"My father is a crime boss"

Sons talk about their fathers. Three stories
The 1990s were the era of the rise of the lawlessness of thieves and crime bosses in Georgia.

It was a time when almost every girl dreamed of being the wife of a crime boss, and the boys, when asked what they want to become when they grow up, answered: "A thief in law." It was an era when crime was considered a feat, and criminals were knights. They had their own charter, their own laws, their own understanding of honor and dignity.

Since then, Georgia has changed a lot, they have made great strides in the fight against crime and organized crime. However, despite this, the country has not managed to get rid of the legacy left by this world.

For a certain part of the youth, the myths associated with the "thieves' world" are still alive, the rules and mentality shared by this world are relevant.

In this JAMnews project, we show the world of crime bosses through the eyes of the people most dear to them - their children.

These are three monologues of people whose fathers were crime bosses. They talk about their childhood, traumas and relationships with their fathers.

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  • Son

    Lasha Berulava, 50 years old. Journalist,
  • Father

    Dazi Berulava
Lasha with his father

This is a strange story in our family.

Typically, when children have a "famous" father, they learn about it from an early age. Such news sometimes causes pride in the family, and then it continues at school. I learned about it when I was in fourth grade.

One day we boys ran away from school and sat by the pool. We had canned food, pita bread and cheese. We sat, rejoiced and feasted. An elderly man passed by. When he saw us little boys by the pool during school hours, he asked us whose children we were. “Pirtskhalava, Gergedava…”, my friends listed. I also said: "I am Berulava." "Dazi, who are you related to?" he asked me. I said, "That's my father." And the man, hearing this, was literally dumbfounded

The institute of thieves in law appeared in the 1930s, during the time of Stalin. In the Soviet period, this "title" was proudly worn by several hundred crime bosses throughout the USSR.

The status is assigned by the decision of at least two "thieves in law" - this procedure is called "baptism" in the criminal world.

Traditionally, in terms of the number of "thieves in law" in the entire Soviet Union, Georgians were second only to Russians. Today they generally lead the way. The popular website Primecrime.ru, dedicated to the criminal world, notes that 58 percent of thieves in law with active status today are Georgians.

Thief in law does not recognize the official system of justice. He is prohibited from working, receiving money from the state, and collaborating with the state in any way, such as serving in the army. He leads a criminal network, although he does not directly participate in criminal activities.

“He came up to me. I didn’t understand what was happening. He put both hands on my head and kissed my forehead. I was in shock. And suddenly he told me: “When your father stopped stealing and started working at the factory, they came all-Union thieves and drank a toast to your father in the entrance of the factory. You are the son of such a father."

I got even more confused. I had no idea about all this. My classmates didn't know either, but at that time and at that age, can you imagine what that meant to them? It was the only thing we talked about that day. At first I didn't understand what was going on, I was confused."

Then all this was a matter of pride, and when I heard it, I was also proud. Somewhere before the eighth grade, my friends and I often mentioned the name Daisy. When I got a little older and started talking about it with my father, I realized that he was not very proud of his past. I can’t say that he was ashamed, but he wanted to be an exemplary father for me. He did not consider stealing a good example.

He always tried to instill in me other values - kindness, disinterestedness and interest in learning. I myself loved to read and wrote poetry, so naturally I went in a different direction.

He was not proud of his past, despite the fact that he was not a simple and ordinary member of this world, he was outstanding.

At a young age, he was "baptized" - he was 19 when he became a "thief in law". And then he left this world on his own initiative. This happens very rarely.

All this happened before I was born. He hadn't even married yet. He was old-fashioned and followed old traditions - a thief should not have a family. The family can be a weak point, the police can use it against the thief.

It turns out that it is very important who "baptizes" you. My father was baptized by Chita Bezuha. He didn't have an ear, he was bitten off in a fight. At that time, my father's uncle, 15-16 years older than him, was in some Russian colony. He was told that a very promising thief Dazi Berulava had just been "baptized" in Ksani. His uncle laughed, said, "Ah, has that rascal grown up?" He remembered him as a child. These words of his were considered offensive and because of them he was nearly beaten.

My father was 19 years old, and he was already such a serious thief. After 10 years, when he was serving his sentence, my grandmother said: "If you do not give up this case, I will go on a hunger strike." The father then did not pay attention to these words.

The communist era and the 90s were the era of the rise of the underworld in Georgia.

The situation changed dramatically after the Rose Revolution in 2003.

During the presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili, the government declared the fight against organized crime a top priority.

To achieve this goal, a complete reorganization of the system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was carried out. At the same time, television regularly showed how criminals were arrested as a result of special operations.

