In 1985, when Gorbachev launched his anti-alcohol campaign, his goal was to create a better society by limiting the consumption of alcohol. He took extreme measures to reduce alcohol consumption, such as limiting shops that sold alcohol, destroying vineyards, and reducing the production of alcohol significantly.
Certainly Gorbachev’s campaign had several positive effects. The state saw a significant decline in mortality rates, among adults as well as newborns, and a decline in alcohol related factory accidents. However, the anti-alcohol movement was widely rejected by members of Soviet society. Those who had been heavy drinkers turned to more dangerous substances, and moonshine production was at an all time high. Organized crime became more common, and many fought back against the strict laws.
It was clear that alcoholism in Soviet society was incredibly destructive to the family structure. Divorce rates were high, as well as rates of child abuse and domestic violence. In addition, alcoholism affected mainly males. After reading several accounts of how the anti-alcohol campaign affected hard drinkers that were men, I thought it would be interesting to analyze this event from a female perspective. Did women support this campaign, or rebel against it as so many men did? Would they be in support of their husbands and family members who were struggling with addiction or were they eager to see a society free of alcohol?
After looking through several articles in the Current Digest of the Russian Press, I was able to read several firsthand accounts of women and their position on the anti-alcohol movement. If one thing was clear, it was that these women were incredibly supportive of the anti-alcohol movement. In a 1985article titled “Alcohol is the Enemy of Society: No Indulgence!” several women stated their passionate concern for the dangers of Alcohol and how it plagued their families. They spoke of the “brotherhood of drunkards” and how much their families suffered from living with alcoholics. It was clear that their stance was similar to Gorbachev’s: a no-tolerance, no-lenience policy that cut off alcohol completely instead of drawing the process out.
In addition, after reading a study called “The Impact of the 1985-1988 Russian Anti-Alcohol Campaign on Child Health,” I learned of the significant effect that suppressing parental access to alcohol had on the long term health of a child. Studies on children born during this era of prohibition were significantly healthier, both at birth and in the long-term. It was clear to many that alcohol posed a significant threat to the survival of it’s people and of society as a whole.
To this day, Russia is still struggling with over-consumption of alcohol, and many wonder if the anti-alcohol movement had a significant part in the behaviors of Russians today. From an economic perspective, Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol movement was wildly unsuccessful, and there certainly were ways that it could’ve been handled differently to have a more long-lasting effect. It was clear Gorbachev was only trying to combat the turmoil that alcohol was causing for many Soviet families; however, instead of making all alcohol disappear, the campaign should’ve moved slower in order to gradually change societal habits. Economic issues aside, it is certainly interesting to see and read firsthand the effects that the anti-alcohol campaign had on the family—both women and men.
Balan-Cohen. Andreea. “Sobering Up: The Impact of the 1985-1988 Russian Anti-Alcohol Campaign on Child Health”. December 2008. http://conference.nber.org/conferences/2009/HCs09/balan.PDF.
Boroznova, N. “ALCOHOL IS THE ENEMY OF SOCIETY: NO INDULGENCE!” Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, The, No.21, Vol.37, June 19, 1985, page(s):13-14.
Pleshevenya, V. “The Life of Sober Alcohoholics.” Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, The, No.52, Vol.16, January 20, 1965, page(s):27-28.
“Posters of the Anti-Alcohol Campaign.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 11 Jan. 2016, soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/anti-alcohol-campaign/posters-of-the-anti-alcohol-campaign/.
World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe. “Policy Briefing: Interpersonal Violence and Alcohol in the Russian Federation.” Global Campaign for Violance Prevention. http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/98804/E88757.pdfhttp://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/98804/E88757.pdf