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The Meaning of the Tattoos - Eastern Promises
by nikkie222 (nikkie222)
at September 23rd, 2007 (08:21 pm)
bored

current mood: bored

~*~*~SPOILERS~*~*~


If you've seen the trailer, you've heard the detective from Scotland Yard say, "In Russian prisons, your life story is written on your body, in tattoos. You don't have tattoos, you don't exist."


© Focus Features


© Focus Features


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Many people on Viggo-Works, including Elennore from Russia, researched the meaning of the tattoos and what they meant for Nikolai. Aurora contributed substantially with refinement of translations and tattoo pics. Specific sources are cited below; other sources include Wikipedia and the EP Production Notes.

I know nothing about this subject and take no credit for any of this; I've just compiled information here (mostly lifted right from the sources), :) and then detailed (with screencaps) where they are on Nikolai and what they mean. Many thanks to everyone who contributed!


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Russian Criminal Tattoos and the Vory v Zakone - EP Production Notes

[Producer] Paul Webster reveals - "Viggo's one-man research engine helped mould David's thinking about the script, and fed into the script in a great way. It informed our whole process."

Particularly helpful to all - for an important story and visual element of Eastern Promises - was Alix Lambert's documentary The Mark of Cain - which she had filmed in Russian prisons; Mortensen studied her book (among others) on the same subject, namely, criminal tattoos.

Cronenberg in turn sent the books and the documentary to Steven Knight, who incorporated the tattoo elements This facet of Mortensen's research became "a key pivot point for our approach to refining the script with Steve," notes Cronenberg. "Viggo sent me books on Russian criminal tattoos which were filled with not just photos and diagrams but also texts about the meanings of tattoos. He also sent me The Mark of Cain. There's this whole hidden world of symbolism that is immediately fascinating."

"Tattoos suddenly became an intense metaphor and symbol in the movie. It's a specialized world that is in fact dying because of the changes that have happened in Russia in the last decade.

"The tattoos are tied to an older Russian criminal caste with a real structure and hierarchy - the Vory V Zakone - which is literally translated as 'Thieves in law.' It's a brotherhood of thieves. The old saying goes - 'There is no honour among thieves' but what we found out was that the Vory has, if not honour, then at least a code that is adhered to - and it's a very brutal one."

The director clarifies that "this really is quite different from the Mafia. Also, in the modern Russian world - or the diaspora in London - it's morphing into something quite different, which is what we wanted to explore in Eastern Promises."

Vory V Zakone members include Russians and Georgians, and a smattering of Azerbaijanis, Uzbeks, Ukrainians, Kazakhs, Abkhazians and, in the movie at least, Turks. The Vory were born organically in Russia during the Great Terror of the 1930s - when Josef Stalin and his henchmen purged the Bolshevik Party of "enemies of the people" and sent millions to the Gulag slave labour camps in Siberia. It was in these camps that the first Vory were formed - along with the code that dictates law among Russian gangsters. The code calls for "complete submission to the laws of criminal life, including obligations to support the criminal ideal and rejection of labour and political activities." The Vory also organized their own tribunals to pass judgment on code violations and disputes. The penalty for violation of the code is often mutilation or death.

The Vory strengthened their ranks in the 1970s - during Leonid Brezhnev's rule - as the Soviet economy began to stagnate and the black market for luxury goods thrived. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Vory further consolidated power in Russia - while also fanning out around the globe, particularly into Western Europe and the United States.

Today, many Vory live well far from their home country. Estimates place them as operating in several dozen different countries, with thousands of members. The rigid code and behavioural rules, however, remain in place. The Vory's criminal aristocracy continues to oversee a recruitment system that - like 70 years ago - is concentrated in the prisons.

"The criminals in Russian jails say that your tattoo is your life," says Cronenberg. "Your tattoos on your body are who you are. If you come in with no tattoos, you don't exist. They must be accurate; they tell what crimes you've committed, what jail time you've served, what your sexual orientation is and more. If you were to have a tattoo that says you are higher up in the crime world than you are - you would be seriously punished, if not killed. It is said that tattoos are one's passport, but it's a very obscure country that the passport is from; the Russian criminal life is a rather small world. So the tattoos you've branded yourself with are determining your own fate and are also your private passport to your private world."

