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Friday, February 03, 2006

Honor among thieves: Georgian thugs' Achilles' heel

My coworker Dima recently shared with me some insight into the mind of the Georgian thug.

He explains that to understand (and survive) a Georgian mugging or fight, you must understand that Georgians, no matter how criminal, are not craven. They are proud of their moral standards and of the fact that they prey on the middle class, not the poor. And if they have to shoot someone, they shoot them in the thigh or ass, where the bullet will do the least damage.

Take, for example, a professor he had at university. Professors are among the worst-paid Georgian professionals; the state university system pays them less than two dollars per hour of teaching, with no money at all for prep or grading. His professor was riding the bus, her last three lari (about $1.50) in her right coat pocket. She put her hand in her pocket at some point in the ride and, discovering her money gone, began to wail that her last three lari in the world had been stolen. A few minutes later, a man came up to her on the bus and whispered in her ear, "look in your left pocket." Sure enough, the money was back--with three more lari added in sympathy.

This is not unusal, Dima insists. He has heard of a man who was mugged and told the mugger they had nothing to steal; the mugger apologized, saying "oh, you poor guy," and gave him ten lari!

He also recalls a time when a friend knocked on his door, asking to borrow his dog for a street brawl. He came out and looked out into the courtyard behind his building, where two opposing gangs of 250 young men stood facing off, armed with attack dogs as well as bats, chains, knives and guns.

Anonymous thugs might just start fighting, but these were self-proclaimed "cool guys." So they appointed ten leaders on each side to negotiate. The leaders smoked cigarettes together, discussed the situation, and agreed that one representative of each side would fight, completely unarmed, and that both sides would be satisfied regardless of the result. After the two guys beat each other up, the gangs made peace and all 500 guys declared themselves the best of friends.

His advice if someone tries to mug me? Just run, since any self-respecting thief will have too much class to break his stride and give chase.

Or, if I catch a pickpocket red-handed, don't shout. Just do what he did when he caught a guy reaching into his wife's purse: tap the guy on the shoulder, pull him aside, and tell him that is unacceptable. If my thief is anything like Dima's he will apologize, thank me for not shouting for the police, return any stolen items and make himself scarce.