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Transitions to Democracy or Transitions to Organized Crime: The Relationship Between Organized Crime and State-Building

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What is it about the transition from communism to democracy and the market that makes mafias prosper? Did organized crime become an institution of the state in 1990s Eastern Europe? This paper examines the transitions of two of the most crime-ridden states to have joined the European Union—Bulgaria and Latvia_in order to find out whether organized crime and mafias in the early transition years have had an impact on the democratic development of the two states. Economic concerns with private mafias often delayed vital economic reforms and threatened the stability of governments. While in Latvia such groupings were weakened in law enforcement campaigns targeting the Russian-speaking underworld, in Bulgaria native protection rackets were allowed to create legal businesses, participate in privatization and later establish business empires with far-reaching political links. In both countries the social capital for the criminal underworld came from communist-era security agencies, sports clubs and prisons, but while in Latvia this contingent was mostly ethnic Russian and was effectively isolated from politics and the economy, in Bulgaria the illicit activities of former security agents were favoured compared to those of former athletes and the former were granted access to intelligence agencies and politics. Latvia has not resolved the problem of wealthy individuals influencing politics and allegedly colluding with Russian mafia structures, but Bulgaria is facing the deeper problem of breaking up communist-era security networks that span the criminal world, the business world, state security agencies and politics.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2012-02-01

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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