Don’t trust these three: The woman, the Turk, and the teetotaler. – Based Peter the Great.
Can the Ukrainians really be trusted?
- Andreev, E. et al (2013) – Comparing alcohol mortality in Tsarist and contemporary Russia: is the current situation historically unique?
This is the question that arose on finding that paper. Probably not!
Anyhow, AP, you’re welcome to this latest nugget of Ukrotriumphalism.
Fig. 1. The rate of sudden male deaths due to drunkenness in the Russian provinces in 1870–1894 and sudden deaths due to drunkenness and from alcohol poisoning in the European part of Russia in 2009 (per 100,000)
1. Even within Russia, alcoholization increased to the north and east, as well as the center, while falling towards the south and west.
Note that this tallies even with modern statistics, where northerners/easterners continue drinking more (and consuming harder drugs) relative to southerners.
Indeed, the authors find a correlation in deaths due to drunkenness between then and now of r=0.336 (rising to r=407 if Moscow is excluded).
I should note there’s zero connection to developmental levels. Yaroslavl, for instance, has one of the highest numbers of alcohol-related deaths, even though it was the most literate non-capital/non-Baltic province in the Russian Empire, and had the highest share of peasant households with savings accounts (2/3 on the eve of the Great War). If anything, there might be a slight correlation between low drunkenness and lagging development.
There is also a good connection with popular stereotypes. For instance, Moscow is known as a gruffer, more hard-drinking place than Saint-Petersburg in late 19th century literature.
2. Despite this being an old phenomenon – and one that helps understand the context of certain historical political decisions, such as the Imperial government’s ill-advised decision to introduce temperance at the start of World War I – it’s clear that the late USSR still saw a drastic worsening, even relative to the unsatisfactory situation in Imperial Russia.
Blue line: Male mortality from alcohol poisoning in Russia, 1965-2015.
First, as the authors note, the category “sudden deaths from drunkenness” is systematically higher – by up to 50% – than the more restrictive category of “accidental deaths from alcohol poisoning.”
Even so, male deaths from alcohol poisoning started off from about 18/100,000 in 1965, before the onset of the profound alcoholization that affected Russia c.1970-2010 (so perhaps 25/100,000 deaths from sudden drunkenness, relative to 15/100,000 during the late 19th century). During the late Brezhnev period, it peaked at 40/100,000 (translated: maybe 60/100,000), dropped temporarily during Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign, then recovered with a vengeance during the 1990s.
For comparison, the authors state that the death rate from drunkenness for Finland was 11.2/100,000, and 4.7/100,000 for Poland (for comparison, 15/100,000 for the Great Russian provinces, and 2.5/100,000 for the territories of present-day Belorussia and the Ukraine). The Finnish and Polish rates are lower c.2009, by 50% and a factor of three, respectively.
I assume that the reason the Poles drank more than the Ukrainians/Belorussians was because they were somewhat more industrialized, and Finland in particular was both much more industrialized and had a penchant for alcoholism as a Finno-Ugric nation. The latter factor must also explain the greater drinking in the more Finno-admixed parts of Russia. I don’t have much of a clue why, say, south-western Great Russians still drank somewhat more than Ukrainians. As Mark Schrad explains in Vodka Politics, The Russian Empire during that period encouraged vodka sales, and they constituted about a quarter of its tax earnings. However, I don’t recall anything about policies being more pro-vodka in the Great Russian provinces as opposed to Malorossiya or Belorussia. Incidentally, the USSR also promoted vodka sales until Gorbachev, where they also contributed significantly to the budget.