Knight adds - "They communicate through the tattoos. Basically, these people have their curriculum vitae on their body - their career history. With Nikolai - the question is - are these only on his skin? It's what he's done but is it who he is?"

Many tattoos are applied in prison. In these circumstances, to make the ink for the tattoos, prisoners break off the heel of a boot or a shoe and burn it. This yields soot that is sifted through a handkerchief and combined with urine to produce a durable ink. The tattoo is applied with a sharpened guitar string threaded through a wind-up shaver, while a grafted pen cap serves as the ink well.

Charged with making it somewhat easier on all concerned for the tattoo sequence and shots in Eastern Promises - Carol Spier created a tattoo tool based on her staff's research at the Oxford Tattoo Museum. However, hers was designed to not pierce the skin.

The stars being tattooed on Nikolai's knees in the key Vory sequence convey that he will never have to kneel down before authority - as he is raised to the highest rank in the brotherhood. It took one member of Stephan Dupuis's staff 4 hours to apply 43 tattoos on Mortensen for the full-body tattoo sequence. The tattoos, which were transfers, ranged from fingernail-sized to one which covered most of the actor's back. Several encircled his wrists, ankles and fingers.

Keeping it all in the film family - as opposed to the crime family - Russian dialect coach Olegar Fedoro did double duty by appearing on-screen as the tattooist who works on Nikolai. "Viggo's body was a canvas for me," he reports. "Instead of a brush, I was using a little electric machine."

>>>

Mortensen notes… "These tattoos tied in with the so-called honourable thief who has a complete lack of respect for authority - no matter where it's coming from. There is, in the Vory, a respect for those who don't respect authority. As crude as they can be, there is real attention to history and imagery.


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The Mark of Cain

Here is a three minute clip from Alix Lambert's documentary, The Mark of Cain.


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Source: passportmagazine.ru
Russian Prison Tattoos – Codes of Authority, Domination and Struggle
by Alix Lambert


Book Review by Cheryl-Ann Tan
In this month’s review, we will take a look at art of a very different kind—an underground art that is slowly dying. The symbolic Russian prison tattoos that represent the pecking order among thieves, are a biography of criminal and prison life etched on skin, or sometimes, labels forcibly tattooed on ‘Downcasts’. In a way, the tattoos are part of a life underground the underground. Ink was forbidden, so were playing cards, knitting needles... However, nothing stopped the prisoners from knitting when guards were not looking, making playing cards out of paper and bread, or tattooing.
In Lambert’s book almost 200 photographs of typical tattoos on Russian men and women in prison are captured in stunning black and white, and color photographs. Each photograph of a tattoo or convict is accompanied with a caption to decipher what they symbolize.
Lambert, for the most part, allows the photographs and the voices of convicts to speak for themselves (which explains the scant text accompaniment). The real story is written on skin using makeshift materials—a wound-up razor blade, or needles dipped in ink composing of a burnt rubber sole mixed with urine. The book focuses mainly on men’s prisons, but doing the one chapter on the women’s prison after weeks of investigating the men’s prisons, Lambert said of their film crew, they “left the women’s penitentiary in Perm feeling rattled.”
The kind of tattoos of ‘The Zone’ (the Russian prison), with modern-day prisoners veering away from the traditional tattoos associated with thieves who follow the unwritten rules Thieves’ Code, they take the liberty to include spiders and syringes that represent drug-use, demons, fantasy-like images or whatever images they found symbolic to themselves.
Many tattoos reflect the spitefulness and hate of the Russian justice system and many take the form (like one interpretation of the Madonna and Child) of telling of their long-suffering life in prison. Some tattoo a woman they love, or the image of the Bitsa, the most respected woman in The Zone. Names, are however, rare, as there is a superstition that bad luck will come to that person whose name is tattooed on. Some tattoos are part of fads. In the 1920s, the eagle symbolizing helping one’s mother or someone else was common. The Soviet era saw many Stalin, Lenin and Engels tattooed on chests, as convicts believed “you couldn’t be put in front of the firing squad.
You have the leaders on you.” The era of the Thieves’ Code saw tattoos of the crucifixion on a chest designating the highest-ranking Thief-in-Law, a dagger for a killerfor- hire, and many more representing one’s place in the power structure.
Some may find Lambert’s pictorial book it a bit too graphic, but it would appeal to tattoo enthusiasts or anyone interested in finding out about the Russian prison life (Gorky Park fans rejoice, there is a bit on the detective who inspired Martin Cruz Smith). In a unique way, this book is a piece of art in itself.
Copyright 2004-2006


