Monthly Archives: December 2013

From Vodka to Water

It was a particularly tough time in Russia from 1985 to 1987. This was due to the fact that Mikhail Gorbachev had issued an anti-alcohol campaign throughout the entire Soviet Union. Alcohol was linked to extremely high levels of child-abuse, suicide, divorce, accidents at work, and a rise in mortality rates among men. However, alcohol was a huge part of Soviet culture. It was used for celebrations and bonding between friends. It also helped the Russian economy tremendously. In 1979, the Soviet Union gained 25.4 rubles from the sale of alcoholic drinks. They did this by placing monopolies on the production and distribution of alcohol. Once May 1985 arrived, the way alcohol was viewed changed drastically.

An anti-alcohol campaign poster
An anti-alcohol campaign poster

The shops that sold alcohol were limited severely. Many state-owned vodka-distilleries were closed. Vineyard for wine production were destroyed and closed. Restaurants were no longer allowed to sell alcohol before 2 in the afternoon. The Soviet government officials became alcohol-free in order to set a positive example. This is how Gorbachev became known as the ‘mineral-water drinking secretary’, as opposed to the ‘General Secretary’.

An anti-alcohol campaign poster
An anti-alcohol campaign poster

The anti-alcohol campaign had huge ramifications on the country. Alcohol consumption dropped by 50%. However, moonshine production increased sharply as well as organized crime. The amount of deaths from alcohol poisoning increased as well because people turned to other substances to get drunk. The large profits that the government had earned from alcohol production and consumption disappeared. The economy suffered, and more money was printed in order to help. The consequence of that was high levels of inflation. All of these problems resulted in the repealing of the campaign in 1987.

Works Cited:

T. Boikova, Rationing Vodka. March 27, 1987. Sovetskaia Rossiia, 27 March 1987.

http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1985drylaw&Year=1985&navi=byYear

Images: Yuri Matrosovich: Museum of Anti-Alcohol Posters. 1996.

Rock’n Russia

Rock’n roll and Russia- two things that are often not thought of together. However, that all changed in the early 70s. Originally rock’n roll music was typically only thought of as American or Western. Bands did not realized that they could write their own songs in Russian with a rock’n roll flair. Early rock’n roll Russian groups sang along to English songs often without understanding what they were even singing.

The Russian group ‘The Songsters’ were one of these groups. They originally began singing along to the Beatles. However, they found their own sound by electrifying folk music. They became extremely successful and even won the 1969 All-Union Competition of Variety Show Performers. Part of why the group was so successful is because their sound was still within the scope of what was acceptable for Soviet music. There sound was however, was a new and different take on Soviet music. Around the same time, the popular music was called estrada. Estrada was simple melodies combined with pro-Soviet messages about peaceful living.

Rock music eventually replaced traditional dance music
Rock music eventually replaced traditional dance music

 

If artists wanted to take a more creative approach to their pop music, they typically attached pro-Soviet messages to their songs. David Tukhmanov did this perfectly in his song “My Address is the Soviet Union”. The song had a strong message of how the Soviet Union was his home. However, his song featured an electric guitar, an instrument that was not normally ever featured in Russian music. The message of the song was able to glaze over the fact that Tukhmanov was breaking societal norms by adding a rock’n roll flair.

Works Cited:

http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1973rock&Year=1973&navi=byYear

N. Alekseeva, The Songsters (Pesniary). October 1972. Ogonek, No. 42 (October 1972), pp. 32-33.

Photo: Irkutsk Regional Art Museum. 1998. Tatyana Nazarenko: Dance Floor (1977).