Alcohol

Society

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption was a widespread phenomenon both in the USSR and throughout Eastern Europe, although it was difficult to measure in countries that thought of it as a western problem. From a Communist perspective, alcohol was a way to prevent the emergence of a proletarian consciousness, and alcoholism a result of life in Capitalist society. Expected to fade away naturally under Communism, alcoholism was seen as deviant, marginal behavior, a kind of hooliganism that was severely repressed, in theory. Yet the consumption of alcohol (wine, beer and hard liquor) seems to have tripled in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, more than doubled in the USSR, and doubled in Bulgaria and Poland; and alcoholism had considerably increased. Culturally, alcohol consumption remained a collective social practice, broadly tolerated regardless of age, gender or social status. The state had a monopoly on alcohol production, but there was a thriving black market of illegally produced, inexpensive hard liquor. Anti-alcoholism campaigns and policies were frequent, but as alcoholism was regarded more as a moral failure than a disease, these campaigns tended to focus on repression and were inefficient in the long run.

Archive

Stamp issued during Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign

“Sobriety is the norm in life”

country: Soviet Union / year:

“Sobriety is the norm in life” In May 1985, Gorbachev launched a vast anti-alcohol campaign based on a stricter legislation limiting production and sales, a 25% price increase, laying off heavy drinkers in official positions, banning alcohol from the workplace and the creation of a pro-sobriety society. This extremely unpopular campaign led to long lines when alcohol was available for sale and gave a huge boost to the black market. It earned Gorbachev the nickname “The Secretary of Mineral Water,” and caused the State to lose 50 to 100 billion rubles. It was dropped in October 1988.

Destroy the vineyards!

During the anti-alcohol campaign, Gorbatchev had 740,000 acres (300,000 hectares) of vineyards – out of a total of 1. 1 million – destroyed in the USSR, mostly in Georgia and Moldavia.

country: Soviet Union / year:

During the anti-alcohol campaign, Gorbatchev had 740,000 acres (300,000 hectares) of vineyards – out of a total of 1. 1 million – destroyed in the USSR, mostly in Georgia and Moldavia (although this figure also included smaller surfaces in Russia and Ukraine, from the Black Sea to Central Asia). Production was organized in large industrial Combines (Kombinats). From the 1930s on, within the framework of Soviet planning, the USSR had planted huge standard vineyards in Bulgaria for its own domestic market. Independent national vineyards also existed in both Rumania and Hungary.

Alcohol rehab center in Russia 1991

In Communist societies, which traditionally tolerated drinking, neither the authorities nor the medical profession saw alcoholism as an illness

country: Soviet Union / year:

In Communist societies, which traditionally tolerated drinking, neither the authorities nor the medical profession saw alcoholism as an illness, but rather as an antisocial behavior leading to delinquency and crime, and thus a threat to socio-economic development. Alcoholism was treated by punitive hospitalization and work re-education programs. Some short-lived improvement was nevertheless achieved during Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign, as specialized treatment centers opened.

Debate about alcoholism in the Polish Parliament

In August 1980, alcohol was banned in striking Polish factories.

country: People's Republic of Poland / year:

In August 1980, alcohol was banned in striking Polish factories. While the state regarded alcoholism as antisocial behavior it aimed to deal with through inefficient punitive legislation, by 1940, the Church – which was very influential among the working class – was describing it as a form of slavery. By the 1980s, the Church had come to see alcoholism as the result of the lack of freedom and of indifference to society. Since it advocated the return of Christian morals, the Church regarded the persistence of alcoholism as proof of the authorities’ failure to impose personal ethics based on Communist ideology.

The Black Market for Alcohol

Home-made samogon, had been produced clandestinely in rural areas

country: Soviet Union / year:

Home-made samogon (alcohol made from sugar and grains, or grapes, beetroot, potato or fruit) had been produced clandestinely in rural areas from the 14th century to the end of the Soviet era, because of the State monopoly on alcohol production. The word was also used to refer to contraband vodka and alcohols made from potentially harmful ingredients. From 1985 to 1987, during the anti-alcohol campaign, the number of illegal producers increased fivefold. So samogon turned into a pillar of the underground economy and a huge source of revenue for the Russian mafia.