In 2005, the concept of "thief in law" first appeared in Georgian legislation. If a person admitted that he had this status, even without committing a specific crime, he was threatened with five to 10 years in prison. This law was based on the "thieves' code", according to which the "thief in law" has no right to deny his status, no matter who and under what circumstances asks him this question.

As a result, there are virtually no crime bosses left in Georgia - they either left the country or ended up behind bars. Moreover, they served their sentences in a separate institution, deprived of the privileges and power they had over other convicts in prison. The administration became the controller of the prison, not the “thieves”.

However, this struggle also had a downside. The number of prisoners in the country has risen to record levels, the prison administration has resorted to harsh methods of control, including violence, inhuman treatment and torture.

After winning the 2012 parliamentary elections, the Georgian Dream party first announced a mass amnesty. More than half of the prisoners have left prisons. The reform of the penitentiary system began, prisons where prisoners were kept in inhuman conditions were closed. The situation with the rights of convicts has improved. However, this process also had its downside. As soon as the control of the administration was weakened, the influence of crime bosses in prisons increased again.

Public Defender Nino Lomjaria highlighted in her 2020 annual report that the “informal management” in prisons is worrisome.

Lasha Berulava looks through the family album. Photo: David Pipia
Grandmother took the chain, wrapped it around her waist, and swallowed the key. Her hunger strike began. Her father tried to stop her for a day or two, and when he realized that her grandmother was not going to give up, he gave up himself.

There was a restaurant "Amra" in Sukhumi. There my father arranged a meeting, the so-called "gathering", where serious thieves from Russia, Ukraine and different cities arrived. My father brought almost a million rubles there, the so-called "common fund", handed it over and said: "I'm leaving for my mother." This decision was considered worthy by all.

My father started working as an electrician at a factory in Zugdidi. In fact, at the age of 29, his life began anew. He met my mother there, at the factory, and got married. Then we showed up. We are two brothers and one sister. I am the oldest.

Nevertheless, I sometimes felt a certain reverence of the neighbors towards him. Even though he was just an electrician. At first, I couldn't understand why he was so awe-inspiring to others. And only then I understood everything.

I also remember strange men in hats coming to us. Years later, they still came to their father for advice. I have never been to a restaurant with them. He told us to stay at home, and they spoke there.

He was very strict, demanding and did not like disorder and lies. I couldn't stand it if I accused anyone of anything. He had his own rules. I also followed his rules - everything should be in its place.

Many spoke of him as a brave and fair person. He always and everywhere was the first. At home he always had a construction helmet. Once there was a fire in the area, and he immediately grabbed his helmet and ran away. Put out the fire, brought people out. He had a talent for making decisions and acting in difficult situations.

One day a girl from our street got married. Teachers and professors from Tbilisi came to the wedding. One of the professors was the toastmaster at the wedding table, and my father was his deputy. At some point, this professor asked someone what university the deputy toastmaster had graduated from. He was told that he had been a "thief in law" for 10 years. It turns out that my father was a little embarrassed and said: "They would have answered him that I graduated from the philological faculty."

Lasha with his brother at his father's grave. Photo: David Pipia
СAs an adult, it was no longer difficult for me to talk with him on this topic. Probably because all this happened before my birth, and he himself abandoned that life. All this remains a legend. I was so proud that he gave it all up and completely changed his life.

It breaks my heart when I think how many simple details of life he did not know. Once he bought me a semi-assembled bicycle. Then bicycles were sold like that, they had to be assembled at home. My father tried and assembled it. Satisfied, I got on my bike and went outside. When my friends saw me, they began to laugh: "Look at how he has a steering wheel!". Turns out he attached the steering wheel backwards. How was he to know? Who rides a bike in prison?

He died in 2014 at the age of 74. I was in Tbilisi, I was not next to him. It is very hard for me to remember that evening. We were great friends.

He was very happy when I started working for the local Odishi TV channel. At that time, this channel was just being created, and everyone knew us on the street. He was very proud, saying: "It used to be said that you are the son of Dazi, and now I have become your father."

  • Son

    Zura Jishkariani , 37 years old, writer.
  • Father

    Zurab Jishkariani
I have very bad genes. Great-grandfather was a thief in law, Ambako Jishkariani. The second grandfather is a murderer and bank robber. Another grandfather is a hooligan and a deserter from World War II. All these injuries, robberies, murders, crime, drug addiction - came to me through the generations.

I had a fantastic childhood: scattered corpses, blown up houses, a father - a drunkard and a drug addict, poverty and exile.

I didn't realize then what was happening. I thought I was in a tense game, only instead of several lives, as it happens, I had one.

