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.
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’.
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.
T. Boikova, Rationing Vodka. March 27, 1987. Sovetskaia Rossiia, 27 March 1987.
Images: Yuri Matrosovich: Museum of Anti-Alcohol Posters. 1996.