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.


10 thoughts on “Shots of Death… or Vodka”

  1. I never realized how big of a problem alcohol consumsion was in Russia. I knew it was a problem, but after looking at the chart you including it made it more eye opening. You mentioned that Putin doesn’t drink, did you find any information on why he doesn’t or anything he has done since in power to help lower the pure alcohol rates? It obviously shows that the 1997 decree by Yeltsin did not have any real impact on the country. I hope to see this change and the health of the country go up. Great post!


  2. I think it was great that you referenced prohibition in the US, it is so important to have a global perspective when looking back on history! Similarly to Maddie, I’m curious to know more about why Putin doesn’t drink?! I had no idea and that is so cool to learn. I think it is also interesting you pointed out that this wasn’t just a domestic campaign, but that Gorbachev really pushed those campaigns with everything he did. Good post!


  3. It is interesting to see the similarities in the American prohibition and the Russian Anti-Alcohol Campaigns. Before reading your post, I didn’t know how much alcohol Russians consumed compared to the rest of the world. It was also interesting to see that Soviet leaders took it seriously enough to enforce the campaign even during Soviet functions abroad. Cool post.


  4. Great post! I also posted on the Anti-alcohol campaign: I really enjoyed looking at the WHO alcohol statistics poster. That’s also very interesting about Putin and his drinking habits. I bet if one grew up in the time of the campaign the presence of alcohol in their daily diet would be minimal, illegal usage aside. I appreciated your comparison American Prohibition and points made about the illegal production of alcohol as well. Your post gave me ideas to broaden my own research on the campaign.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You provide some really interesting information in here. The World Health Organization map is not surprising, but it definitely helps put alcohol consumption in perspective in our current day. I also like that you focused on the different attitudes of Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and particularly, Putin toward alcohol.


  6. I remember seeing similar news reports about Russia’s alcohol problem a couple weeks ago. It’s interesting to see that it has been a persistent problem for them over the past few decades. You did a fantastic job on this post, I especially liked how you were able to toe it back to your first post for the semester. I think that was one of the first posts I read for this class. The other sources you used were great as well. The one that showed the drinking habits of world leaders was what particularly stood out to me, great job!


  7. It’s interesting to see the comparison between the USSR and USA for their prohibition periods. The US seemed to favor more moral reasons for prohibition while the USSR did it for the health reasons and to keep their population from dying. The fact that crime in fact increased because of prohibition challenged the idea strongly, and your examination of that was a great point.


  8. This was a good post! You had some really interesting links, videos, and charts on here. It is always sad to see the affects of substance abuse affecting people’s and family’s lives. I wasn’t surprised to read that crime rates went up, people have to have their alcohol! I do wonder if Gorbachev looked at the US’s prohibition and used that to frame his ban?


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