Russia vows to take on vodka consumption
Alcoholism is a "national disaster," President Dmitry Medvedev said in a recent statement. But past efforts to curb abuse of vodka in Russia have proven politically unpopular.
At first blush, it might not seem like a good idea to copy the methods of a leader whom Russians regard as the most disastrous failure in living memory.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet President Dmitri Medvedev appears determined to tear a page from the playbook of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose policies led to the collapse of the USSR, by attempting to force Russians to cut back on their catastrophically high consumption of vodka.
Experts say the problem has grown so dire that the Kremlin has little alternative but to attempt a crack down, even though history records that Mr. Gorbachev's efforts to deprive Russians of their vodka led to an explosion of public outrage – at a moment when he needed to mobilize public support to back his perestroika reforms.
Rampaging alcoholism is a "national disaster," Mr. Medvedev said in a recent statement. "The alcohol consumption we have is colossal. ... I have been astonished to find that we drink more now than we did in the 1990's, even though those were very tough times," he said.
According to the Kremlin website, annual per capita pure alcohol consumption in Russia is about 5 gallons, which is twice the level the World Health Organization describes as the "danger level." According to a recent study in The Lancet, a medical journal, half of all Russian deaths between the ages of 15 and 54 can be attributed to alcohol-related causes.
Overwhelming the system
According to Russia's State Service for Consumer Protection, that translated into 75,000 premature deaths in 2007 alone.
"In our society, drinking has become the norm from top to bottom," says Alexei Magalif, head doctor of the Magalif Clinic in Moscow, which specializes in substance abuse disorders. "Everyone drinks. No one drinks in moderation; they drink to get drunk, and it's overwhelming the medical system," he says.
Economic crisis has dampened the public mood and led to over 10 percent unemployment, a sure-fire recipe for increased drinking, say experts.
But wary of Mr. Gorbachev's fate – polls show he's still one of the most unpopular public figures in Russia – Medvedev is proceeding much more cautiously than the last Soviet Communist Party chief, who in 1985 simply ordered liquor shops shut down, distilleries closed and vineyards torn up.