If anyone has not seen the movie "Eastern Promises" one of the major themes throught the movie is the tattoos the characters wear. Aside from adding depth and a more menacing air to the characters the tattoos were carefully researched and have actual meaning. A fair bit of warning though, if anybody who is not really a member of the mob is caught by the Russian mafia wearing similar tattoos the penalty is death or something else involving extreme pain.
First a bit of history and background. The Russian criminal underworld dates back to the rule of the czars where bands of peasants sought ways to undermine the czars oppressive rule and support themselves. This continued into the Soviet era where the mob established a seperate and distinct counter culture to the Communist government. Today, it is still thriving with strong ties to many important Russian industries and bussnisses.
The Russian mob is highly organized and run much like the Italian mob we have come to know and love. Rank and status are very important and can be seen in the tattoos a person wears. Every detail is important from the detail of the tattoo to the location on the person's body. This is important especially in Russia's notoriously overcrowded prison system. The tattoos a person has in prison makes him (the mob is not keen on letting women in) instanly recognizable and will either mark him for death or save his life. Here is a list of random facts that are known about Russian mob tattoos.
During the Soviet era mobsters would tattoo themselves with pictures of Lenin, Engel, and Stalin. This would prevent guards from beating them because these images were considered sacred. Today they use relgious iconography.
A newly initiated member will have a tattoo incorporating a rose design
Church steeples signify time spent in prison for Christian prisoners and stars for others, one spire or star point means one year.
A crucifex over the heart (pictured above) marks you as the "king of thieves" a highly respectable tattoo.
armed robbery, a violation of Article 167 of the Russian criminal code, is represented by a pirate
Pictures of the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus means you have started a life of crime at an early age.
A bull means you are a pimp
A tiger marks you as an enforcer
Barbed wire on the forehead means life imprisonment
There are also tattoos that are forcibly applied. For example, a swastika on the forehead will mark you for death, and eyes on the back will mark you for forced sex. Even if they are applied against the will of the prisoner he will still have to pay the artist.
And finally stars on the sholders are one of the highest honors bestowed upon a member. It means they live by a set code of conduct with honor and dignity. Stars on the knees mean he is a captain and will never kneel before anyone. Anybody who is caught wearing stars and has not earned them will have the body part where the stars are forcibly removed.
Hope you enjoyed the post!