Los Angeles Times
Shaming a nation of drinkers
Vodka and Russia. The former is so ingrained in the identity of the latter, it’s hard to imagine restrictions on its sale and production. But in 1985, the Soviet Union’s newly appointed general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, did just that when he ramped up a nationwide campaign against alcohol.
Artists were tasked with creating propaganda posters to sober up citizens, warning them of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. Now, 260 of those previously unpublished posters from the 1980s as well as others dating to the 1960s have been collected in the new book “Alcohol: Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters” by Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell of Fuel Publishing.
Vibrant images show hung-over, bleary-eyed boozers trapped in a bottle or being hauled away to an institution. One poster shows a bottle morphing into scissors, cutting a family photo in two.
Russian historian Alexei Pluster-Sarno outlines a history of Soviet drinking and the proliferation of illegal home brewing in the book. Some bootleggers distilled organic waste or contaminated their brew with toxic oils; addicts resorted to dangerous substitutes, in some cases chugging perfume, drain cleaners and brake fluid. Distillers and breweries — forced to manufacture nonalcoholic beverages — eventually shut down.
“It was a failure,” Pluster-Sarno said. “The results of Gorbachev’s campaign were the disintegration of the country’s economy and the mass drinking that followed.”