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Per the EP Production Notes, there were 43 tattoos on Viggo's body, ranging from fingernail-sized to one which covered most of his back. 12 of the tattoos are Russian sayings. Several encircled his wrists, ankles and fingers.

Per Viggo, "Some of the tattoos were humorous - and some were quite poetic. On the instep of my right foot, one said "’Where are you going?' On the instep of the other foot, another said "What the hell do you care?" One of my favourites said - 'Let all I have lived be as if it were a dream", which is so beautiful and sad. Another said - "I'm a slave to fate but no lackey to the law', which translates to 'I'll accept my lot in life without complaining, but don't expect me to show you any respect or listen to anything you say; I don't care how hard you hit me.'"

[*]Chest Jesus on Cross "Prince of Thieves"
[*]Chest «Пусть будет сном что пережито мною» “Let all I have lived be as if it were a dream”
[*]Left Abdomen Madonna with Open Heart and Knives Through It unknown meaning (Madonna is an apotropaic symbol intended to "ward off evil" or "avert or combat evil")
[*]Left Abdomen «Себя не обманешь» ”can not fool yourself”
[*]Right Abdomen Death with a Scythe/Reaper the person is a killer
[*]Right Abdomen «Я здесь и я жду» ”I’m here and I’m waiting”
[*]Upper Back Church Under Three Cupolas served three different prison sentences
[*]Upper Back «Важно оставаться человеком» "It is important to remain a human being"
[*]Lower Back «Раб судьбы но не лакей закона» I'm a slave to fate but no lackey to the law
[*]Lower Back Cross unknown meaning (the cross is an apotropaic symbol intended to "ward off evil" or "avert or combat evil")
[*]Right Upper Arm Black Raven
[*]Right Upper Arm «Черный ворон, я не твой» “Black raven, I’m not yours (yet)”
[*]Left Upper Arm Skull With Flowers high-ranking gang member who is a murderer, possibly celebrated a teenage birthday in prison
[*]Left Upper Arm «наперекор судьбе» ”In spite of destiny”
[*]Left Forearm «буду на свободе» "I will be free"
[*]Left Forearm «Не верь, не бойся, не проси» "don't trust, don't be afraid, don't beg"
[*]Right Forearm «Пошли вы све нах**!» “F**k you all!”
[*]Right Forearm Snake Twined Around Dagger “We live by fighting”
[*]Left Forearm Right Thigh Hot Cross Button "Whatever you do with me, I am free"
[*]Left Shoulder Spider Web thief, possibly had a drug addiction
[*]Leg «дальше в лес больше дров» further wood (forest) more wood/trees (firewood) When you go deeper into something the problems are getting bigger/ the more questions there are, the more things get worse
[*]Right Thigh Madonna with [very large] Child thief/criminal from early days (Madonna is an apotropaic symbol intended to "ward off evil" or "avert or combat evil")
[*]Left Wrist Barbed Wire often the prison term in years is shown by the number of 'barbs' on the wire
[*]Right Wrist Button unknown meaning
[*]Right and Left Ankles Ankle Chains refers back to the time of Peter the Great, when prisoners were commonly shackled by the ankles
[*]Right and Left Insteps Phrases in Russian "Where the hell are you going?" "What the hell do you care?"
[*]Knees and Collarbones Stars commonly represent time served; each point indicates a year served in jail - eight-point stars (usually placed under the collarbones or on the knees) are only allowed for thieves in law, the alfa dogs of underworld -stars tattooed on the knees mean the person bows to no authority
[*]Finger – left hand, below thumb Three Dots signifies a three year prison term
[*]Finger – left forefinger Unknown symbol, unknown meaning
[*]Finger – left ring finger St. Petersburg Cross symbol for having been in a prison there
[*]Finger – left little finger Unknown symbol, unknown meaning
[*]Finger – left little finger Unknown symbol, unknown meaning
[*]Finger - right forefinger knuckle Unknown symbol, unknown meaning
[*]Finger - left knuckles/hand «cebep» “north", indicating the northern part of Russia where the strictest prisons are located for the most notorious murderers and thieves
[*]Unknown location Smoking Skull
[*]Unknown location Tiger
[*]Unknown location Scorpion
[*]Unknown location Sailing Ship
[*]Unknown location Naked Angel on a Wheel
[*]Unknown location Epaulettes
[*]Unknown location Cat with Pipe
[*]Unknown location Candelabra
[*]Unknown location Unknown Tattoo


