Throughout my whole life I knew about the Prohibition in the United States, where alcoholic beverages became illegal. Beyond that it never crossed my mind that other countries may have tried the same approach as the United States, especially as recently as the 1980’s and in Russia. All I have heard my whole life is how much the Russian’s drink and that it is apart of their culture, so I was very surprised when I learned about the Russian Anti-Alcohol Campaign in class last week, which was implemented under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.
When I traveled to Russia for the first time I half expected Russians to be raging alcoholics and to see drunk Russians all over the place. After I arrived and had spent some time there, it seemed like this was not the case at all. Even though I would see a few people handing around the metro stations and other areas near when I lived drinking beers outside after work, none of these people seemed to be drinking very heavily. There were only a few occasions where I saw people who drank more heavily than the college students I have been around in the U.S.. There were only two instances where I saw people who may have had a drinking problem. The first instance was when I witnessed a group of very elderly Russian men stumbling out of a bar pretty early in the evening, and one of them ended up having to be taken away in an ambulance because he fell and injured his head. The other instance was when I was in a store and a man almost fought a cashier because he would not let the man purchase a bottle of vodka since it was after the legal time to sell alcohol. Reminiscing on these events made me even more interested in the subject of the Anti-Alcohol Campaign.
The Anti-Alcohol Campaign was a campaign which had the purpose of combating alcohol abuse in the Soviet Union. It was launched by Mikhail Gorbachev in May of 1985. The campaign did not rid the country of alcohol, but rather attempted to reduce the amount of alcohol being produced. The way Gorbachev did this was by limiting the times during the day when alcohol could be sold, reducing the amount of shops allowed to sell alcohol, as well as closing down vodka distilleries and vineyards. Although this campaign was implemented with the best interests in mind, there were some very serious consequences. One of these consequences the Russians may have been able to avoid and been prepared to combat it if they had researched the Prohibition. This consequence is the rise of the production of illegal moonshine. According to this article, moonshining was a serious problem. It also shines some light on the seriousness of the alcohol by stating that “… more than one third of all crimes are directly linked to drunkenness.” Other statistics this article includes is the amount of traffic accidents and crimes that occurred in homes that occurred due to the consumption of alcohol which are one in five and 60-70%. Another issue this article addresses is the dangers of drinking moonshine. The articles states that over the 18 months prior to March of 1987, 200 people had died from the consumption of moonshine. Unfortunately, even though this program may have reduced the amount of alcohol consumed by the population, by 1987 the campaign was cancelled due to economic burdens and the rise of organized crime.
Finally, I was surprised to discover, after reading an article discussing the consumption of alcohol is not a “… characteristic of our people [Russian]…”, that this was not the first attempt of the Russians to prevent alcoholism and drunkenness. In fact, there are four previous instances in which people took a stand against drunkenness since the 19th century. For a country that supposedly likes to drink a lot, it sure seems like they do a lot to prevent the over-consumption of alcohol.