According to The Economist, crime has been falling in most of Europe. But there is a counter-trend hidden in the numbers. Christian Pfeiffer, director of the Criminology Research Institute of Lower Saxony in Hannover, suggests that the eastward expansion of the European Union (eight countries joined in 2004, followed by Bulgaria and Romania in 2007), with full rights of free movement, has created more crime syndicates and gangs with training and scouting networks in Western Europe.
Gangs are typically associated with America. They are the combined symptom of the Second Amendment, a trigger-happy gun culture, poverty, racism, an ailing education system, disenfranchisement, and a host of other aggravating social conditions. However, flawed social conditions exist all over the world. Once people are granted free movement between nations, as is the case with members of the EU, the flawed social conditions not only become more visible, but thieves use the freedom of travel to engage in criminal activities, whether it is groups pickpocketing tourists on the streets of Paris or Roma gangs employing child burglars to plunder German homes. At the same time, there are European gangs that have nothing to do with the eastward expansion of the EU, but have been exerting power and expanding their sphere of influence since the 18th century. Here are 7 of Europe’s most dangerous gangs.
7. The 36 Boys, Germany
It is estimated that there are over three million Turks in Germany. Multiculturalism and the integration of immigrants has been a vigorously contested issue in the country, with racist violence increasing dramatically during the economic crisis in the 1980s. Many of those attacks were against the Turkish community, which led teenagers of Turkish immigrants to form gangs in order to protect themselves.
Active from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, the 36 Boys were a group of primarily Turkish immigrants from the Berlin-Kreuzberg borough of Germany. At the height of its power, the gang is said to have had between 300-400 members. The 36 Boys took its moniker from the former Berlin postal code Sudost 36. The gang fought turf wars with Nazis, Skinheads, and the Warriors, a rival gang from the Schlesisches Tor borough. The 36 Boys disbanded in the mid-90s; while some of the members remained in the criminal milieu, others took an active role in helping prevent juvenile delinquency in Germany.
6. The British Yardies
A “Yardie” is a slang term originally given to occupants of government yard housing projects in Trenchtown, a neighborhood in West Kingston, Jamaica. When many in the Caribbean community came to England to work in the 1950s, the phrase was used to describe immigrants with lower financial status. However, the term was eventually applied to the gang violence that took place in London’s black community. Yardie culture consists primarily of gun crimes and drug trafficking, particularly marijuana and crack cocaine. The gang has no real structure or central leadership. In 1993, Yardies were blamed for the death of police Constable Patrick Dunne, and in the early 2000s the gang fought a bloody turf war in Bristol with the native Aggi Crew.
5. Solntsevskaya Bratva (Brotherhood), Russia
Founded by Sergei Mikhailov, the Solntsevskaya Bratva began operating out of the Solntsevo District of Moscow in the 1980s. The Solntsevo District is located near the M-KAT highway, a major thoroughfare leading to both the Ukraine and the Domodedovo International Airport. By controlling these two strategic transportation hubs, the gang established a name for itself in the car import business. Over the years, Solntsevskaya Bratva has been linked to criminal mastermind Semion Mogilevich as well as esteemed thief Dzhemal Khachidze, which enhanced its reputation amongst established criminals throughout Europe.
Sergei Mikhailov, who fancied himself as more of a businessman than a Don Corleone Mafioso, changed tactics in the ‘90s and moved the gang into the banking sector. This move not only allowed the Bratva to launder their money, but get closer to powerful Russian oligarchs. Today, Solntsevskaya Bratva is involved in nearly every aspect of the Russian underworld, including racketeering, money laundering, prostitution, credit card fraud, arms dealing, human trafficking, and hacking. The organization is also believed to play an integral role in the international cocaine trade, with links to Columbian drug cartels.
4. The French Connection: Marseille, France
Marseille has long been dubbed “the Chicago of the South.” It has a murderous history of organized crime and violent gangs, the most legendary being the “French Connection,” a group that ran laboratories processing heroin coming in from Turkey after World War II. By the late 1960s, 80 percent of heroin in the U.S. was coming from Marseille, and in 1971 Hollywood immortalized the city of Marseille in the film The French Connection, which featured Gene Hackman.
While Marseille is no longer the heroin processing capital of the world, the city is at the center of the cannabis trade and a key point in the cocaine smuggling route from South America. According to The Guardian, in 2013 the French government led crisis talks over a spate of gangland murders in Marseille that left 15 dead, including a football boss’s son. Marseille may no longer have the notorious French Connection or Capone-like mobsters with names like The Belgian, The Blond or The Tomcat, but ongoing gang problems have made it impossible for the Mediterranean city to shed its violent image.
3. The Camorra, Italy
The Camorra is a crime syndicate that originated in the Campania region of Italy in the 18th century. Unlike the Sicilian mafia, the Camorra doesn’t have centralized leadership; the organization is said to have somewhere around 111 different clans, and each clan, like a gang, works independently of each other. According to investigative journalist Roberto Saviano, the Camorra is the most influential and violent faction of the Italian mafia. The organization’s influence extends to Lombardy, Piedmont, Tuscany, and Emilia-Romagna, and over the years the group has also gained a foothold in the United Kingdom and the U.S.
2. Roma Gangs
The Roma, otherwise known as Gypsies, have been part of the Eastern European landscape for centuries. However, as more eastern European countries have joined the EU, cities like Paris, London, and Dublin are having a difficult time with the large influx of Roma, many of whom don’t have jobs and are living in large tent camps on the outskirts of towns. While there is no doubt that the Roma have suffered from discrimination and prejudice over the years, the professional gangs of Roma thieves who are working the streets and tourist attractions of popular European cities are only exacerbating these prejudices, leading to further stigmatization.
The Daily Mail has featured numerous stories on sophisticated gangs of Roma thieves targeting cashpoint customers in Paris. “There are so many Roma working on scams that it is almost impossible for us to do anything about it,” said a Paris police source. “They have look-outs everywhere, and use minors to do the stealing.” In 2011, a network of 27 Roma were accused of committing more than 100 crimes across France, Belgium and Germany, using children as young as 10 as part of a “criminal army.”
1. The Pink Panthers
According to American television newsmagazine 60 Minutes, the Pink Panthers are “the largest, most successful gang of diamond thieves in the word, credited with 370 heists worth over $500 million.” The gang is composed of networks of teams, many of who are ex-Yugoslavs with military training who fought in the Bosnian wars. The loose group of thieves is known to combine expert planning and military discipline, but it is their daring heists that set them apart from other thieves and which earned them the nickname “the Pink Panthers,” a moniker taken from the popular Peter Sellers movies of the 70s and 80s.
Over the past 20 years Interpol has identified 800 core Pink Panthers, but caught only a few. Unlike the Mafia, there is no kingpin or chain of command. The Pink Panthers are responsible for heists in 35 countries, with specialists in everything from alarms to safecracking to stealing cars. While precise timing and well-planned getaways is the Pink Panthers’ trademark, their brazen exploits are the stuff of legend, inspiring legions of copycats throughout Europe.