Etymologically, vodka in Russian means 'little water.' And because the average Russian guzzles a world-best 5.2 gallons per year, a little water has gone a long way in damaging the collective body politic. A few years ago, the Finnish physician directing the Russian office of the World Health Organization explained: 'If you did this in Finland, half the population would be dead in a year. This is clearly not normal.'
The Russian people disagreed. 'It's our way of life. How can we stop drinking with a climate like ours?' said one. From another: 'Our people are willing to live in poverty, but if the government tries to make them stop drinking, it might lead to social unrest. Nobody can make us stop drinking.'
Not that the powers didn't try. In 1917, the Bolsheviks banned vodka and condemned drunkenness as a 'social evil irreconcilable with the proletarian ideology,' perhaps because they believed, as Friedrich Engels had stated, that drinking was the bane of the working classes. It is probably closer to the truth to say that work was the bane of the drinking classes. No vocation without intoxication, cried the workers, and in 1924, the ban was reversed - an early instance of Soviet utopianism succumbing to Russian reality.
Monday, April 17, 2006
More, from Joseph Tartakovsky in the LA Times, on vodka:
at 9:02 pm