It’s common knowledge that Vodka is a Russian specialty, and the Russian’s knew how to have a good time no matter the time of day or reason to celebrate. Blogger Katelin writes in her post ‘War on…Alcohol?’ about the Soviet Union’s struggle with their population that was showing some unfortunate signs and side effects of alcoholism, such as Fetal Infant Syndrome (FES), birth defects, and the statistical double-ing of alcohol consumption in the 1970s.
Skip ahead 10 years and the Soviet Union is facing some sobering (no pun intended) statistics in the late 1980s. James von Geldern writes of Gorbechev’s big push for sobriety in his essay ‘Anti-alcohol Campaign’ on the website ’17 Moments in Soviet History’:
“In May 1985, less than two months after becoming General Secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev launched a campaign against alcohol abuse, backing it up with a series of measures to reduce alcohol production and sales. These included limiting the kinds of shops permitted to sell alcohol, closing many vodka distilleries and destroying vineyards in the wine-producing republics of Moldavia, Armenia and Georgia, and banning the sale of alcohol in restaurants before two o’clock in the afternoon.”
By the late 1980s, everyone knew that Gorbachev and his party meant business when it came to the sobriety of the Soviet Union. Heck, there was even a Anti-alcohol song created for the campaign! It’s basically the Soviet Rendition of Katy’s Perry’s ‘T.G.I.F. (Last Friday Night)”. I’m not certain whether that song purely invoked laughter among the populations or actually helped turn people away from their beloved booze.
As seen in the ‘Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters Gallery’, posters were put up with very bold and vivid images of the consequences of alcoholism. I’ve pictured a few of these posters within this blog post, but I noted that almost all of them have a particular tendency to characterize the substance as the worst possible thing one could ever consume. The power of state-ordered propaganda, especially in a society where free press was a far cry from the west, was very clear as to what the government wished to see in terms of alcohol statistics in the next few years.
Once again, enter the problem with state-mandated statistical results in the USSR. Just like in Stalin’s five-year plans decades earlier, the jury is out as to whether Gorbachev’s campaign really helped the population to the extent that statistics show. An article in The Current Digest of the Russian Press titled “How Much is Sobriety Costing Us” published in 1988 stated:
“By all indications, we’re drinking about as much today as in 1985. Statistics indicate that while vodka sales fell from 2.5 billion to 1.2 billion liters over the past two years, sugar sales jumped by 1.5 billion kilograms. In the first five months of this year, 2.7 million people, including 270,000 home brewers, were penalized for alcohol-related violations.”
As the state carried out the campaign, the population made up for it by brewing their own alcohol instead. The statistics are notable, however it doesn’t take into account what people who are addicted to alcohol will go through to acquire more of it. The article continues to describe the subsequent sugar shortage seen in the late 1980s because of the campaign:
“By continuing to pressure people so crudely, we risk making some situations critical. Sugar reserves are now so low that the Ministry of Trade fears we will be forced to buy another 1.8 metric tons of sugar abroad, which will cost the nation $1 billion dollars.”
Though alcoholism was rampant throughout the Soviet Union, I wonder what effects were tied to other sorts of addictions at this time. What about smoking, or the effects of nuclear power and radioactive materials that leaked into the environment? Could the Soviets have become reliant on sugar and sugar alcohols amidst the campaign, causing other health issues? Maybe dental problems?
“Alcohol, Enemy of Reason” – https://tululuka.net/alco/intellect/
“Alcohol, The Enemy of Production” – https://tululuka.net/alco/enemy/