I was eight years old when we left Sukhumi by ship. My father came via Kodori. I remember only the main moments of the war: the burning house. You will never forget the house that was bombed before your eyes.

However, I am not unique, my whole generation has gone through this. And now this generation comes to the fore in politics, art and other areas - the generation with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Drugs defined my father's personality. The criminal authority in Sukhumi lived well before the start of the war. He had a big name, he went to "showdowns", met with thieves, was engaged in medicine, he had a very beautiful wife, in a word, he was in his element. His life was completely arranged.

My memory from this "fictitious" life is my father, bruised, with a needle in his vein, dying. He overdosed, but he survived. I have witnessed this. From deep childhood, I remember only this about my relationship with him.

Given his life of crime, he shouldn't have gone to war. You can't go to war with a thieves' mentality - you wear a uniform and follow the orders of the state. However, my father ignored this and went to fight anyway [the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict in the early 1990s].

Our ship, on which we set off from Sukhumi, went to Batumi, but ended up in Poti. And so we stayed in Poti, and I finished school there. My father left for Moscow for a year or two, then came to visit us for several months.

Zura Jishkariani / From the personal archive
He taught me many things that hurt me a hundred times more. He taught me to live according to my own understanding, boldly and courageously. If you get hit once, hit them five times.

He introduced me, a child, to the world while in an unconscious state. I learned the world at the suggestion of a person who is constantly in a state of intoxication.

Among these activities, my mother took me to the theater group and the piano. We hid it from my father. "All artists are buggers," he said.

Then it so happened that, following his example, I have been a drug addict for 16 years. I first tried it when I was 13. I broke into houses, pretended to be "cool". In communication with others, I called, like a spell, the names of my family members - I am the son of such and such or the grandson of such and such. In this respect, the 1990s were easier for me than for many others.

The path that my ancestors paved for me went through the jungle and through packs of wolves. And along the way, if I said that I was the son or grandson of a professor or an artist, they would answer me: "What are you like?"

When I was about 15 years old, I told my father that I wanted to become a thief. He sat me down and talked to me for three or four hours about why I shouldn't do this.
On the one hand, he taught me all the wolf laws - how to fight, how to "negotiate", how to get along and survive. On the other hand, he told me that drug addicts and criminals are terrible people. That I would have to spend the rest of my life in prison and under police pressure. He spoke to me seriously and warned me not to go the wrong way.

In me, too, it was as if two worlds. I told him I wanted to steal - and a few months later I entered a beauty pageant. And won. All the guys in the area with whom I robbed houses found out about it, but no one told me anything. The father, of course, did not know
Gigi Tevzadze, philosopher:

Nothing like this has happened anywhere in the world since the monastic orders of the Middle Ages. It was the know-how of the Soviet Union - how to manage society in such a way that society does not notice that you control it.

Initially, the institution of thieves was introduced to control the "camps". There were not enough people to control a large number of prisoners, and someone very smart and very evil came up with this system. I think that Dzerzhinsky is more likely its author than Stalin. Because Dzerzhinsky grew up in a Catholic family and received a Catholic education. The creator of this system was clearly familiar with Catholicism.

Later, when the people were released from the camps, the thieves also came out. Outside, they have already completely turned into a mechanism of public control and, of course, were in very close contact with the authorities, the police, and the guards. Their code was romantic because it forbade the existence of property, the existence of the family, and recognized the principles common to all.

If you were dissatisfied with the system, then in Soviet times you had two options - either disagreement or theft. The Soviet government pushed you in every possible way to choose the second option.

There has always been great opposition to the Soviet Union in Georgia. The confrontation was massive, many were unhappy, especially among young people. And the Soviet government made every effort to make these people not dissidents, but thieves.

The path of dissent was difficult, one had to be an intellectual. And many in Georgia have chosen this path of imaginary resistance.

Later, when the Soviet Union began to fall apart, the government loosened its grip on thieves in law. And they began to transform into criminal businesses.

After the 1980s, thieves in law no longer looked like an order of monks, they were ordinary criminal groups that made money and built palaces.

Today, this institution exists as a mafia, and not as an institution of "thieves in law" in the old sense.

In the end, my creativity took over. I have been writing since I was eight years old. Then I became interested in theatrical circles and music. And, finally, I realized that I was interested in the starry sky.

My goal is for my bad genetics to end with me. Either I won't have children at all, and this gene will die with me, or I will produce and raise a healthy person in order to break this vicious circle. I learned a lot about how to raise a healthy child.
There is a myth that crime bosses are cool, control half the city and live an interesting life. In fact, this tough guy is afraid every day, he is neurotic at home, his wife is always wrong and bad for him, and the children grow up neurotic.
I've been seeing a psychotherapist for three years, and for two years we've been talking about my father. He was an idol for me and I was also very angry with him. At 36, I realized that he, too, was just an ordinary person. And finally, a year ago, I fell in love with him for who he is.