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~~*~*~*~*~*~*~* ~*~*~*~*~*


We can intuit from this that Nikolai:
• Was an expert thief , a "Prince of Thieves"
• Was a killer
• Served three prison terms
• Was a high-ranking gang member who was a murderer
• Possibly celebrated a teenage birthday in prison
• Possibly had a drug addiction
• Was a thief from his early days
• Is now a “thief-in-law”, an alpha dog of the underworld
• Now bows to no one
• Served one prison term of three years
• Was in a prison in St. Petersburg
• Was in a prison in the north, where the strictest prisons are located for the most notorious murderers and thieves


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Chest

1. Jesus On Cross - a cross worn on the chest signifies a "Prince of Thieves", the highest possible rank. Or a scene of the crucified Christ - has no religious meaning but it's the inmate saying he's been oppressed and sentenced by the authorities just like Jesus.


2. «Пусть будет сном что пережито мною» “Let all I have lived be as if it were a dream”


© Focus Features



Abdomen

3. Madonna with Open Heart and Knives Through It (Woman with Knife?) (upper left abdomen) - unknown meaning


4. «Себя не обманешь» (under the tattoo) ”can not fool yourself”


© Focus Features


5. Death with a Scythe/Reaper (upper right abdomen) – the person who wears this tattoo is a killer


6. «Я здесь и я жду» (under the reaper) ”I’m here and I’m waiting”


Crescent Moon - Viggo's tattoo :)


© Focus Features


The cross on his chest and Holy Mother on the right thigh are also apotropaic symbols. Apotrope (adj.: apotropaic) refers to objects such as amulets and talismans or other symbols intended to "ward off evil" or "avert or combat evil."



Back

7. Church Under Three Cupolas - the church is a common apotropaic symbol (wards off evil); the number of dome towers (cupolas) indicates either number of prison terms or number of years of the sentence. In this case, Viggo says they represent three different prison sentences.


8. «Важно оставаться человеком» (above church/cupolas) "It is important to remain a human being"


9. «Раб судьбы но не лакей закона» (below church/cupolas) I'm a slave to fate but no lackey to the law


10. Cross (Below phrase under church/cupolas)


© Focus Features



Per Viggo, "I have - I don't know how many - four dozen tattoos or something on my body in this movie, and a lot of them are pieces of songs or out of Russian literature, poetry or just sayings that people know about but that have more than one meaning. And there's one that was on a Russian prisoner. Actually, I saw it twice; once on someone's torso and once on his leg, I think. But anyway, I have it on my back. It says, 'The important thing is to remain human,' in Russian. And to the people that had those tattoos, mainly I think the important thing is to remain human means be your own man. Take it like a man. Don't respect authority, be a tough bastard and don't forget, keep your dignity. It's all that, but it also has another meaning, in the face of this hideous existence for people and very severe way of life. It was almost like that was something I remembered or I thought of a lot, that phrase."



Upper Arms

11. Black Raven (right upper arm) with:


12. «Черный ворон, я не твой» “Black raven, I’m not yours (yet)”


© Focus Features


From nymag.com's Tattoed Love Thug, (Mortensen's) favorite is a picture of a black crow and “these words from a really old Russian song: ‘Black crow, I’m not ready for you to take me yet.’ This film is about survival. And Nikolai, he’s not ready to die.”


