McMafia – Misha Glenny

Misha Glenny – McMafia – Seriously Organised Crime
Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh
Performance seen Aug 21, 2018   ****

McMafia book cover, pub by the Bodley Head, 2008

McMafia book cover, pub by the Bodley Head, 2008

It’s hard to know what to call Misha Glenny’s McMafia. Lecture-demo? Performance? What you can be sure of is that Glenny, a specialist in organised crime, the Balkans and author of the best selling book, McMafia on which the drama tv series was based, tells a grim story.

It is about how we got to where we are, how free rein capitalism, financial deregulation and the fall of the communism has led to a global free-for-all in which drug-dealers, oligarchs, people traffickers, cyber-crime and financiers are now king and can play the markets for all their worth.

All have conspired, sometimes together, to create a world we’d rather was not happening. But it is people like Misha Glenny who are telling us, unsavoury as it is, what we need to know if we’re to get ourselves out of the mess we now find ourselves in.

Glenny’s narrative and the company he has kept over the past two to three decades may not be to everybody’s taste. But my goodness, his truth is a blunt and a vital one at this time. And he tells it with such personal vigour, charm and barely disguised outrage.

After all, he has seen it with his own eyes – the glazed, drugged look in the eyes of the women forced into prostitution by people traffickers. He has hobnobbed with the private protection agents – mafias by any other words – from the Balkans to South America. And he is furious at the mayhem that has been unleashed by deregulation. He keeps a special kind of fire in the voice for Thatcher and the consequences of the Big Bang and subsequent ascendancy of the City of London as the world’s major money launderer.

Misha Glenny

Misha Glenny

He starts on a very personal note – being present in the crowd close to Czech singer Marta Kubisova as she serenaded the crowds 20 years ago in 1989 in the glow of the Velvet Revolution and the return of the country to democracy after the fall of communism. `Freedom, revolution’. And hope.

He starts too with a quote from Gramsci, the Italian Marxist and philosopher – `the old is dying and the new is yet to be born’ – a refrain which becomes a coda to the main narrative about how the collapse of communism, far from it being `the end of history’ in Francis Fukuyama’s infamous words, has ushered in an era of unprecedented turmoil.

As a performer, Glenny is a persuasive, quietly modest figure in black-tee-shirt. But the unassuming attire cannot hide the outrage as he circles the stage of Edinburgh’s old Adventist Church to an audience uniquely composed of the over-50s, spinning his yarn from Prague 1989 through Russian financial anarchy and corruption after the `fall’ to the links between drugs, oligarchs, the Middle East, the widespread use of `private protection enforcement agencies’ and into the present day finishing with the warning, `it’s time to brush up your dragon-slaying skills’.

McMafia in Edinburgh, it turns out, is not so much a background to the drama series or a marketing ploy for his books as a dramatic, instructive, eye-popping analysis of economic and social collapse.

Glenny, former BBC East European correspondent, has made it his speciality these past twenty years not just to familiarise himself with those Russian oligarchs but the full panoply of out-of-control neo liberal economics.

He has known the para-military generals (both Croat and Serb) in the Balkans, lived in the favelas of Brazil and saves a particular fury for the thousands of needless lives caused by Brazil’s drugs-related `civil wars’.

He is clearly as enraged by the drug traffickers and the people traffickers who now prey on the have-nots from South America to Africa to the Middle East as he is by the 1% billionaires with their off-shore havens and deregulatory bonanzas.

And he introduces us to the final piece in the fragmenting jigsaw, the cyber hackers – the new, young, uniquely male, generation combining with the mafias to disrupt and corrupt.

Misha Glenny on location for the drama series inspired by the book

Misha Glenny on location for the drama series inspired by the book

He notes too, the sudden opioid-related crisis deaths in the US laying the blame squarely at the door of the big pharmaceuticals and he is momentarily heartened – one of the few bright moments in an otherwise dystopian landscape – by Canada’s legalising of marijuana that he believes will at a stroke, cut off the black market, and feed monies back into the Canadian state coffers.

Glenny is not the only one sounding these warnings. He certainly won’t be the last. He’s not a man to soften realities. There’s almost a relish or, if you like, a dark and bitter humour, in the way he talks about the sheer brazenness of the characters he’s come to know.

But there’s also massive research, facts and figures to back the conclusions he’s now drawing. And deep sadness, too, at the loss of the bright future that beckoned when Marta Kubisova sang those words of `freedom, revolution’ twenty years ago

If you see his McMafia coming to a venue near you, don’t miss.

Perfs Aug 20-26, 2018 at Assembly Checkpoint

Review published on this site, Aug 24, 2018