I slowly came to this. First, my mother read my article, she liked it. Then I wrote a book and got an award - it was great.

Despite my drug addiction, he saw that I could be useful and be a positive figure in society. This caused a fracture in him. He realized that I was what he himself had never been.

Today is my 27th clean day. [Zura fights drug addiction with the help of a special rehabilitation program - JAMnews].

  • Son

    Basti Mgaloblishvili 28 years old, Journalist, film critic,
  • Father

    Kakha Mgaloblishvili
I had the most ordinary childhood. Being the child of a crime boss doesn't mean your life is special.

People often think that such a life is interesting and something happens in it. In my case, it wasn't. I had a quiet good childhood.

I had a very warm relationship with my father. But I got the impression that we spent little time together. He was rarely at home.
I remember the night, the light from his approaching car, and the feeling of joy that my father had arrived. We mostly spent time together in the car. He took me to kindergarten and picked me up from there. Once, when he was picking me up from kindergarten, a big dog was waiting for me in the car, it was a gift. I was the happiest person in the world. Once he even brought a monkey home for me.
We were united by animals and cinema. He brought video cassettes with new, then popular films - "Titanic", "The Godfather", "Braveheart" and others. Best of all I remember our movie shows.

Since childhood, I understood that people have a special relationship with him. It may be an incredible hybrid, but it felt like a humanitarian mission. He could suddenly leave to get flour and food for a large family. Or if someone needed medicine, he could immediately go to bring it to him.

This is how it worked in a broken system. When the justice system, the social system or the health system is broken, people gain legitimacy to solve problems for themselves, which usually should be solved by the state.

Even today I sometimes meet people in the village who remember him with great warmth. If it was out of fear, I would probably feel it.
I was five years old when he was killed. Crying and screaming woke me up. I even remember what dream I had. A relative took me by the hand and led me into the yard. It was dark.

Then I was told that a neighbor's dog had died. Soon I heard that my father had been killed by a man with a gun. In front of the house, in our yard. He was 31 years old.

I only had one shirt left from my father and a wallet that my mother used after my father. Once, when I grew up, my mother decided to give it to me. I don't carry this wallet, I'm afraid of losing it.

Now I understand what he told me when we were sitting in the car. He very often talked to me about something completely unknown to me - about student life. Even after his death, all I heard from others was that my future was in education. He didn't want me to be on the street.

Fortunately, I myself had very different interests. I loved cinema, literature and music. And I met the same friends. We shared albums and books with each other. Meanwhile, my friends in Guria had an extraordinary sense of humor and I lived in an amazingly positive world. Why should I stand somewhere on the street, spit and talk about incomprehensible, uninteresting topics?

That world is connected with the hierarchy. I have never sought to dominate others. But it was inconceivable that someone would look down on me or speak rudely to me.

However, of course, it was also a privilege, because no one ever hit me at school. In fact, it was at school that I found out whose son I was. No one at home explained all this to me.
Basti Mgaloblishvili / From the personal archive

I felt a special attitude from my peers. All my conflicts on the street or in the yard were resolved.

This caused me some complexes. I doubted my abilities. I was the son of Kakha Mgaloblishvili. In addition, orphanhood was added to this, which was constantly mentioned in my presence. And I could not understand what was my personal merit, and what was my father's merit, or my orphanhood.

I overcame all this when I entered the university and had to interact with a completely foreign society. I started relationships with people in Tbilisi from scratch, there were no prejudices. I could exist on my own, and there was no longer a context whose son I was.

I often thought that we would probably have a lot of disagreements with my father on various issues. However, I was told that he had a very curious and flexible mind. He loved cinema, music and poetry. I think during this time he would be able to understand me. Everyone who knows me tells me that he would be very proud of me. Neither he nor any of the criminal authorities around him wanted their children to follow the path of their fathers.

Now, if someone is reading this text who still thinks that the criminal path is the right path, I would like to ask one question - if this is the right path, then why does not a single father want his child to follow the same way?

We rarely talk about it. But we, the grown-up children of crime bosses, must tell people how it all really is.

Especially now, when we face a real danger that the institution of the street will become stronger again. After all, the ruined state of the 1990s and public recognition gave legitimacy to this world. And if now the state systems do not work, it is quite possible that the criminal authorities will return again.

Unfortunately, in recent years, I see many risks that this can happen.

text: Maradia Caava
Video: DavId PiPia
Editor: Sopho Bukia
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