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An excessive mass media coverage of the recent murder and funeral of Russia’s top gangster, widely known as Grandpa Hassan, has vexed many in Russia. People say such keen interest bordering on eulogy is a kind of diagnosis to Russia’s present-day society.
An ethnic Kurd from Georgia, Aslan Usoyan, 74, who went by the nickname "Grandpa Hassan," was shot dead by a sniper as he was leaving a restaurant in downtown Moscow last Wednesday. It was not the first attempt on his live. In 2010, he survived another assassination attempt and has been virtually out of business since then, because of health problems. On Sunday, he was buried with much pomp at the Khovanskoye Cemetery outside Moscow. Initially, it was planned to bury him in Tbilisi, his home town, but the Georgian authorities reportedly refused to allow Usoyan to be buried there and a plane carrying his body was turned away from Georgia.
The funeral was held with much pomp. The body of the mafia boss was taken by a black Cadillac followed by a string of other cars. More than one hundred people walked in procession after the funeral train. The leaders of the criminal underworld gathered at the Khovanskoye Cemetery to say goodbye to the slain gangster. There were people among them who have been blacklisted by the United States as lords of transnational organized crime.
These developments dominated the headlines in all Russia’s media, including state-run television channels. Few people in Russia, whatever famous they might be, could boast of getting so much attention as the criminal mastermind Grandpa Hassan. Details of the assassination, reflections about its possible consequences for the underworld, the funeral ceremony – all was chewed over in the media. Live reports from the cemetery were aired along with reports about taking of hostages in Algeria and the crash of a bus with Russian tourists in France. As though it was all about a very important person. And a mush esteemed one.
However, it seems to be a tradition to pay that much attention to the funeral of underworld leaders. Thus, in October 2009, when another crime boss, Vyacheslav Ivankov, known by a nickname Jap, was buried at Moscow’s Vagankovo Cemetery, OMON riot police were engaged to ensure security. A failed assassination attempt on Usoyan in September 2010 hit the headlines too.
It has suddenly emerged that the public is fixed on crime and the underworld. More to it, some even find this world appealing. Thus, a notorious radical opposition activist, the former leader of the outlawed National Bolshevik Party (NBP) and now the leader of the Other Russia party, writer Eduard Limonov said he thought there was a kind of public demand for crime lords. “I am confident that mob bosses are positive people,” he said in a comment to the Izvestia newspaper. “They reduce the underworld to discipline, otherwise it might behave aggressively and outrageously.”
Limonov confessed to have met mafia bosses more than once in his life. “One of them helped me to settle, in no time, a problem with 13 NBP members who had happened to be in a difficult situation at a Moscow prison, which had an entire criminal hierarchy,” he said. “This is what I call efficiency, this is a lead for state institutions.”
Usoyan’s funeral looked like the funeral of a top-ranking state official or an acclaimed man of culture, which “only proves the current status of Russia’s underworld, its high position in society,” writes the Vedomosti newspaper. “If it were some other state, police or other law enforcement agencies would have immediately clamped down on the mere attempt of godfathers to gather in a public place.”
Runet users are likewise indignant.
“I can’t make it out – it looks like it was the funeral of a Hero of the Soviet Union,” writes Pavel. “It was in all the headlines, on all the television channels. Everybody is yelling around not to glorify criminals but all are doing it instead.”
“The media have done their best to shape a reality where there is neither a legally elected president, nor official authorities, but which has mafia bosses who are about to plunge into a criminal war after his death,” writes miravidishipeev, who was especially appalled by the coverage provided by state-run television channels. “Journalists are speaking about the underworld so effusively that one may get an impression that there is no other world in Russia. Or as if it is the driving force. In any case, the murder of a monster must not be front-page news. He must not be praised as a hero. The criminal underworld must not be advertized so openly. Journalists must not be so gushing about it, as they are now.”