13. Skull With Flowers (upper left arm) - skulls are usually worn by high-ranking gang members, interpreted to mean the wearer is a murderer; flowers (if a rose) - the wearer celebrated a teenage birthday in the zone (prison) [don’t know if these two together mean something else]


14. наперекор судьбе ”In spite of destiny”


© Focus Features


15. «буду на свободе» (left arm) "I will be free"


© Focus Features



16. «Не верь, не бойся, не проси» (left forearm)

"don't trust
don't be afraid
don't beg"


© Focus Features


17. «Пошли вы све нах**!» (right inner forearm) “F**k you all!”


© Focus Features



18. Snake Twined Around the Dagger (right outer forearm) - a very popular symbol among the criminals, meaning, “We live by fighting”.


© Focus Features


19. Hot Cross Button (left inner forearm) - a white power /white pride racist symbol on a body position where you normally give or receive blood could mean: "Whatever you do with me, I am free".


© Focus Features



Left Shoulder/Upper Arm

20. Spider Web (this is shown in the behind the scenes videos; however, it’s not in the movie as we see only the church with cupolas on his back with nothing on the left shoulder)

Can indicate a drug addiction. It can also mean that the wearer is a thief. If the spider is shown moving upwards it means the wearer is still an active criminal; if the spider is moving downwards it means that the wearer is intending to leave the thief's way of life.


Elvish Nine :)


© Focus Features



Legs

21. «дальше в лес больше дров» further wood (forest) more wood/trees (firewood) – don’t know significance of this - possible meanings (there were no immediate proverbs or sayings found; however, this does seem particularly relevant to Nikolai)

When you go deeper into something the problems are getting bigger/ the more questions there are
When you try to understand something better and begin to “dig” deeper, the more and more questions you have;
As it goes on, things get more complicated, worse.
If you want some trouble, dig deeper


© Focus Features



22. Madonna with [very large] Child (right thigh) - the wearer has been a thief/criminal from his early days




© Focus Features


The cross on his chest and Holy Mother on the right thigh are also apotropaic symbols. Apotrope (adj.: apotropaic) refers to objects such as amulets and talismans or other symbols intended to "ward off evil" or "avert or combat evil."


(19.) Hot Cross Button (right thigh) - a white power /white pride racist symbol on a body position where you normally give or receive blood could mean: "Whatever you do with me, I am free".


© Focus Features



Hands and Wrists

23. Barbed Wire (left wrist) - often the prison term in years is shown by the number of 'barbs' on the wire


© Focus Features



24. Right Wrist Possibly a button? Covers the Henry "H"


© Focus Features



Ankles and Feet

25. Ankle Chain - refers back to the time of Peter the Great, when prisoners were commonly shackled by the ankles


26. "Where the hell are you going?" (instep of one foot, written in Russian); "What the hell do you care?" (instep of other foot, written in Russian)


© Focus Features



Knees and Collarbones

27. Stars - commonly represent time served; each point indicates a year served in jail

Eight-point stars (usually placed under the collarbones or on the knees) are only allowed for thieves in law, the alfa dogs of underworld. If stars are tattooed on the knees, it means the person bows to no authority. In the movie Nikolai receives these tattoos as he is raised to the highest rank in the brotherhood and he will never have to kneel down before any authority.


© Focus Features



Fingers - 7 Assorted Finger Tattoos


© Focus Features



28. Left Hand (Top of Hand), Below Thumb - signifies a three year prison term


© Focus Features


29. Left Forefinger


© Focus Features



30. Left Ring Finger St. Petersburg Cross - symbol for having been in a prison there


© Focus Features


31. Left Hand, Little Finger


© Focus Features


32. Left Hand, Little Finger


© Focus Features


33. Right Hand, Forefinger Knuckle


© Focus Features


34. Left Hand «cebep» - means “north”, indicating the northern part of Russia where the strictest prisons are located for the most notorious murderers and thieves


© Focus Features




~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



Some of the other tattoos included:

35. Smoking Skull – skulls are usually worn by high ranking gang members, interpreted to mean a murderer – don’t know significance of smoking skull

36. Tiger - signifies an 'enforcer', or a sign of an avenger, geared at times at guards and prison authority

37. Scorpion

38. Sailing Ship - the wearer is willing to come along with an escape plan; anyone planning an escape will know that the wearer will be keen to be a part of it

39. Naked Angel on a Wheel

40. Epaulettes - sign of rank

41. Cat with Pipe - the cat is associated with the characteristics needed by a thief (slyness) -the most common thief tattoo

42. Candelabra - the wearer is saying he can extinguish your light, beware

43. Unknown tattoo – could not locate

Comments

Posted by: Sveta_111 (sveta_111)
Posted at: September 24th, 2007 12:40 pm (UTC)

I say the most general sense of «дальше в лес больше дров» (further wood (forest) more wood/trees (firewood)) is "If you go deeper into something the problem is getting bigger".

