Shots of Death… or Vodka

 Viktor Govorkov. NO! (1954)

When most people think of Russians, they think of vodka as well, but, it’s not even their official beverage, tea is, as shown in my first post. In the 70s and 80s, alcohol played such a role in premature deaths, violence, child abuse, and suicide, that, in 1985, new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev started an anti-alcohol campaign.

From 1985-86, the mortality rate in the Soviet Union dropped due to the campaign. These charts one and two show the decline in those years. This campaign wasn’t just a domestic measure either, it was still in full effect during official Soviet functions abroad as well. Gorbachev believed so strongly in this measure that he became known as the “Mineral water drinking Secretary”.

A key fact to note about this movement is that it “precipitated a sharp rise in the production of moonshine (samogon)” (Seventeen Moments). This is very similar to the American Prohibition Movement where the production and sale of illegal alcohol was prevalent in the 1920s. In both cases, the reduction of crime was touted as a positive from the banning of alcohol, however, in both the U.S. and the Soviet Union, that proved to not be true, as crime rates rose because citizens were buying alcohol on the black market or otherwise brewing moonshine at home.

The video below supports the fact that the Russians high binge drinking vodka culture is causing their high mortality rates. It’s really sad to see parents burying a child or loved one which is what the clip also depicts, especially over such a preventable reason. Now, this clip is more modern, so it serves to highlight the need for a similar campaign to that of Gorbachev’s to maybe make a return.

Such a return did occur in 1997 under Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who issued the following decree:

” by decree of the Russian Federation President, a categorical prohibition has been in effect since July 1 on retail sales of alcohol products containing over 12% ethyl alcohol at establishments in the small-scale retail trade network and produce markets, except for pavilions with enclosed retail space measuring at least 18 square meters per employee.”

The chart above by the World Health Organization shows the 2010 consumption of pure alcohol by country and Russia tops the list, to no one’s surprise really. It’ll be interesting to see how their alcohol consumption impacts their future population growth and health, considering that current President Vladimir Putin is not much of a drinker himself, although he is partial to beer.


Dachas Dot the Russian Countryside

Image result for russian dacha


Why does owning a little country house in the Russian countryside mean so much? Because, who doesn’t want to tell all their friends that they are the proud owners of a dacha. While these houses long stood to symbolize privilege and wealth, under new Soviet leader Khrushchev, the homes became more available for broader sections of the Soviet populous. Due to the growing inner city populations, and the overcrowding and pollution that existed, many craved the sparseness and fresh air of the countryside, so dachas became more and more coveted. Following the Russian Revolution, most dachas became nationalized and remained so pretty much up until the fall of Soviet Russia.

Now there were different types of dacha’s depending on one’s social standing because a top Soviet celebrity or politician could not simply live among the common folk. The more opulent and expensive dacha’s were situated closer to the cities, while the average ones were further out into the rural landscape.

Taking vacations out to their dachas became a tradition for the citizenry who at the conclusion of the work week would take the electrichka, or green electric train out into the countryside, returning Monday. The fact that they had a dedicated line of transport just into dacha territory reflects just how much they valued their leisure time and closeness to nature.

But, get this, dachas were not just private homes, they served a number of other purposes such as housing children’s institutions or daycares.  This letter published in 1956 by the Russian Press outlines the need for dachas specifically for children where parents can send them off to for the summer that was safe, economical/affordable, and away from the pollution of the large cities but still close enough that the drive is manageable.


When we talk about political capital, dachas were the ideal tool. Stalin used to give out dachas to his closest allies in the government because he believed that such gifts would keep them loyal and motivated.

At his Valday dacha Sergey Yudin, deputy director of a pipeline repair firm, plants, burns weeds, and indulges the “inner peasant” who lives within many Russians. In pinched Soviet times such gardens grew some 90 percent of Russia’s vegetables.


Back then dachas were grouped into villages based on the occupation of those who occupied them (writers, politicians, artists etc.). Also, if you were fortunate enough to be allotted a dacha, get this, you didn’t technically own it! They were still owned by the state, and you were considered a renter. As the dacha essay by James Von Geldern in Seventeen Moments states, “Often indifferent to maintenance and back-breaking labor at the work place, Russians invested considerable sweat equity in their dachas, despite the fact that they were not the legal owners. The six-hundred square meter plots usually allotted to lucky workers under Khrushchev were still owned by the state. ”

Preserves for winter

Russian cared deeply about these homes, even though they did not own. Garden cultivation also exploded in the post-Soviet years as the crops grown from them provided much-needed food sources necessary during the 90s when food in the stores was scarce. Vegetables grown were often pickled in jars and preserved for the winter as shown above.

