Siberian Education
181 pages

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181 pages

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Set in a small and tight-knit community of 'honest criminals' in a remote part of Russia, this is a tale of an extreme boyhood - exotic, violent and completely unique. Told from the perspective of a boy gaining his 'education' as a member of the Mafia-like Urkas in Transnistria, we get a glimpse inside the strict codes of honour and the rituals of this bizarre community. Besides having a deep distrust of outsiders - especially the police - the community is split into 'honest' and 'dishonest' criminals and crime is all-pervasive. Even their youngest children are taught to understand violence and when it is appropriate to use it. By the age of six, Nicolai Lilin is given his first 'pike knife' by an uncle and by the age of twelve he has been convicted of attempted murder.



Publié par
Date de parution 06 mai 2010
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781847679086
Langue English

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‘Some enjoy life, some suffer it; we fight it.’
Old saying of the Siberian Urkas
I know it shouldn’t be done,
I know it shouldn’t be done, but I’m tempted to start from the end.
For example, from the day we ran through the rooms of a ruined building, firing at the enemy from such close range we could almost touch them with our hands.
We were exhausted. The paratroopers worked in shifts, but we saboteurs hadn’t slept for three days. We went on like the waves of the sea, so as not to give the enemy the chance to rest, carry out manoeuvres or organize their defences. We were always fighting, always.
That day I ended up on the top floor of the building with Shoe, trying to eliminate the last heavy machinegun. We threw two hand grenades.
In the dust that was falling from the roof we couldn’t see a thing, and we found ourselves face to face with four enemies who like us were wandering like blind kittens through the grey, dirty cloud, which reeked of debris and burnt explosive.
I had never shot anyone at such close quarters in all my time in Chechnya.
Meanwhile, on the first floor our Captain had taken a prisoner and killed eight enemies, all by himself.
When I came out with Shoe I was completely dazed. Captain Nosov was asking Moscow to keep an eye on the Arab prisoner, while he, Ladle and Zenith went to check out the cellar.
I sat on the stairs next to Moscow, opposite the frightened prisoner, who kept trying to communicate something. Moscow wasn’t listening to him, he was sleepy and tired, as we all were. As soon as the Captain turned his back, Moscow pulled out his pistol – an Austrian Glock, one of his trophies – and, with an arrogant leer, shot the prisoner in the head and chest.
The Captain turned round, and looked at him pityingly without saying a word.
Moscow closed his eyes as he sat down beside the dead man, overcome with exhaustion.
Looking at all of us as if he were meeting us for the first time, the Captain said:
‘This is too much. Everyone into the cars! We’re going for a rest, behind the lines.’
One after another, like zombies, we trooped off towards our vehicles. My head was so heavy I was sure that if I stopped it would explode.
We went back behind the lines, into the area controlled and defended by our infantry. We fell asleep instantly; I didn’t even have time to take off my jacket and ammunition belt before I fell into the darkness, like a dead man.
Soon afterwards Moscow woke me by hammering the butt of his Kalashnikov on my jacket, at chest level. Slowly and reluctantly I opened my eyes and looked around; I struggled to remember where I was. I couldn’t get things into focus.
Moscow’s face looked tired; he was chewing a piece of bread. Outside it was dark; it was impossible to tell what time it was. I looked at my watch but couldn’t see the digits; everything was hazy.
‘What’s happening? How long have we slept?’ I asked Moscow in a weary voice.
‘We haven’t slept at all, brother … And I think we’re going to have to stay awake quite a while longer.’
I clasped my face between my hands, trying to muster the strength to stand up and arrange my thoughts. I needed to sleep, I was exhausted. My trousers were dirty and wet, my jacket smelled of sweat and fresh earth. I was worn out.
Moscow went to wake the others:
‘Come on, lads, we’re leaving immediately … We’re needed.’

