Grigory Pasko: Battling the Bottle


Some of the Western media has been picking up on the story of the summer here in Russia: our leaders have declared a war on alcoholism, which some consider to be a certain political grave.

Consider the odds: A ticket to the movies in Moscow costs more than a bottle of vodka. The entrance fee to a museum or an exhibition is also more than a bottle of vodka. A bottle of high quality beer (not to be confused with the swill drank on the trading floors) costs more than a bottle of vodka. Practically all wine – be it good or bad (except for one wine made by the French in Krasnodar Kray, all Russian wines, in my view, are bad) – costs more than a bottle of vodka.

On Wednesday at seven in the morning I saw a drunk young person beside the Mariyno metro. He was greedily drinking beer beside a kiosk. Beside him was an automobile with a running engine. Everything suggested that it was precisely its owner who was avariciously quaffing the beer. It’s not an uncommon sight.

On Thursday not far from my house a little after 8:00AM, I saw two drunk young people. Off to the side, another older guy was drinking a beer – not all that different from the boys half his age. As they say in Russia: drink some beer in the morning – the whole day is free.

It’s been a very long time since anyone has paid any attention to the permanent drunkenness of Russians – or worse, the problem is dismissed as overblown or a culturally relevant way for us to kill ourselves. Therefore the latest appearance of the latest president on the subject of the eternal Russian alcoholism can be so unexpected and surprising. And so it was that the latest one has weighed in – he discussed with ministers and governors the measures with respect to the struggle with the “national calamity of the country” — drunkenness.

Dmitry Medvedev opened the session with a declaration about how alcoholism has acquired in the country “the character of a national calamity”: “According to the data of Minhealsocdevelopment, in Russia for every person, including infants, today accrues around 18 liters of pure alcohol, consumed per year. You can imagine this for yourselves in the quantity of bottles of vodka — it takes the breath away!” This exceeds by more than two times the level that the WHO has determined as dangerous for human life and health. “This level simply threatens degradation to our people”,– summed up the president, having stated that the measures undertaken previously had not helped “in anything at all whatsoever”.

What is being proposed? Propagandizing a healthy lifestyle? Old and ineffective. Raising the well-being of the people? Better already. But one would like to know which people exactly? If the one that’s on Rublevka [where the elite, political and otherwise, prefers to live in Moscow–Trans.], then it’s not even worth starting: everything is already raised there, and besides, they haven’t been drinking vodka for a long time already – they’re leaning ever more towards viskar [a strangely Russified word for “whisky”–Trans.] and elite cognacs with wines.

Toughening the liability of retail chains and trading outlets for the sale of alcohol to persons younger than 18 years? We’ve had that already: it didn’t lead to anything.

One of the so-called experts-journalists proposed on the air of «Echo Moskvy» radio to raise the price for vodka by several times. He didn’t seem particularly young any more, but he seemed to have forgotten that increasing the price of vodka in the store automatically leads to the development of illicit distilling of moonshine. Russians have already been though that, too.

Methinks that real concern by the state for people – not in words, but in deeds – is capable of forcing people themselves to reject alcoholism in favour of a healthy lifestyle. But for this people need motivation. Like, as an example, in the USA , when the population became infused with the «American dream» and began to believe that their happiness – is in their own hands. Noot in the hands of the state, the special services and an army of corruptioneers-officials, but specifically each concrete person. In so doing the state created equal conditions for all – in the courts, in the observance of people’s rights, in business, in taxes…

In modern Russia, the state is deformed: there are no independent courts and mass information media, there is no competition in business and politics, corruption devours all strata of society, there is no political competition… Any undertaking in medium-sized and small business comes up against state- bureaucratic encumbrances to such a degree that one wants either to leave the country or to start drinking out of despair.

Therefore the struggle with alcoholism needs to be started with a reforming of the inimical-to-the-person state. Motivation needs to be created for citizens, so that they would know for the sake of what they need to be healthy and confident in themselves and their strengths. So that they would look with optimism at their and thir children’s future. Instead of this, the state shows other examples: the case of YUKOS and Khodorkovsky; the persecutions of scientists and businessmen; the mopping up of the opposition field in politics; the inducement of systems depraved by anything-goes permissiveness – the judicial, the procuratorial, and the police-KGB ones.

…By the way, any totalitarian leader understands that it’s simpler to manage a half-drunk people. Indeed such a people doesn’t need much: instead of independence and democratic freedoms – a bottle of vodka. And vodka in Russian is cheap – cheaper than a ticket to the movies.