In 1985 there was a campaign in Russia to reduce the consumption of alcohol. Posters were designed and distributed.
Prohibitions were imposed during the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, in the 1950’s, in the 1970’s and in 1985 to try to reduce the rate of alcoholism.
In 1985 Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev restricted access to the sale of alcohol. He banned alcohol in restaurants and bars before 2 pm, people could no longer drink at work or on trains. He increased the price by 25 percent. He ordered the destruction of vineyards in Georgia and Moldova.
Historically the revenue from alcohol sales in Russia constituted one-third of the government revenue. First it went to the Tsar’s treasury and later to the Soviet coffers. By 1987, revenue had fallen by 16 billion rubles. This plus the fact that moonshine and organized crime were on the rise, forced the government to abandon the scheme.
Visitors to Russia have been commenting on the Russian’s drinking habits since the 10th century. It turns out they probably didn’t drink more than anybody else, they drank differently. They mostly drank vodka and they drank it in one sitting. The French drank more, but they drank wine everyday with a meal in fairly small amounts.
Drinking in Russia usually centered around a celebration. I remember many such events. We would arrive at somebody’s flat to find a table full of food. Small dishes, salads, fish, bread. The first course was always champagne. Russian champagne was cheap and pretty good. We would all have one or two glasses of champagne and make several toasts.
Then the vodka would come out. Sometimes there would be a wine chaser to go with it. The vodka was always chilled and served in shot glasses. Each time there was a toast, everybody would drain their glasses. There would be many toasts, relevant or not. This could go on for hours. Sometimes more food would appear in the form of a main course with meat and potatoes. Once all the vodka was gone, the table would be cleared and tea would be served with a torte or cookies.
At this point the brandy would appear. There was a very good Armenian brandy we drank quite often. The Georgian Republic also made good brandy. In the West people sipped brandy. In Russia they drank it like vodka, after a toast. When all the alcohol was gone, people went home.
It took time to recuperate from these events. If people had to go to work the next day, the cure was to have beer for breakfast. I would often see men drinking beer at the stalls outside the metro in the morning on my way to work.
Alcoholism has been and continues to be a problem in Russia.
Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com.