One of many dacha plots surrounding Kstovo, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast





Mother Russia Finally Says “Nyet” To Abortions…Kind of

Abortion… Eight letters that make up one word that is fraught with controversy no matter where one is in the world.  Russia is no exception to the controversy. In 1920, the then Soviet Union under Bolshevik rule, became the first country to legalize abortion. The law “on the Legalization of Abortions” asserted that to protect the health of women abortions would be performed “freely and without any charge in Soviet hospitals.”  To the Lenin government, this measure was seen as a way to destroy and destabilize the family unit, and force women back into the workforce, instead of on maternity leave. In fact, in Russia, the cost of birth control costs more than an abortion!

That statistic proved to be very eye-opening because it showed just how deeply rooted the Soviet Union was with its abortion culture. This policy basically gave women no choice but to abort an unwanted child. When abortion becomes the #1 method of birth control within a country, it points directly to the lack of proper and affordable health care for childbearing women.

This chart details with great care, the number of abortions had by Russian women going back to 1921. As we study the chart, a startling fact is that the lowest amount was 10,000 is the first year stats were kept. Eventually, that number would climb into the millions, as more and more women took advantage of this legal practice.

It wasn’t until 1936, when facing declining birth rates, that under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, that the practice of abortions was outlawed. The reason behind the ban according to Lewis Siegelbaum‘s essay on the abolition of legal abortion found here was that “On May 26, 1936, the draft of a law “On the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood” was published in Soviet newspapers with an appeal for public discussion of its contents. The draft included measures aimed at “combating light-minded attitudes towards the family and family obligations,” tightening restrictions on divorce, and increasing the prestige of mothers of many children.”

Stalin thought that the practice of giving birth was “a great and honorable duty which was “not a private affair but one of great social importance.” To that end, he decreed that “Soviet women would carry the double burden of holding a job in the wage-labor force and working in the home raising children.” When the law went into effect in 1937, the number of abortions dropped (as it was illegal) until 1953 when Stalin died.

The Russian response to the aforementioned law was surprising, to say the least. Most of the opposition came from young urban women who believed that the “strains that bearing and raising children would impose on their pursuit of a career, on available living space, and other quotidian (daily) concerns were negative and counterproductive. In old Soviet society, in their Civil Code, Russian women were not allowed to even work without her husband’s permission “Wives cannot be hired for work anywhere without their husband’s permission” (pg 9)

Today, abortions are still practiced in Russia, but, they are much more closely regulated. For instance, according to The Russian Criminal Code Article 123, ” Performance of abortions by a person who lacks higher medical education of an appropriate specialization
shall be punishable by a fine in the amount of 100 to 200 minimum wages, or in the amount of the wage or salary, or any other income of the convicted person for a period of one to two months, or by compulsory works for a term of 100 to 240 hours, or by corrective labour for a term of one to two years.”

Clearly, the old Soviet practice still taints much of the Russian Federation today. The government has worked to make laws to stem the number being performed, but, much like in the U.S., one has to imagine that there are illegal doctors and clinics that perform the service for a fee. However, perhaps it’s prudent to note that many Russians have begun to see that children do in fact bring happiness to a family as illustrated below 🙂

This video clip provides more firsthand accounts of abortions in Russia. It’s startling that Russia, not the U.S. leads the world in the number of abortions performed.




This post got a Comerade’s Corner nomination


The “Living” Church: When Wine Turned to Blood

Saint Tikhon of Moscow


Ok, so joke’s on you. The church isn’t really alive, nor is this post about some old world Russian sorcery, (which would be really cool!) This “Living” Church is not focused on a building, but on a movement. Known as the Renovationist Movement, The Living Church Movement started as part of a schism of The Russian Orthodox Church in 1922 lasting until 1946. Early on, it was corrupted by the Soviet government in an effort to combine the political and social goals of the government with the Orthodox Church. The general fear among many Russians at the time was that Orthodoxy faced extinction after the Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent creation of Soviet Russia.

This movement began in 1905 as a result of that revolution, however, it did not gain traction and faded away, much like it would in 1917. It wasn’t until the Famine of 1921 when the Politburo of communist Russia approved a plan to strip the church of its valuables, which they claimed was an attempt to feed the starving population that things really came to a head. In reality, Bolshevik leaders secretly wanted to strip the church of any valuables that might be used to finance any political opposition. Clearly, the Soviet government was meddling in church affairs. They wanted full control of all aspects of the communist government and would quell anyone who attempted to stop them. There was no separation of church and state during this time as the division blurred with the government intervention.

Church Patriarch Tikhon (now Saint Tikhon) was against the Soviet government and did everything he could to rally against them.  Because he refused to cooperate with the government’s order to seize all church valuables, he was arrested by the communist government. After his arrest and removal from power, members of the government moved swiftly to purge the church of anyone loyal to the imprisoned leader. This move led to hundreds of clergy members loyal to Tikhon being executed after being labeled as counterrevolutionaries by the Soviet government.

