel. Korrupte Demokratisierung im Kontext der europäischen Integration. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft
  22. Appelius, S. 2006. Bulgarien. Europas Ferner Osten. Bonn: Bouvier Verlag
  23. Carvajal, D. and Castle, S. 2008. ‘Mob Muscles Its Way Into Politics in Bulgaria’, The New York Times, 16 October, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE4DE1431F935A25753C1A96E9C8B63&pagewanted=all
  24. Bilefksy, D. 2010. ‘A Crime Writer’s Pages Come to Life in His Death’, The New York Times, 31 January, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/01/world/europe/01bulgaria.html?_r=0
  25. Bulanova, G. 2008. ‘From Sofia to Brussels – Corrupt Democratization in the Context of European Integration’, Romanian Journal of Political Science, 8: 53-68
  26. Bulanova-Hristova, G. 2011. Von Sofia nach Brüssel. Korrupte Demokratisierung im Kontext der europäischen Integration. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft
  27. Carvajal, D. and Castle, S. 2008. ‘Mob Muscles Its Way Into Politics in Bulgaria’, The New York Times, 16 October, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE4DE1431F935A25753C1A96E9C8B63&pagewanted=all
  28. Outhwaite, W. and Ray, L. 2005. Social Theory and Postcommunism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd
  29. Dzhekova, R. and Rusev, A. 2015. ‘Bulgaria’, in: Franziska Klopfer and Nelleke van Amstel (eds.), A Force for Good? Mapping the private security landscape in Southeast Europe. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces: 31-60
  30. lanova-Hristova, G. 2011. Von Sofia nach Brüssel. Korrupte Demokratisierung im Kontext der europäischen Integration. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft
  31. Dzhekova, R. and Rusev, A. 2015. ‘Bulgaria’, in: Franziska Klopfer and Nelleke van Amstel (eds.), A Force for Good? Mapping the private security landscape in Southeast Europe. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces: 31-60
  32. Dzhekova, R. and Rusev, A. 2015. ‘Bulgaria’, in: Franziska Klopfer and Nelleke van Amstel (eds.), A Force for Good? Mapping the private security landscape in Southeast Europe. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces: 31-60
  33. Appelius, S. 2006. Bulgarien. Europas Ferner Osten. Bonn: Bouvier Verlag
  34. Appelius, S. 2006. Bulgarien. Europas Ferner Osten. Bonn: Bouvier Verlag
  35. Carvajal, D. and Castle, S. 2008. ‘Mob Muscles Its Way Into Politics in Bulgaria’, The New York Times, 16 October, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE4DE1431F935A25753C1A96E9C8B63&pagewanted=all
  36. Appelius, S. 2006. Bulgarien. Europas Ferner Osten. Bonn: Bouvier Verlag
  37. Dzhekova, R. and Rusev, A. 2015. ‘Bulgaria’, in: Franziska Klopfer and Nelleke van Amstel (eds.), A Force for Good? Mapping the private security landscape in Southeast Europe. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces: 31-60
  38. Carvajal, D. and Castle, S. 2008. ‘Mob Muscles Its Way Into Politics in Bulgaria’, The New York Times, 16 October, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE4DE1431F935A25753C1A96E9C8B63&pagewanted=all
  39. Dzhekova, R. and Rusev, A. 2015. ‘Bulgaria’, in: Franziska Klopfer and Nelleke van Amstel (eds.), A Force for Good? Mapping the private security landscape in Southeast Europe. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces: 31-60
  40. Dzhekova, R. and Rusev, A. 2015. ‘Bulgaria’, in: Franziska Klopfer and Nelleke van Amstel (eds.), A Force for Good? Mapping the private security landscape in Southeast Europe. Geneva: Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces: 31-60