Posted by: nikkie222 (nikkie222)
Posted at: September 25th, 2007 12:27 am (UTC)
EP Sexy

Oh, thank you!!! I appreciate it! :)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: July 19th, 2008 05:19 am (UTC)

in real life only people that are in jail for a loooong time have that many tattoos. You dont become a high ranking thief over night and not even over few years. in reality people that are his age, and are free (no idea how he would be let into london with a criminal record) have only a few tattoos simply becouse it takes a very long time to earn them and they can only be earned in jail. Even the stars are usualy tatooed in jail and this is the first time i see it being outside of it. :D

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: July 19th, 2008 05:25 am (UTC)

and to prove my point the "cat with pipe" means KOT korenoy obetatel' turmi. which is hard to translate but pretty much means hes always in jail. meaning - life sentence( in most cases) As great as this movie is, they made the stars as the symbol of a high ranking criminal when in reality he already has tatts that surpass all the other character's tatts.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: September 26th, 2008 07:01 am (UTC)
tattoo

cat is a symbo; for theif in russian tattoos, and the stars on the shoulders are the second highest tats u can get, the cross in the center of the chest with jesus on it is the highest, and u can only get it after the stars . THE STARS MEAN YOUR A MADE MAN IN THE RUSSIAN MOB, THE CROSS MEANS HES A BOSS IN THE MOB

Posted by: tita_undomiel (tita_undomiel)
Posted at: September 24th, 2007 04:54 pm (UTC)

Thanks for this great info!!!!!

Posted by: Sveta_111 (sveta_111)
Posted at: September 24th, 2007 08:01 pm (UTC)

You're welcome! *hugs*

Posted by: nikkie222 (nikkie222)
Posted at: September 25th, 2007 12:28 am (UTC)
EP Sexy

You're so welcome; I enjoyed it! :)

Posted by: Sveta_111 (sveta_111)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2007 11:48 pm (UTC)

I think the meaning of this phrase isn't similar "You can't see the forest for the trees" because there is the same saying in Russian.This one has a different meaning. Oh it's so hard to explain! I fail...

Posted by: nikkie222 (nikkie222)
Posted at: October 4th, 2007 02:14 am (UTC)

Thank you; I'll change it. I have more changes to make so check back in a couple of days!

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: September 26th, 2008 07:06 am (UTC)

that phrase means your stupid or easily distracted, the russian phrase is like 'alice going deeper into the rabbit hole' "the deeper you go into the woods the more trees you see" the further u look into things the more is unveilled

Posted by: arieltachna (arieltachna)
Posted at: September 25th, 2007 12:56 pm (UTC)
EP

What amazing information to have pulled all together! It adds so much to my understanding of Nikolai and of the film!

Posted by: nikkie222 (nikkie222)
Posted at: September 25th, 2007 01:57 pm (UTC)

Thanks! I'm glad it was useful. :)

Posted by: stormatdusk (stormatdusk)
Posted at: September 25th, 2007 05:08 pm (UTC)

it was wonderful of you to do this!

Posted by: n_noone (n_noone)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2007 07:49 am (UTC)
Nikolai

Wow, thanks for putting all this together with such great images.

This is fascinating information.

Posted by: mariadelcastro (mariadelcastro)
Posted at: October 11th, 2007 07:36 pm (UTC)

Many, many thanks. It's great to have all those details about the tattoos!

