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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vodka, Not Beer, Is the Real Issue

It is especially frustrating to watch as government agencies address serious problems with proposals that are almost laughably inadequate. The latest case in point came Tuesday when Deputy Health Minister Gennady Onishchenko launched an assault on the beer industry, claiming that beer had become a major contributing factor to Russia’s overall alcoholism crisis.

Obviously, it is ridiculous that Russian law treats beer as a nonalcoholic beverage, and it is clear that this absurdity plays a role in introducing children to drink. This lapse can and should be immediately remedied, and Russia’s responsible beer producers should be the first to advocate this step.

However, the Health Ministry must realize that Russia’s alcoholism problem is far more serious than this. In fact, the bare statistics make a strong case that alcoholism is the most serious problem Russia faces. Half of all Russian men who die, says one study, are drunk. Thirty-thousand Russians each year die of alcohol poisoning. Alcohol plays a major role in road accidents, homicides, suicides, domestic violence, industrial accidents, birth defects, violent crime and so on. Orphanages are full of children abandoned by their alcoholic parents.

In today’s Weekend section, The Moscow Times is reprinting a New York Times report by Michael Wines that paints the dreadful picture of how this national crisis looks from the perspective of the small northern town of Pitkyaranta.

Alcoholism is a major contributor to the country’s demographic crisis, the claims of nationalists about an anti-Russian genocidal conspiracy notwithstanding. In fact, despite the fact that former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign has been roundly trashed as a failure, demographic data show clearly that the number of deaths due to non-natural causes fell considerably in 1986-88, before once again beginning to rise. Since 1991, accidental death in Russia has increased by 83 percent, according to the British Medical Journal.

A big part of the problem lies in the fact that the Russian state is as addicted to drink as the Russian people are. Last year, vodka duties accounted for $470 million in state revenues. Last May, the government set up a state-controlled holding company made up of 70 distilleries in an effort to squeeze even more revenue from this sector. Obviously, it will be hard for the Health Ministry to combat the alcohol problem when other state agencies are committed to increasing production and sales.

Russia and the government — in a serious, concerted and determined way — must face up to this catastrophe. It is literally destroying the nation.