Monday, 3 September 2018

Drunkenness in Russia

That got your attention. It is genuinely the headline of the article below. Though it would more accurately have read "No Drunkenness in Russia". Those clickbait headlines from a century ago.

It's really an overview of boozing restrictions in the middle of WW I.

Is Punished With a Fine of £15.
Belligerents, Neutrals, and the Drink Problem.
(Special the Courier.)
The historian of the future whose concern with the great war is chiefly its contemporary social life will find some of its most wonderful phenomena centred round the drink problem. Practically all the belligerents and not few neutrals have been obliged deal directly with the subject. Bulgaria, Italy, Serbia, and Turkey have not, it is true, been called upon to restrict the consumption of alcoholic liquors, but the reasons are obvious.

Italy, like most wine-drinking countries, is essentially an abstemious nation. Only in the seaport towns, where mixed nationalities are congregated is drunkenness known. In his own country the typical Italian is too frugal to indulge in alcoholic excesses. The Turk is, theoretically, debarred from indulging in strong drink, but religion sits but 1 lightly on the ruling caste. They are essentially materialistic in outlook, and have acquired most of the Western vices. The average Turk, however, is a good Moslem, observant of the requirements of his religion, and strictly avoids the juice of the grape.

Serbs and Their Brandy.
The Serbian, travellers tell the truth, is somewhat fond of his national beverage, Slivovitsa. This is a brandy made from plums, and extremely potent in its action, but the wonderful constitution and open-air life of the Serb neutralises any possible effect it might have on his system. The countries which have dealt directly with the drink question are Great Britain, France, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany. Great Britain's solution of the problem common property. Its success is doubtful, although, owing to the different habits of the southern portion of the island, it appears to have been slightly more successful there than in Scotland.

France has confined her attentions to dealing with absinthe, which even in the piping times of peace was more the drink of decadents than a beverage of the people. The French, bon vivants though they be, are not given to excesses, although readers of some of the realist school in French fiction might think otherwise.

Russia a Sober Nation.
In the search for drastic legislation restricting the consumption of alcohol must go to Russia. Now, there any matter on which one can dogmatise it is that the Russian peasant — and Russia is essentially a country of peasants — was a drunkard. His brother of the towns was little better. Yet now Russia, of all the belligerents, is perhaps the most sober nation.

No sooner did the order for mobilisation go forth in Russia than all wine shops, beer saloons, and Government "vodka" shops were closed, and the sale of all intoxicants absolutely prohibited, except in first-class restaurants and hotels. This order, with certain modifications, remains in force. In passing it is interesting to note that a bottle of whisky which could be procured in Dundee for somewhere in the neighbourhood of four shillings is costing in from twenty-five to thirty shillings. Like our own country, Russia is not exempt from evasions of the law. The next step of the Russian Government was to prohibit the sale of vodka and spirits until the end of the war. One month later, in October, 1914, local municipal and provincial administrative bodies were empowered topetition for prohibition of the sale of all strong intoxicants within the district in question, equivalent reductions of license duty being returned to license-holders. This power has been largely availed of by local authorities, but it is a mistake to assume, as is frequently done by temperance writers, that Russia is now a prohibitionist country. The consumption of light alcoholic drinks is permissible under severe restrictions. Beer and drinks of an equivalent strength are still procurable.

Heavy Fines.
The conspicuous feature about the Russian control of the licensed trade is the savage nature of its fines against the orders of the governing authorities. An intoxicated person is liable to a fine of, in British money, £15. The publican who supplies the liquor is liable to a fine of £450, and his conviction entails the loss of his license. That the new restrictions have resulted in a vast beneficial social upheaval all recent travellers to Russia, especially men such as John Foster Fraser, who knew the country intimately prior these changes, are agreed.

