Criminal groups already in the times of the Polish People's Republic had large amounts of money. The gangsters could afford luxuries unavailable to others and pay for "allies" among state officials. But ... where exactly did they get the money for it? And what did the fall of communism change in these systems?
Organized crime existed in the country on the Vistula for a long time before 1989, but it is only the end of the Polish People's Republic that is commonly associated with the formation of mafia systems. No wonder:during the communist era, the society was mostly poor, and the structures of the underworld operated with the tacit consent of the militia and the Security Services. This is confirmed by Kjetil Stensvik Østli in his book Policemen and Thieves, who writes:“[…] the policemen and thieves were for me like two separate worlds. Now I am beginning to understand that this is the same world, only separated by law. ”
In People's Poland, the shortage of goods was the order of the day. Those who later made a career in the criminal world were then engaged in innocent fraud or ... currency exchange. Interestingly, the latter practice was not particularly popular in Poland. It can even be said with some irony that in the People's Republic of Poland, money changers were forced to go to saxes. The complexity of the situation is explained by Tadeusz Batyr in the text "Nikosia's confession from beyond the grave" :
Within a month, an efficient currency exchange trader was able to earn ten times the average Polish salary, which was about PLN 3-4 thousand. Criminal emigration provided additional financial opportunities in the field of currency exchange. Budapest was the capital of smugglers, currency makers and other groups of the criminal element throughout the Eastern Bloc. The roads of tourists, criminals and goods from two worlds divided by the iron curtain crossed there. The season in Budapest lasted almost the entire year.
During the Cold War, Budapest was the capital of the criminal underworld.
Cinkciarzy collected dollar savings, and the luxurious lifestyle they led thanks to them gave them a sense of uniqueness. In a country where few people could afford to buy a TV or a car, people who had these goods had access to various circles. As a result, people from the underworld penetrated various institutions or organizations without any major problems. This allowed them to gain more freedom of action. Such a career, however, had its limitations. The money earned from the currency exchange ensured a prosperous life, but, due to the constraints of the socialist economy, prevented the multiplication of wealth.
"TV, furniture, small Fiat:this is the top of your dreams" - this is the line of a Perfect song from 1981. It perfectly reflects the mentality of the so-called "Solidarity" carnival. And although mafia members were not interested in political change, they welcomed another earning opportunity. This was the case with Nikodem Skotarczak, "Nikos". Tadeusz Batyr, the author of the biography of this famous gangster, who made a career in the 1980s and 1990s in Pomerania, explains:
I think that "Nikos" passed by Solidarity ... Especially since the decision of the communists to introduce martial law was supposed to mean the beginning of a great car adventure for him.
How did this profitable business start? The political and social changes of the 1980s resulted in a phenomenon that had no precedent in the history of Poland. People were making money they… couldn't spend. Basic articles were missing, and the chance to buy luxury goods was rationed by the state monopoly - Pewex. In the end, the gray economy replaced the inefficient socialist state. As Batyr writes in the book "The confession of Nikos from behind the grave" :
The real revolution of the smuggling underground was therefore the illegal trade in Western cars that flooded the 1980s with the Polish People's Republic. Since the inception of organized autobands, smuggled goods - unlike gold or foodstuffs - have also been a smuggling tool.
This practice was common and relatively easy. The criminals rented a car, for example, in Germany or Denmark, and then transported it to the country, where the trace of it was lost. After a few weeks, the vehicle was put on the market with the new documents and engine numbers.
The Polish mafia had many ways to illegally earn money. Some turned out to be more profitable than others. What was it worth doing?
Interestingly, almost every stage of this process was well known to the militia and other services. Criminals' impunity was guaranteed by appropriate contacts and financial arrangements. Only the change of the political system made car theft less profitable. All because customers got wider access to legal vehicles imported from the West.
Moreover, people traded not only in cars. Especially the end of the People's Republic of Poland was profitable in the activities of the local underworld thanks to the smuggling of various goods. There were criminal groups that mainly transported trucks with counterfeit cigarettes and alcohol to Poland.
As the scale of the undertaking was considerable, smuggling allowed for the accumulation of considerable funds. Wojciech Sumliński, in the text "What will not Masa say about the Polish mafia" quotes the testimony of the hero of his book, who enumerated: "The profit on one cigarette rack was about 200 thousand USD, and on one cylinder of alcohol tens of thousands USD" .
Drug sea and vending machines
In the 1980s, Poland was not associated with drugs. The demand for this product was relatively low, the more so as drug addicts often made the so-called "compote" from the poppy seeds themselves. But the geopolitical location of our country made it an ideal place to ship heroin and hashish to Berlin. Reloading took place most often in ports. How high was the detection rate of this type of crime? Tadeusz Batyr explains:
The effectiveness of "People's" Poland's services in detecting drug trafficking was similar to that of other countries. The Federal Republic of Germany boasted similar statistics, where in the mid-1980s the number of heroin addicts was estimated at 50,000. It took about 2.5 tons of heroin to supply Erephenian drug addicts, while throughout 1987, customs officers seized less than 200 kilograms.
In the 1980s, Poland became an important heroin smuggling point.
The drug business flourished already in the declining PRL period. The main source of income for the Polish mafia, however, was only in the first years of democracy. From a transit country, Poland also became one of the main producers of methamphetamine. Only the accession to the European Union and joint activities within the European Police Office (Europol) contributed to the reduction of this practice.
This new business "model" was discussed, among others, by Jarosław Sokołowski, the pseudonym "Masa". The former member of "Pruszków" also mentioned one more, at first glance inconspicuous way of earning money:
Currently, the group's most profitable profits are slot machines and drug trafficking. It started with slot machines at the turn of 1998/99. I do not know how it started, they told me [...] that they got along with the SLD. The arrangement was based on the fact that the places where the gaming machines were displayed were considered by the group as their own, and the owners of the premises with such machines had to pay a certain amount of money for each machine. As a rule it was between $ 50 and $ 100 per month.
Relatively late, Polish criminal groups began to engage in another potentially profitable business, i.e. human trafficking. At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, the structures of the underworld were still too weak to develop it. The almost unlimited deportation of women to Western brothels began after the fall of communism. It is worth adding that the problem of forced prostitution also concerned young men.
Various estimates indicate that in the nineties, up to five thousand Poles were harassed on the streets of Berlin . Gangs had a fair share of their delivery. Over time, the smuggling of modern slaves has turned into brokering illegal immigration as well. This activity continues to the present day.
There is no doubt that the Polish mafia got wind in its sails in the nineties. Wojciech Sumliński, among others, offered his explanation for this phenomenon, writing:“It was not the free market and democracy that made organized crime suddenly appear in the Third Republic of Poland. This was because it existed also in the People's Republic of Poland, and high-ranking militia and secret service officers were its inspirers. When the People's Republic of Poland ended, hundreds of secret service officers, who had close contacts with the underground, simply became its head. "
It wasn't until the 1990s that the Polish mafia caught the wind in its sails. One of the most recognizable gangsters was the "king of the mafia", Nikodem Skotarczak. Photo from the book "Nikos' confession from beyond the grave".
The gangsters also took advantage of the economic changes inevitable during the systemic change. One sordid argument helped - dollar capital gained from currency exchanges, selling cars, alcohol and cigarettes. And also one more aspect mentioned by Tadeusz Batyr in the book "Nikosia's confession from beyond the grave" :
But I know that any professional criminal must be non-ideological. He simply has to be able to earn money in any system, not getting involved in the changes taking place, and after breakthroughs he tries to consume the changes. Consume for your benefit, for the money he collects and invests.