They were all in despair; they didn’t want to get up. But, grumbling and cursing, they struggled to their feet.
Captain Nosov was pacing around with the handset to his ear, and an infantryman was following him around like a pet dog, with the field radio in his rucksack. The Captain was angry; he kept repeating to somebody or other, over the radio, that it was the first break we’d taken in three days, and that we were at the end of our tether. It was all in vain, because eventually Nosov said, in a clipped tone:
‘Yes, Comrade Colonel! Confirmed! Order received!’
They were sending us back to the front line.
I didn’t even want to think about it.
I went over to a metal tank full of water. I dipped my hands into it: the water was very cool; it made me shiver slightly. I put my whole head into the drum, right under the water, and kept it there for a while, holding my breath.
I opened my eyes inside the tank and saw complete darkness. Alarmed, I jerked my head out, gasping for air.
The darkness I’d seen in the tank had shocked me. Death might be just like that, I thought: dark and airless.
I leaned over the tank and watched, shimmering on the water, the reflection of my face, and of my life up to that moment.
In Transnistria February is the coldest month of the year. The wind blows hard, the air becomes keen and stings your face. On the street people wrap themselves up like mummies; the children look like plump little dolls, bundled up in countless layers of clothes, with scarves up to their eyes.
It usually snows a lot; the days are short and darkness descends very early.
That was the month when I was born. Early, coming out feet first; I was so weak that in ancient Sparta I would undoubtedly have been left to die because of my physical condition. Instead they put me in an incubator.
A kindly nurse told my mother she would have to get used to the idea that I wouldn’t live long. My mother cried, expressing her milk with a breast pump to take to me in the incubator. It can’t have been a happy time for her.
From my birth onwards, perhaps out of habit, I continued to be a source of worry and distress to my parents (or rather to my mother, because my father didn’t really care about anything: he went on with his life as a criminal, robbing banks and spending a lot of time in prison). I’ve lost count of the number of scrapes I got into when I was small. But it was natural: I grew up in a rough district – the place where the criminals expelled from Siberia were re-settled in the 1930s. My life was there, in Bender, with the criminals, and the people of our villainous district were like one big family.

When I was small I didn’t care about toys. What I liked doing when I was four or five was prowling round the house to see if my grandfather or my uncle were taking their weapons apart to clean them. They were constantly doing it, with the utmost care and devotion. My uncle used to say weapons were like women – if you didn’t caress them enough they’d grow stiff and betray you.
The weapons in our house, as in all Siberian houses, were kept in particular places. The so-called ‘personal’ guns – the ones Siberian criminals carry around with them and use every day – are placed in the ‘red corner’, where the family icons hang on the walls, along with the photographs of relatives who have died or are serving prison sentences. Below the icons and the photographs there is a shelf, draped with a piece of red cloth, on which there are usually about a dozen Siberian crucifixes. Whenever a criminal enters the house he goes straight to the red corner, pulls out his gun and puts it on the shelf, then crosses himself and places a crucifix over the gun. This is an ancient tradition which ensures that weapons are never used in a Siberian house: if they were, the house could never be lived in again. The crucifix acts as a kind of seal, which can only be removed when the criminal leaves the house.
The personal guns, which are called ‘lovers’, ‘aunts’, ‘trunks’ or ‘ropes’, don’t usually have any deeper meaning; they are seen as just weapons, nothing more. They are not cult objects, in the way that the ‘pike’, the traditional knife, is. The gun is simply a tool of the trade.
In addition to personal guns, there are other kinds of weapon that are kept around the house. The weapons of Siberian criminals fall into two broad categories: ‘honest’ ones and ‘sinful’ ones. The ‘honest’ weapons are those that are used only for hunting in the woods. According to Siberian morality, hunting is a purification ritual, which enables a person to return to the state of primal innocence in which God created man. Siberians never hunt for pleasure, but only to satisfy their hunger, and only when they go into the dense woods of their homeland, the Tayga. Never in places where food can be obtained without killing wild animals. If they are out in the woods for a week the Siberians will usually kill only one boar; for the rest of the time they just walk. In hunting there is no place for self-interest, only for survival. This doctrine influences the entire Siberian criminal law, forming a moral basis which prescribes humility and simplicity in the actions of each individual criminal, and respect for the freedom of every living thing.
The ‘honest’ weapons used for hunting are kept in a special area of the house, called the ‘altar’, along with the decorated hunting belts of the masters of the house and their forefathers. There are always hunting knives hanging from the belts, and bags containing various talismans and objects of pagan magic.
The ‘sinful’ weapons are those that are used for criminal purposes. These weapons are usually kept in the cellar and in various hiding places scattered around the yard. Every sinful weapon is engraved with the image of a cross or a patron saint, and has been ‘baptized’ in a Siberian church.
Kalashnikov assault rifles are the Siberians’ favourites. In criminal slang each model has a name; no one uses abbreviations or numbers to indicate the model and calibre or the type of ammunition it requires. For example, the old 7.62 mm AK-47 is called a ‘saw’, and its ammunition ‘heads’. The more recent 5.45 mm AKS with the folding butt is called a ‘telescope’, and its ammunition ‘chips’. There are al

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