Posted by: thecomicaztec (thecomicaztec)
Posted at: December 14th, 2007 05:40 pm (UTC)

Thanks so much for this, dude. You've been a huge help to me.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: July 14th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)

suka eslib ia bil tam iab tebe eti zvezdi virezal a potom szogbi tebia,suka takaia

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: June 24th, 2008 10:21 am (UTC)
Spider

Hey, great work putting together that information. But one thing you did get incorrect.

The spider on the back shoulder means different things. If the spider is climbing upwards, it means that the criminal is continuing his criminal activities in the profession indicated by other tattoos on his body. If the spider is climbing down, that means the opposite, and that the criminal has ceased all criminal activities and does not wish to return to the past.

Posted by: Amanda (cheapsexwcodine)
Posted at: November 8th, 2008 12:23 am (UTC)
This is late..

But..
The one on his hand, the birds in the rays of the setting sun, means
"I was born free and should be free"
I actually have that tattooed on my stomach.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: December 19th, 2008 03:53 am (UTC)
gracias

cuando vi la pelicula me llamaron mucho la atencion los tatoos, de hecho es en gran parte , por lo que la he visto unas 5 veses , no tengo un solo tatuaje pero quisiera empezar por el de la cruz de san petersburgo , pero me interesaba su significado . gracias.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: January 2nd, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
,

the 31'st symobl is also for a thief

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: January 25th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
nakolki

фильм не смотрел,скорей всего атстой.опять американцы играют русских и все там Михаилы,Юрии,Иваны.а о наколках итак инфы в сети полно.
вот тут много фоток партаков
http://russiancriminaltattoo.blogspot.com

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: February 15th, 2009 02:28 pm (UTC)

Just saw this movie last week as well as your blog. Very excellent work and I hope you accept my gratitude for the fine job you've done in compiling this.

I have the reaper tattoo with the "i'm here and i'm waiting" on my right forearm. I don't know for sure how that'd be taken if I were walking down the streets of Moscow, but I saw that on a poster in the local tattoo shop and took it differently. I don't see it as the tat of a killer, but I take it as an acknowledgement of death. I think the two combined means the wearer (i.e. myself) says I should value every day I have and never think i'm invincible because death is always with us. It's as much a part of us all as life. As it states, death is here and waiting for the fated time in which it will take you. Just my perception I suppose.

Oh yeah, I also have the tat listed at #16 on the back of my neck. It's my personal credo, perhaps the same for any of us who have had more of a struggle in life than fortune or prosperity.
Anyway, thanks again for all your effort. I suggest, should anyone be reading this that has not seen the movie to do so. Truly, it's both a lesson and an addicting story.
--Q

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: October 16th, 2009 04:03 pm (UTC)
Scythe/Reaper tattoo

Hello wingates,

Can you send me a photo of your reaper tattoo on your arm?
I can't find the tattoo from the movie.
Whats the name of the moscow tatto_shop where you set the tattoo?
yusapoev@yahoo.com

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: November 20th, 2009 10:44 pm (UTC)

just a quick correction. I'm studying this for undergraduate research work so i'm delving pretty deep into the material (documentaries, Russian criminal diaries, direct interviews, etc). The skull with the two flowers coming out of it, with the cross on the forehead: that is actually a very popular young male's tattoo. It is usually accompanied by the Russian equivalent of "In defiance of fate!". You were semi right by the rose meaning, but the rose is usually by itself when referencing a birthday. Also, skulls weren't only worn by high ranking members. A beginning thief in prison usually received a skull in his pre-trial holding cell if the hierarchy there decided he was deserving to be a vor v zakone (legitimate thief; part of the Thieving society). And everyone seems to be arguing over the crosses and the stars. The a cross did not make you a thief-in-law, but rather a scene depicting Jesus Christ was given to you upon that status. The stars are given to high ranking members, but that doesn't make you "el jefe". The society continues out of prison because it is a culture, not a prison exclusive society.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: March 26th, 2011 02:30 am (UTC)
Thanks so much!

I'm a writer who became interested in Russian criminal life a few years back, and I'm finally getting around to writing something about it. I also often draw my characters before or during my writing to get to know them a bit better. Anyway, this site has been an excellent resource for making my characters that little bit more authentic. It's hard to find good, in-depth information on this subject just browsing around the internet, and this has been my number one reference outside of my books on the subject. Thanks a bunch, and awesome job.

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