In the 1990’s, when most citizens were on the brink of starvation and suffered from the repercussions of peak unemployment rates, Kutaisi had a number of large and extravagant houses, which looked suspicious in comparison with others. Those newly built constructions were often the houses of the criminal authorities. Citizens and neighbors still refer to them as the “criminal’s houses,” even today.
Starting from 1926 to 1940, in the USSR, the ‘pickpockets’ formulated a so called brotherhood, which soon started to increase and become more powerful. Later, the institute of high-status criminals or criminal authorities appeared. They started to gain influence over others, in prisons as well as in the rest of the country.
Since that period, in both the Soviet and post-Soviet countries, they established a powerful network of hierarchy of money-making and criminality, appealing to male’s dignity and braveness. For youngsters, being a criminal and disobeying the law seemed romantic and appealing. Most of them craved the idea of becoming a criminal authority.
After the Rose Revolution, the Georgian government started an irreconcilable war against the criminal authorities. Due to their special arresting operations, chasing the actions and police system reforms, it became possible to get rid of “the black”. Most of those, who ruled in social, business and even political levels, now rest in marble graves. The engraving culture of the “black criminals” has become a different subculture which can be spotted in cemeteries of Kutaisi.
After the Police Reforms, starting in 2004, the Georgian government started to hold a series of special operations to arrest the criminal authorities. Most of them were arrested, others – either killed or chased away from the country. Although the black criminal system is now ruined, the ideas and approaches of the criminal authorities still occur in some parts of the younger generation.
Vano Lomtadze, a former criminal authority who managed to rehabilitate himself and to return to social life, now works as the deputy director of the school, Progress (Kutaisi). He now appears as an opinion maker against criminal life. He worries that the government should pay more careful attention to children in order to help them depart from any criminal intensions:
“I spent the best years of my life in prison. I was arrested in Latvia and had to sit there for 10 years,” – he says.
In the interview, Vano Lomtadze mentions his book, named Zone, where he has described his whole story in prison. With his leadership, other black criminals managed to make a revolution in jail and took the internal power into his hands. After 2 years in prison, he became the most respectable person among prisoners: “I had everything: money, drugs, women. I had my room, a big bath, even a fountain at the “zone,” – he remembers.
The key point, which Vano Lomtadze wants to underline in his book is that he appears as the only single criminal authority in Georgia, who deliberately refused from the past system and managed to rehabilitate himself. He shares pictures of his youth, when he was the most privileged prisoner in jail.
“But the most important thing in the “zone” is to maintain your position,” he says. “Each day you have to struggle to be a leader. You have to beat and threaten and show your power. If you won’t do it first, then it will be too late and they will do it to you.”
Vano Lomtadze was freed in 1995 and 2 years later he returned home. Of this he says: “In Kutaisi I met with my old parents, who lived in poverty. It was very hard to imagine that these two old people, who wanted everything good in the world for me, were so humble and poor and I had so much money. I began to acknowledge my whole fault and responsibility towards them. I simply saw that my parents didn’t have anyone except me. My sister couldn’t help them in a better way. And I started to change. I refused to be apart of everything that was related to that criminal world. I started as a swimming trainer and, year after year, I became more qualified in this sphere. Then I started to work at school and finally, I’m here.”
Vano Lomtadze refuses to visit any of the criminal authorities’ cemeteries or have contact with any of them. His partners in crime are all dead. Now he intends to publish his book one more time to take part in struggling against that ideology, which he followed 20 years ago.