Nothing More Russian than Vodka…Right?

When people think Russia, it does not take long before Vodka comes to mind. Not much of a surprise since the sales of alcohol in 1975 gave the Soviet government more money than did income tax (Source). At the same time, it would seem that near the end of the Soviet era not all Russians wanted to be known for their alcoholics. In 1985 Gorbachev started a campaign against alcohol abuse in which he reduced the production and made the sales of alcohol harder to complete. If Gorbachev’s goal was not only to reduce the alcoholism in his country but also to disassociate even a little between Russians and alcohol, he failed. The combating of alcoholism was serious enough that the New York Times in 1985 had to write about the struggles for the common soviet in affording vodka now (Source). At the same time the article throws in a humble brag when it talks about the 8 dollar pints of vodka by saying, “While the price increases may not seem exhorbitant by western standards, for a Soviet worker … can prove a substantial expenditure.”

The article continued by discussing the many changes Gorbachev was instituting to reduce the alcohol usage in the U.S.S.R. at the time but there was something which stood out even more to me. They quote a minister talking about how the heavy alcoholics are turning to drinking perfumes and industrial fluids for the spirits within. This was obviously causing some serious poisoning issues and in enough number that the minister had to speak on it. So perhaps alcoholism was so ingrained into Soviet culture that its own people would poison themselves in order to get that warm fuzzy feeling eventually into numbness.

After doing a little digging this idea did not seem so far-fetched. First there was the similarly American problem of moonshine during prohibition which arose for the Soviets during the anti-alcoholism campaign. Then there was the apparently extreme amount of intolerance directed towards those seeking help and making the decision to not drink. According to this article from the Soviet Press, people who were seeking treatment for their alcoholism were being made fun of and laughed at (Source). These treatment centers for rehabilitation were reaching out and at the end of the article their primary concern is for the privacy of those being treated. These people saw the excuse of missing work due to drinking as normal but missing work due to being treated as hilarious. The man in the poster above from long before Gorbachev’s time would probably have been a complete joke to the primary populace in the Soviet Union by this article.

Since the campaign only really lasted 2 years, it’s no surprise that Russia is still associated with Vodka today and will probably never lose that on their international, and domestic, identity.