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Anti-alcohol campaign during the Perestroika era in the USSR

On one day, May 17, 1985, the lives of millions of Soviet citizens took an unexpected turn. The newspapers published an order from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR titled "Intensification of the Fight against Alcoholism, Alcohol Abuse, and the Eradication of Moonshining."

First and foremost, it should be noted that the famous anti-alcohol campaign of 1985 was not the first attempt to restrict alcohol consumption in the USSR. As early as 1972, a campaign called "Fight Against Drunkenness" took place. The sale of strong alcoholic beverages (over 30%) was prohibited during certain hours, from 7:00 PM until 11:00 AM. Apparently, the character from Veniamin Yerofeyev's novel "Moscow-Petushki" was lucky in 1969, as his "weakest and most shameful time" from dawn until the stores opened would have been longer in 1972.

Soviet drunk tank in 1981 (The cell for accommodating drunk pepele)

However, alcohol consumption in the USSR continued to increase. By 1984, alcohol consumption in the USSR had reached 10.5 liters of pure alcohol per person per year (approximately 90-100 bottles per adult male). The country's leadership believed that many economic problems were related to a decline in labor discipline among employees. To some extent, this was true. It was quite difficult to be absent from work, and there were no monetary incentives for better performance, which led to widespread alcohol abuse.

Although the decision not to sell vodka after 7 pm was made even earlier, during Brezhnev's time.

In the USSR, research was conducted on the impact of alcohol on productivity. For example, in the book "Illusory Needs" from 1986, it is stated that consuming 20-30 grams of alcohol (a glass of beer) reduces performance by 16-17% for a period of up to two hours or more (depending on individual body characteristics). Additionally, the loss of productivity on the day after heavy drinking is estimated to be 25-30%. Thus, forced sobriety was expected to bring workers back to their production duties..

The essence of the anti-alcohol campaign of 1985

It is believed that the idea of introducing a kind of "dry law" belongs to the Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU for organizational and party work, Yegor Ligachev. He was a strong advocate of this idea and even supported the campaign in his book many years later.

The essence of the anti-alcohol campaign of 1985 was determined by the resolution of the Central Committee of the CPSU titled "On Measures to Combat Drunkenness and Alcoholism, and Eradicate Moonshine Production". The full document was published in newspapers on May 17, 1985, such as the newspaper "Pravda" No. 137 (24394) on Friday, May 17, 1985. It was explained that in the current conditions, where the creative forces of our socialist system are being increasingly realized, there is special significance in overcoming harmful habits and vestiges.

The essence of the resolution can be summarized by the following key points:

- Sale of alcoholic beverages to individuals under the age of 21 is prohibited.

- Sale of alcoholic beverages is only allowed from 2 PM on weekdays (i.e., alcohol can only be purchased after 2 PM on weekdays).

- Sale of alcohol near enterprises, construction sites, hospitals, recreational areas, etc., is prohibited.

- Enterprises, including collective farms, organizations, and institutions, are prohibited from purchasing homemade wines and wine materials from individuals.

- The development of a network of tea houses, snack bars, cafes, and non-alcoholic beverage bars was envisaged as an alternative to pubs, such as so-called alcohol-free video bars.

There were also more specific provisions related to the preparation of medicinal products for the treatment of alcoholism, but for most people, the Gorbachev anti-alcohol campaign is remembered for these five measures. In practice, the sale of alcohol was not only reduced in terms of time but also in terms of availability, as sections where alcohol could be purchased were closed. This, in turn, resulted in additional lines forming at the remaining stores. However, at any time, alcohol could be purchased at an inflated price from taxi drivers who illegally traded alcohol. Usually, the password in such a situation was the question to the taxi driver, "Do you have any books?"

The strategic goal of the entire campaign was to annually reduce the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages by 10%. In other words, by 10% less each year.

The rapid disappearance of sugar from store shelves in the 1980s indirectly indicated an increase in the production of moonshine. (Sugar is an important ingredient for fermentation).The absence of alcohol on the shelves was being compensated for by homemade production.

This campaign affected not only alcoholics but also citizens indifferent to alcohol. The thing is, in conditions of weak purchasing power of the Soviet Ruble and a total deficit during the late Soviet era, a coveted bottle of vodka essentially became the country's second currency, which could and should be used to pay workers. (This is wonderfully illustrated in a scene from the Soviet film "Afonya"). Even in Soviet folklore, the term "liquid currency" emerged.

Regarding Gorbachev, who brought his wife out of the shadows, people said, "It's good that Gorbachev is not impotent, just a teetotaler," and they referred to him as the "mineral secretary" instead of the official title "general secretary". Scenes related to alcohol consumption were cut from Soviet films.

At the same time, in Crimea, Moldova, and Transcaucasia, vineyards necessary for wine production, including collectible wines, began to be destroyed. There was even talk of destroying the Massandra wine cellar, which stored samples of wine over a hundred years old. It was planned to completely cease the production of fruit and berry wines by 1987, specifically for the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution. Unable to bear the destruction of his life's work, the director of the Magarach Winemaking Institute, Pavel Golodriga, took his own life.

If we talk about the scientific aspect, in the same year of 1985, the Soviet Scientific Research Center for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Alcohol-Related Problems was established. And in 1988, with the participation of the center's leaders, the journal "Issues of Narcology" was organized, which is still being published.

The reduction in alcohol consumption was planned by the Soviet leadership not as a temporary action, but as a change in the entire leisure system of the Soviet people. Summing up the intermediate results at the 27th Congress of the CPSU in 1986, it was stated, "The country is engaged in a fight against drunkenness and alcoholism. In the name of the health of society and the individual, we have taken decisive measures and fought against traditions that have developed and been imposed for centuries."

Overall, if we talk about dry statistics, the anti-alcohol campaign had short-term positive effects. It is usually mentioned that there was an improvement in birth rates and an increase in the life expectancy of men by 2.6 years. According to some data, there was a 20% reduction in occupational injuries and a 30% reduction in the number of road accidents. If we believe Ligachev, in 1987, alcohol consumption amounted to 6 liters of pure alcohol per capita, compared to 11 liters in 1985. However, this campaign was not able to solve serious, deep-rooted problems related to the causes of such consumption. Contrary to expectations, the volumes of moonshine production did not decrease but rather increased. The number of poisonings with various surrogates also increased.

From 1987, there was a gradual scaling back of the program. In addition, by 1987, the already fallen oil prices were seriously undermining the Soviet budget, and state excises were expected to somehow replenish it.