Alcohol as Solace and Barter

A. V. Vlasov, Alcohol as Solace and Barter. March 11, 1987

From an interview with the USSR Minister for Internal Affairs (MVD), showing that alcoholism had been acknowledged as a source of social disorder and crime.

Original Source: Izvestiia, 11 March 1987.

Correspondent: Aleksandr Vladimirovich, may I first ask what worries you particularly about alcohol-related crime today?

Vlasov: First of all I will say that more than one third of all crimes are directly linked to drunkenness. This amounts to one in five accidents or traffic accidents and one in nine fires; when it comes to crimes in the home, 60-70 per cent of them are the result of alcohol consumption. It is there-into flats, homes, and hostels-that drunkenness has crept from the streets and enterprises. This is its last firm bastion, which, unfortunately, is not being attacked with sufficient skill and energy. It is there that we find the rowdy drunk, the secret family drinker, the alcohol speculator, and the profligate who organizes binges with fellow drinkers.

I would like to talk frankly about the terrible danger of unrefined vodka and about the bootlegging which has recently come to light. Moonshining today-not only in the villages but in the cities too-has become a very dangerous refuge for alcoholism, is helping to turn people into drunks, and is a source of mercenary gain. It has a particularly strong hold in daily life.

Correspondent: Could you now explain about “unrefined vodka”-how widespread it is, how it is made, and so on? Vlasov: I will try. Whereas in the recent past moonshining was typically a rural “criminal phenomenon,” nowadays approximately 40 per cent of its “manifestations” are recorded in the cities. Along with alcohol speculators, bootleggers have begun to cause serious problems in urban residential areas and hostels. Geographically, the picture looks like this: moonshining is most prevalent in the RSFSR, particularly in large industrial centers in the Urals and Siberia where formerly there were no serious -hotbeds” of this sort. The RSFSR accounts for 72 per cent of all uncovered cases of moonshining, almost half of them in the Bashkir ASSR, Udmurt ASSR, Tatar ASSR, Altai and Krasnoyarsk krais, and Irkutsk, Kemerovo, Tiumen, Orenburg, Perm, Sverdlovsk, and Cheliabinsk oblasts. The “moonshine disease” is spreading in the Ukraine, Belorussia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, and Moldavia.

Who are our modern moonshiners? According to our information, 50 per cent are workers and employees of urban and rural enterprises; 15 per cent are collective farm workers. 61 per cent of all moonshiners are women (it is deplorable that wives and mothers are drawn into the pernicious process of poisoning their relatives by turning them into drunks!) I must point out that both the producers and the consumers of moonshine have grown younger: 52 per cent of those sentenced are below the age of 30, and only 20 per cent are pensioners. Amongst those who had criminal charges brought against them last year, about 10,000 were people with higher or secondary specialized education, including 4,700 Communists and Komsomol members…

Correspondent: And what kind of damage is all this doing?

Vlasov: Moonshine is extremely harmful and dangerous to health because, in addition to alcohol toxins, it contains a heavy concentration of highly poisonous fuel oils and spirits, metal oxides from the still, and all kinds of “special” additives-from tobacco to hydrochloric acid. In the last 18 months the militia has recorded 90 cases of group poisoning from alcohol substitutes. 200 people have died.

What other damage is caused by this problem’? People become chronic alcoholics far more rapidly from moonshine, particularly teenagers … considerable economic damage is done, because valuable products–thousands of metric tons of sugar, beet, potatoes, and grain–are destroyed by being turned into toxic substances. The sharp increase in sugar sales in a number of regions of the country over the past year a 14-16 per cent increase in Latvia and Moldavia, for example, and a 20 per cent increase in Kirghizia require serious analysis, in particular.

Moonshiners often manufacture their “product” from stolen raw materials. The theft of sugar, grain, and beets for the purpose of unrefined vodka production has increased. A criminal group, led by the director of the Merkenskii sugar refinery, which had embezzled sugar to the value of 140,000 rubles, has been broken up in Dzhambul, for example.

Moonshining has become a source of unearned income and illegal gain. In Kursk oblast citizen Korolkova systematically manufactured and sold hooch at the Kastornaia-Novaia station. She was found to be in possession of 1-5 metric tons of home-brewed beer. The court confiscated a Zhiguli car bought with dishonest “earnings” and also a large amount of money… Tens of liters of unrefined vodka, 0.5 metric tons of sugar, and approximately 20,000 rubles were confiscated from the inveterate moonshiner Arzamasova … The unrefined vodka profiteers are being identified and face inevitable punishment.

Correspondent: Why are people now joining the “clan” of moonshiners when they formerly had no such intention? Vlasov: There can be no serious talk of combating drunkenness and moonshining until the matters of improving the organization of people’s work and leisure time and satisfying popular demand for services and consumer goods are resolved alongside or, to be more precise, in close conjunction with this problem.

It is a well-known fact that in rural areas a bottle of moonshine is often the main form of payment for all manner of services rendered on the side. Have a bottle ready if you need firewood transported, your garden dug, or your house repaired. In Tula oblast, for example, more than half of all those sentenced for selling moonshine had manufactured it to pay for consumer services.

Correspondent: Would you please tell us about the role of the militia in the fight against moonshining?

Vlasov: It must be admitted that the militia has proved ill-prepared for the outbreak of moonshining, particularly in the cities. We are now making up for lost time. But we have not been sitting idle, of course. A number of measures have been implemented. In the last 18 months approximately 900,000 illicit stills have been either voluntarily handed in or confiscated and 2.6 million liters of homebrewed beer and moonshine have been destroyed. Since the change in legislative norms, the number of charges brought across the country as a whole has increased 2-6 times. Over the past year more than 130,000 people have been found guilty by civil courts and 70,000 have been punished.

These are strong measures. They are evidence of a more active fight against bootlegging and moonshine. This evil is not becoming less prevalent, however on the contrary, in many regions of the country it is growing. This shows up the inadequacy of the preventive measures taken with the participation of the public, and reveals one-sidedness and formality in applying the punishments laid down by the law. The greater number of penalties cannot be automatically identified with the effectiveness of anti-alcohol measures. In some areas MVD organs are dazzled by figures showing a rise in punishments and have clearly slackened their preventive efforts.

I must say that the malicious moonshiner has rapidly reorganized his activity, has gone deep underground, so to speak, and is mastering new techniques. In the village of Grishentsy in Vinnitsa oblast the militia caught a certain V. Postupailo, who had set up a distillery in a forest thicket with a watchtower so that he could keep a look out with a pair of binoculars… In Khoiniksky raion, Gomel oblast, they discovered a center for the collective production of unrefined vodka; several families took it in turns to tend it….

Source: George R. Urban, ed., Social and Economic Rights in the Soviet bloc: a documentary review seventy years after the Bolshevik Revolution (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1988), pp. 182-184.

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