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Varnish, cologne and insecticide: how to drink like a Russian

A new book and exhibition of Soviet posters deal with the mass consumption of alcohol surrogates under Gorbachev's prohibition
A new book and exhibition of Soviet posters deal with the mass consumption of alcohol surrogates under Gorbachev's prohibition Credit: Fuel Publishing

 In an extract from Alcohol: Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters, Alexei Plutser-Sarno recalls a Soviet era when cologne replaced vodka as the people’s tipple of choice​

Russians drink lots, quickly, in what could be described as a heroic fashion. Their attitudes to their own alcohol consumption are both blithe and fatalistic, epitomised by the popular saying: “If you don’t drink or smoke, you’ll die healthy.” To foreigners, drinking in Russia resembles an intricate method of suicide, a feat of self-destruction.

On March 11 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev was elected general secretary of the Communist Party and initiated an anti-alcohol drive. He issued a directive, On Measures To Overcome Drinking, Alcoholism and To Eradicate Bootlegged Alcohol. It was an attempt to cut through a historic Gordian knot of social issues, conceived with little consideration for the consequences.

'Vodka' by P Letunov, 1983 Credit: Fuel Publishing

The “Gorbachev campaign” began...

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