British magazine Counter
Punch published an article on
important role vodka plays in Russian life and politics. The article "Why Alcohol May Doom Putin" says in particular:
"Russians' love for
vodka has a long history. Legend holds that vodka arrived in Moscow in the 14th
century, brought by Genovese merchants to Prince Dmitry Ivanovich. Legend also
says that monk Isidore, who lived in the Chudov Monastery, inside the Kremlin,
made a recipe for Russian vodka around 1430. He probably didn't anticipate the
devastating effect that alcohol addiction, mainly to vodka, would have on
Russians' health and quality of life and on the country's economy and social
the Bolshevik Party came to power its leaders tried -without much success- to
reduce alcohol consumption in the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin, however,
reestablished state monopoly to generate revenue. Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1985,
increased controls on alcohol consumption and imposed a partial prohibition
through a massive anti-alcohol campaign.
campaign, which included severe penalties against public drunkenness and
alcohol consumption, as well as restrictions on liquor sales, was temporarily
successful. It reduced per capita consumption and improved quality of life
measures such as life expectancy and reduced hospital admissions. However, the
population disliked this policy and ultimately had to be abandoned, its
consequences felt again soon afterwards.
reports surface on the great number of people who die as a result of consuming
fake vodka and other alcohol substitutes. It is estimated that more than 40,000
Russians die every year after drinking such toxic liquids which include medical
disinfectants, after-shave lotions and other dangerous substances.
the average Russian drinks 4.75 gal. (18 liters) of pure alcohol a year, mostly
as vodka and other black market moonshine called samogon. According to the
World Health Organization (WHO), this consumption is far above what is
considered safe to drink, and higher also than in any other nation in the
has now one of the highest rates of alcohol-related illness, which on a long
term include neurological, cardiovascular, psychiatric and liver problems,
among many others. In the short term, however, and generally as a result of
binge drinking, it provokes several kinds of injuries: violence, risky sexual
behavior (including unprotected sex,) alcohol poisoning, and miscarriage and
stillbirth in pregnant women.
connection between excessive drinking and interpersonal violence cannot be
overstated. However, due to social tolerance of violent behavior and incomplete
or inaccurate information, official statistics only record a small percentage
of violence. Some, however, are worrying. Among male perpetrators of spousal
homicide, 60-75% of offenders had been drinking heavily prior to the incident.
young men, the risk of suicide is five times higher for heavy drinkers and nine
times higher for alcoholics. Although men drink more than women, excessive
alcohol consumption during pregnancy can result in the child developing fetal
alcohol syndrome or show fetal alcohol effects which are associated with
delinquent and violent behavior later in life.
poor health status has translated in a short life expectancy. According to a
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) Population
Division, life expectancy for males in Russia is 61.56 and for females it is
74.03. These figures are 17 years lower than in the western European
population. By contrast, these figures in Japan are 79.29 and 86.96
June of 2009, the Public Chamber of Russia estimated in 500,000 the number of
alcohol related deaths in the country. This figure highlights a very serious
situation particularly taking into consideration that the country is going
through a severe demographic crisis -it is estimated that its population will
drop by 20 percent by 2050.
no precise figures are available, the direct and indirect costs of alcohol
abuse in Russia can be considerable. Unless stronger measures are taken soon,
Vladimir Putin's dreams of a greater Russia will not be realized. The situation
was aptly described by Oliver Bullough in his book The Last Man in Russia, "One
man's alcoholism is his own tragedy. A whole nation's alcoholism is a tragedy
too, but also a symptom of something far larger, of a collective breakdown"."
Department of Monitoring