In 1923, after publically repenting his “sins” in a letter addressed to the Soviet government in an effort to save the church, Tikhon was released from prison. His actions allowed for many to rally behind him, thus gradually weakening the government backed church’s power causing the schism to incrementally lose ground. In 1946, 21 years after Saint Tikhon’s death, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin finally permitted for the election of a new church patriarch and allowed for church governance to be returned to the church and away from the government for the first time since 1922.


**The title of this particular post is a pairing of wine as a sacramental religious beverage commonly consumed in churches, and the blood (blood of christ) to represent the executed bishops who gave their lives for their beliefs. It was not intended to offend anyone with deeply held religious beliefs or otherwise.**


Russian Gonna Duma


In most countries, having different branches of government to spread out the power is seen as essential tenant of government. Most, not all… In fact, Imperial Russia didn’t have a parliament until 1906, making it the only European power without one. Before 1906, the Tsar, in this case, Nicholas II held all power in making key decisions on matters of state.  It wasn’t until The Crisis of 1905, where the Russians were defeated by Japan, and the subsequent slaughter known as Bloody Sunday occurred that the tide of change began to shift.

The events of 22 January 1905 signaled the start of widespread revolts across the country where the peasants seized land and the working laborers went on strike. Those events, in turn, led to railway stoppage across the nation, effectively paralyzing the entire country. In August of 1905, Nicholas II directed Prime Minister Sergei Witte to draft The October Manifesto which would become the basis for the 1st Russian Constitution a year later.

This document granted the people civil liberties but also established the Duma or Russian Parliment which comes from the Russian verb dumat’ – to think. Between 1906 and 1917 when the empire fell, the Duma convened a total of four times. Overall, the four dumas brought about mixed results ranging from land reform which helped modernize the country to Russification which was a policy that sought to “Russianize” other territories and peoples and was generally seen as a negative. Perhaps the greatest failure of the dumas was its inability to democratize Russia which would lead to the 1917 Revolution and the establishment of The Soviet Union.

As is often the case with a revolution, one small event festered and grew until it eventually boiled over with the spillage of blood and in turn, a demand for rights.

“You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”  -Ursula K. Le Guin

“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.” – Arundhati Roy

Russian Duma c. 1906

Works Cited

Tea Time with the Russians

The above image by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii depicts a tea weighing station in  Russia. The Chakva farm and plant was one of the major suppliers of tea to all parts of the Russian Empire. For many of us, tea is so commonplace that we don’t often think of its impact and origins beyond the fact that most tea comes from China. However, this tiny leaf has quite the story and impact on the Russian cultural landscape. Tea leaves first made their way to Russia by way of Northern China in the mid 1600s via a gift from a Mongol khan to Romanov Tsar Michael I. The 64kgs of tea (called “cha-i” by Russians) brought back to Russia was used to treat Tsar Mikhaylovich for stomach aches, after which it  quickly established itself as the drink of the wealthy elites due to its scarcity and expense.

In 1728, the Kyakhta settlement (later city) was established which became the center of the Russian -Chinese tea trade. Through the Kyakhta Treaty of 1727, the Russians agreed to trade furs for Chinese tea. Still, however, tea was much too expensive for the average citizen to drink. It wasn’t until the Trans-Siberian Railway was completed in 1916 that tea was able to be easily transported throughout Russia, causing the price to drop and allowing for widespread availability for all. It was then that Russian tea culture began to take shape.  Russians generally prefer a dark tea which is brewed in a device called a Samovar. 

In 1900, factories “produced about 630,000 appliances a year” (Delaine, 2000). Tea can be taken with any meal at all times of day and symbolizes “warmth, comfort, and hospitality” (Delaine, 2000). Most Russians enjoy their tea with jam, honey, or sugar to sweeten it. Today, tea is considered to be the de facto national beverage of Russia. Beyond the cultural impact that tea had on the Russian Empire, it also greatly impacted the Russian economy by providing factory jobs for both tea and samovar production. In addition, the trade routes established with China strengthened cultural and economic ties between the two countries.

Works Cited

Apollo Tea House. “Tea History.” Russian Tea History. Apollo Tea House, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2017. <;.
DeLaine, Linda. “Tea Time in Russia.” Russian Life. Russian Life, 1 Feb. 2000. Web. 22 Jan. 2017. <;.
Prokudin-Gorskii, Sergei Mikhailovich. Tea Weighing Station. Digital image. Library of Congress. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2017. <;.
Shumakov, Denis. “ History of Tea: Russian Tea History.” Russian Tea History: History of Tea:: Tea Tips, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2017. <;.
This post earned a Student’s Choice nomination