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Gorbachev Says His Soviet Anti-Alcohol Campaign Was a Mistake

Says it was overly ambitious and restrictive

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

On the 30 anniversary of the anti-alcohol campaign, Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda published an interview with former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev who started the sweeping campaign only months after coming to power in 1985 said that they tried to achieve too much too quickly, and that the way it was all conducted was a mistake.

Former president said that they needed to show more patience as ‘the sobering up of society cannot be done in one swing,’ but rather takes years to achieve and is a constant battle.

<figcaption>What better way to remember than with a bottle of vodka </figcaption>
What better way to remember than with a bottle of vodka

In an effort to combat heavy drinking, the Soviet government decided to raise the prices of spirits, restricted the sales in amount and time of day, and shut down liquor stores,

The former president remembers that during his travels through the country he was warmly welcomed by women but that wasn't the case with men.

Overall the claimed results were mixed and included:

  • per capita sales of alcohol decreased 2.5 times
  • fertility rate increased by 500 thousand babies
  • there were 8% less newborns with health issues
  • life expectancy of men increased by 2.6 years - to set a record male life expectancy 
  • the reduction in mortality was 919,9 thousand for men and 463,6 thousand for women
  • annual retail turnover in the USSR decreased 16 billion rubles.

However, the illicitly distilled alcohol production skyrocketed and sugar disappeared from the shelfs. The treasury lost 20 billion rubles, which was significant for the Soviet budget. Vineyards across the country were cut down. From 1985 to 1990, only in Russia, their area decreased from 200 to 168 thousand hectares, and some unique collections of grape varieties were destroyed.

Popularly known as the ‘dry law’, the campaign proved to be too costly to keep implementing and coupled with unpopularity and the pressure from his colleagues, Gorbachev had to finalise the campaign only two years later in 1987.

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