Mafia state

This article is about systemic corruption of a government by organised crime syndicates. For the 2011 book about Russia, see Mafia State (book).
This article refers to a systematic corruption of a government by major organized crime syndicates. For the greater connotation that literally means "rule by thieves", see Kleptocracy.

A mafia state is a state system where the government is tied with organized crime, including when government officials, police, and/or military take part in illicit enterprises.[1] The term mafia is a reference to any organized crime groups strongly connected with the authorities.

According to the critics of the mafia state concept, the term "has now been so used and abused in popularized descriptions of organized criminal activity that it has lost much of its analytic value".[2]

Particular applications of the concept

Cosa Nostra and Yakuza

Historically, Italy was a birthplace of mafia, one of the most fabled forms of organised crime. In a critical review of Moisés Naím's essay in Foreign Affairs, Peter Andreas pointed to the long existence of Italian mafia and Japanese Yakuza, writing that there were close relationships between those illicit organisations and respective governments.[2] According to Andreas, these examples speak against incidences of mafia states as a historically new threat.[2]

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 both as well existed in Italy with a confederation of about 150 different groups each with their own organizations and ruling body. [3] 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.[4]

Countries described as Mafia states

Republics and territories of the former Yugoslavia

Kosovo, a partially recognised independent state formerly part of Serbia, was called a "mafia state" by Italian MEP Pino Arlacchi in 2011,[5] and also by Moisés Naím in his 2012 essay "Mafia States" in the 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,[6] describing it as a hub for cigarette smuggling.[2]


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[7] and gunrunning.[8][9][10]

For instance, 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. Reacting to the allegations, Russian state-run RTR aired an investigative program revealing that Transnistrian firms were conducting industrial-level manufacturing of small arms purposely for subsequent illegal trafficking via the Ukrainian port of Odessa. According to the program, the trade was controlled by and benefited from Transnistria's founder and then-ruler Igor Smirnov.[11]

However, more recent investigations and monitoring missions did not prove continuity in arms trafficking concerns. According to regular reports of the European Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM), there have been no signs of significant weapons smuggling from Transnistria. In 2013, Ukrainian Foreign Minister and acting chairman of the OSCE Leonid Kozhara gave an interview to El País newspaper, commenting on situation in Transnistria and results of work of the EUBAM mission. According to Kozhara, there have been no cases of arms traffic found.[12]

Some experts from Russia and Transnistria state that allegations of Transnistria being a 'mafia state', 'black hole of Europe', 'heaven for arms trafficking', etc. are a carefully planned defamation campaign paid by the Moldovan government and aimed at producing negative image of Transnistria.[13]


The term has been used by some Western media to describe the political system in Russia under Vladimir Putin's rule.[14][15][16] This characterization came to prominence following the United States diplomatic cables leak, which revealed that US diplomats viewed Russia as "a corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy centred on the leadership of Vladimir Putin, in which officials, oligarchs and organised crime are bound together to create a 'virtual mafia state.'"[17][18] 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."[19] In the estimation of American diplomats, "the government [of Russia] effectively [is] the mafia."[20][21][22]

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."[23] In 2008, Stephen Blank noted that Russia under Putin is "a state that European officials privately call a Mafia state" that "naturally gravitates toward Mafia-like behavior."[24]

Nikolay Petrov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, said "it's pretty hard to damage the Russian image in the world because it's already not very good".[25]


The scholar of Law and Economics Edgardo Buscaglia describes the political system of Mexico as a "Mafiacracy". Buscaglia characterises the condition between the state, the economy and organized crime in Mexico as a mutual interweaving.[26]

See also

Related concepts

National issues


  1. Mafia States: Organized Crime Takes Office by Moisés Naím.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Andreas, Peter (2012-07-01). "Measuring the Mafia-State Menace: Are Government-Backed Gangs a Grave New Threat?". Retrieved 2013-05-25.
  3. Letizia, Paoli (May 2016). Oxford Handbook of Italian Politics. Oxford University Press. pp. 670–671. ISBN 9780199669745.
  4. "The toxic reason a mafia boss became a police informant". BBC News. 30 October 2013.
  5. "Kosovo is "mafia state", says Italian MEP". Retrieved 2013-05-25.
  6. Andreas, Peter (2012-07-01). "Measuring the Mafia-State Menace". Retrieved 2013-05-25.
  7. "An illegal business that's smoking". Business New Europe. 2012-04-18. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  8. "Ющенко: Украина недополучает из-за контрабанды из Приднестровья". Korrespondent. 23 March 2006. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  9. "Hotbed of weapons deals". The Washington Times. January 18, 2004. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  10. СВИРИДЕНКО, АЛЕКСАНДР; НЕПРЯХИНА, НАТАЛИЯ (2006-10-03). "Приднестровье самоизолировалось". Kommersant-Ukraine. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  11. Bulavchenko, Aliona (February 8, 2002). ДНЕСТРОВСКИЕ ПОРОГИ. Zerkalo Nedeli (in Russian). Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  12. Queremos zonas de libre comercio tanto al Este como hacia el Oeste El Pais. 4 June, 2013.
  13. Some aspects of administrative legal regime of customs activities of Transnistria in context of work of international monitoring missions Customs and Science. 12 May 2011.
  14. Putin's Russia 'now a mafia state', BBC
  15. Wikileaks: Russia branded 'mafia state' in cables, BBC
  16. British MPs paint scary picture of Putin's Russia, EUObserver
  17. WikiLeaks cables condemn Russia as 'mafia state', The Guardian
  18. 'Mafia state' leader Putin knew of poison plot that killed former KGB spy in London, Daily Mail
  19. Expelled Moscow correspondent claims Russia is mafia state,
  20. Below Surface, U.S. Has Dim View of Putin and Russia, The New York Times
  21. Russia - Mafia State: It's important to tell the truth about Putin's Russia, CNN
  22. Stephen Holmes, Fragments of a Defunct State, London Review of Books
  23. Review: Mafia State, New Statesman
  24. Stephen Blank (2008): What Comes After the Russo–Georgian War? What's at Stake in the CIS, American Foreign Policy Interests, 30:6, 379–391
  25. Russia’s "mafia state" image no disaster, euronews
  26. Die Zeit-Online: German-speaking Interview with Edgardo Buscaglia

Further reading

Luke Harding (2012). Mafia State: How One Reporter Became an Enemy of the Brutal New Russia. Guardian Books. ISBN 978-0-85265-249-7. 

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