Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

State Must Respond to Alcoholism

Every country struggles with alcoholism, but in Russia it seems like a peculiar national curse.

The most depressing thing about the circumstances of last month's mass poisoning in Krasnoyarsk, described by Moscow Times reporter Christian Lowe in today's front page story, is the evidence of how deeply alcoholism has sunk into the shabby fabric of post-Soviet society and how difficult it will be to remove it.

Not surprisingly, the victims were largely poor, unpaid and driven by economic despair. Many of them apparently bought the tainted bootleg alcohol because it cost 50 cents less than the safe brand in the shops.

This misery seems to be compounded by a painfully Russian passivity and indifference. Now, even after the tragedy has been made known, it seems that the drinkers of Krasnoyarsk are still willing to take the risk and buy bootleg.

The health services in the town were also ill-prepared for the disaster, lacking basic diagnostic equipment which might have allowed them to treat the sick and raise the alarm in time to prevent more deaths.

And, in the aftermath, it seems that the police have little power to punish those responsible for selling the alcohol or to prevent similar bootleg operations starting up again.

Apart from pious homilies on the dangers of drink, it is hard to know what can be done to deal with alcoholism and the particular scourge of alcohol poisoning from under-the-counter bootleg stuff.

But with 43,000 people dying each year from alcohol poisoning, either from bad liquor as occurred in Krasnoyarsk or simply from excessive binges of normal vodka, the government should be trying to develop some coordinated response.

Prohibition is not worth it.

Raising the price of vodka is also a dangerous tactic that could just force people towards low quality bootlegs. Besides, people rightly suspect that in its current campaign to push up the price of vodka, the government is mostly motivated by the desire to raise revenue rather than by a conscious plan to moderate consumption.

Stronger policing of underground vodka production and stiffer penalties for those convicted should also be high on the police agenda. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Public awareness campaigns that educate people about the difference between legal and bootleg vodka and warn them of the dangers could also help. But public health measures are still a rarity in Russia.

Sadly, it is hard to think of anything that will quickly solve the root causes. Russia's ambivalent national character and its sorry economic situation.