In Denmark there is absolute prohibition of the sale of spirits to soldiers in certain police districts. In more limited extent this prohibition is extended to civilians. The Government of the country has also prohibited the use of home-grown cereals for the distillation of spirits, but has sanctioned the importation of foreign corn and maize for the purppse. Apparently brewing beer in Denmark has not been greatly restricted since our trade returns continue to show fairly constant importations of Danish beer.

In Norway soon war broke out the use of grain and potatoes for distillation was forbidden, but in deference to the desires of farmers this restriction was withdrawn in September. 1914. The supply for distillation was reduced by one-half. Local veto very largely obtains in Norway, but in places where this was not in force the sale of whole bottles of spirits was permitted between 10 a.m. and noon for four days each week. Later a general sale of spirits was allowed on the four open days, and ultimately, except where there existed local veto, sales of spirits were allowed from 8 a.m. to midnight. It should be remembered, however, that the same time Norway raised her tariff on alcoholic liquor very considerably, although proportionately not so high as this country.

Sweden Suspends Sale.
Sweden, on the outbreak of war, required no new law to deal with the emergency. In common with other neutral nations in the belligerent zone she partially mobilised. Swedish law provides that in the event of mobilisation the provincial Governor in nearly every province except Stockholm has power to suspend the sale of spirits. This power was freely exercised. Sweden, too, had only six months before initiated the new "Stockholm system" for controlling the liquor trade. This system, which is merely a logical extension of the "Gothenburg system," has effected marvellous reforms in the brief period that has been in force, and promises to be fruitful of much reform in the future.

In Switzerland the preparation of distilled spirit from potatoes and cereals during the 1914-15 season was forbidden; the sale of potable spirit was forbidden, except for the preparation of medicines and for certain specially authorised uses. The use of methylated spirits as potable spirit was also prohibited. The Liquor Control Board in this country might take a leaf out of Switzerland in this respect.

Last (may she ever be there!) comes Germany. At first restrictions on drinking were imposed. Then the scarcity of raw material necessitated a limitation of the output of breweries and distilleries. Later it was made an offence to supply ardent spirits to soldiers, and in March, 1915 steps were taken to regulate the prices of alcoholic drinks. Characteristically in fixing the limitation of output and sale the Germans exempted certain breweries and distilleries. The ruling caste are largely interested in these, and, the Kaiser owns at least one brewery, whose wares he is reputed to be quite keen on pushing.

Strangely enough few questions have the power to raise passion as readily as the interference of the State with the drink traffic. The average citizen feels that Government interference in such matter is the rankest injustice. Surely it augurs well for the success of our just cause that Great Britain and her Allies have accepted in such good part the restrictions on their private habits which those in authority have found it necessary to impose."
Dundee Courier - Friday 21 January 1916, page 4.

What a wonderful cobination of racial stereotyping and temperance logic. Though you have to love the comparison of the price of a bottle of whisky in Dundee and St. Petersburg.  Good on the journalist for squeezing in the local angle.

I love this bit aboutthe effect of slivovice on Serbs: "the wonderful constitution and open-air life of the Serb neutralises any possible effect it might have on his system." Probably no coincidence that the Serbs were allies of the UK.


Mike in NSW said...

My GP of a couple of years ago was from Bulgaria. Whilst not Serb, we had a discussion about my drinking and he said (unofficially of course) that contrary to the Nanny State Propaganda, most heavy drinkers don't progress to serious liver damage or cirrhosis, and a lot of it is probably genetic.

However he did say "if you want to see real heavy drinking, head to my home town and see the guys on the Slivovice. Now that's pissheads for you."

Anonymous said...

I loved this claim: "Italy, like most wine-drinking countries, is essentially an abstemious nation. Only in the seaport towns, where mixed nationalities are congregated is drunkenness known. In his own country the typical Italian is too frugal to indulge in alcoholic excesses."

You can make an argument about the relative degrees of alcohol consumption in different countries, but to claim Italy as essentially an abstemious place was nuts.

Italy too was an ally of the UK by that point. I wonder if there were such descriptions during the Second World War.