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MAKING RUSSIANS SOBER, Issue 15690, 2 January 1915
MAKING RUSSIANS SOBER
THE TSAR'S MASTER STROKE. [By John Fosti-.t Fraskh, in the 'Weekly Despatch..' "I have decided to prohibit for ever in Russia the Government sale of alcohol."—The Tsar's message to the Russian Temperance Society. Everybody seems busy congratulatiii"the Emperor of Russia "and hia several hundred million subjects on the Imperial oi-der that never again shall the Government vodka ishope be- open. We are all inclined to appreciate, the abstinence of other people. Rut to understand what has happened in the land of the Tsar we should assume that some morning King George, taking a leaf out of. the book of his cousin the Emperor Nicholas, gave Royal command that all public-houses' lie closed, and that whisky, brandy, gin, and other spirits are to disappear for ever. I am prepared to be convinced it would be for our good, but 1 am not quite so fiure that the_ British democracy would be wildly enthusiastic. Some people may sav "Oh. yes, the Russian Emperor can do that because he is an autocrat; but under our constitutional Government the authority of Parliament would be necessary." Excuse me. Under the Defence of the Realm Act, parsed since the war began. the King by Order-in-Council can do anything.
But what if. this vodka, the disappearance of which is going to make Russia sober'' Tt is a spirit," rather like gin, made from rye or maize, though a good d-eal of the inferior stuff is made, from potatoes. A part or' the year is b-itt-erly cold in Russia, and the 'Muecovhe has been in the habit, of warming himself with vodka- as the Scot is supposed to warm himself -with the whisky when the wind Waws catild. In the old days vodka sale was in private hands, and "much of the liquor produced was potent, pernicious, chemicaiieed, vile, and quickly productive of drunkenness- Then the ' Government nobbled, the whole business by making it almost- a State monopoly, oste.nsiblv so the Russians could get wholesome vodka, but really to obtain revenue. The profit for the State lias been £93,000,000, which in just about a, quarter of the. expenditure in running Russia, as an empire. By locking the doors of the vodka- shops this revenue disappears. From, a strictly financial point of view Russia can ill afford to foreg<9 the income, especially as the war will mean the- necessity to vais-e further untold millions of money. —Tsars Idealism.—
Now, the man responsible for this drastic and stupendous, prohibition is the Emperor. Personally there is no more humane and peace-Idxing monarch in the world. YVe are saturated with the war, but it should not be forgotten it was Nicholas 11. who inaugurated The HagueConference, the noble aim of which was to g/?t the nations to devise other means of settling quarrels than by killing. Drunkenness has be«i rampant in Russia. TheEmperor saw that moral suasion was of little good. Besides, tempera.no© meant a falling revenue. Nicholas 11. did not bother himself about the money side, though In's Government did. Being something of an idealist, he ignored the finance, and thought only of the evil effects of excessive vodka, drinking. For over a year he has Fought for means to etay the evil. His Advisers met him with the ' answe-r : " Yes, sire ; but if we prohibit consumption, how Ls the loss of revenue to be made up?" So nothing was done. Then the war came. It was at once eeen that to mobilise millions of men from all parts of the Empire would mean that relaxation would be sought in the vodka bottle. The drink habit was bad enough in Russia, and now it would b© accentuated. The thought of Russian soldiers going into battle whilst intoxicated was abhorrent. Martial law was proclaimed. Supreme power ree-ted with the Emperor. He gave orders that during mobilisation the drink shops should close. The Puuspijin .army became a. teetotal -irmy. It lias done amazingly well on water as a beverage, as all the world knows. It was originally intended the prohibition should last only till the men were got to the battle front. But the prohibition applied to the general population, and it was remarked that as folk were, more, sober tlwv worked oltencr and .were., hhppwr.
The Emperor, did what is doubtful lie' would have thought of in time of peace for fear of an uprising. The people acquiesced in temporary prohibition in the interests of military efficiency, and then, finding that as they came within range of the order they 'were better off than before, the bold "and decisive stroke of Nicholas, stepping for ever the Government sale of vodka, instead of being resented, was accepted as a wis© act bv the Little White Father. —Moujik's Grievance.— This does not mean that all alcohol is to be. banished from the land. It means that the Government shops, set up in every commune, will not open. Kvass, a mild kind of Russian beer, will still be obtainable. Also, it is likely—for I have read nothing to the contrary—some distilleries, which, I believe, got a license from the Government to make a superior quality of vodka, will continue. But this will only be obtained in the high-class restauranls and hotels—and tho big hotels and restaurants in Petrograd and Moscow are more expensive than similar places in London—and the poor moujik, who hitherto has bought the Government vodka, with 40 per cent, of alcohol, for a few kopecks a bottle, will have no chance of indulging in the expensive beverage. 1 see hero an opening for much bitterness, showing that whilst the millionaire will be able to get his vodka the supply for the moujik is cut off: but that is not my province. Xor will I presume to standon stilts and lecture the Russian people. Only this will I say: There was plenty of room for temperance reform in Russia. I have been to many Russian dinner parties, and have drunk lots of vodka. As a preliminary to a feast there is always a seknski. On a side table all sorts of dainties arc set out—caviare, olives, sardines, cheese, thin strips of red cabbage—and you wash down each nibble with a little glass 01 vodka—say half a dozen glasses, which gladdens tho heart, loosens the tongue, and stimulates the ; appetite for the full-course dinner which is to follow. There are the usual wines which wo have at home, except that the champagne is generally sweet and indifferent, and everybody "puffs at a paperos (little cigarette) between courses. There is always the colorless vodka on the table. After dinner, when the board -s cleared, there is more vodka, and more, and if guests do not get fuddled it is. not because of lack of liquor. The hospitality of the Russian is prodigious. For instance, the Russian, in pouring wine into your glass, is deliberately uncareful. To bo careful not to spill would show'he was measuring his hospitality. So he always overfills your glass and spills the wine. ■ —Going the Pace.—
Oncf of the great joys of the Russian is an ostentatious dinner party. He will stint himself for weeks before his party; he will be in debt for weeks after his party ; but ho must make a splash. Of course, it is not always so ; but it is sufficiently so to be a- typical national trait. After a prodigal host has spent hundreds of roubles on entertainment in a private room of an hotel he will smash the mirrors, des>.-oy the furniture, and put the piano out of business, not so much because ho desires to be wantonly destructive, but because having to pay for the damage will give him a satisfaction lasting for months that his party cost a tremendous amount of money. But the war has changed that. Until the big fight came social hfo in all the towns did not begin till most of us in England think it about time to go to bed. All over Russia and Siberia where I have travelled—Kieff, NTjni-Novgorod, Blagovestchensk, Vladivostock, Astrakan. Odessa —things do not begin to be lively till near midnight.. Then people gather in the restaurants and "do themselves well." There is always an entertainment, sometimes not over-refined, and the girl performers gen erally mix among the audience and are willing to accept supper and suggest champanski as the wine. There is gambling and revelry, and vpry little heed for the future. That is among the official and wealthier classes; but here, again, the war is altering things. —Sunday Amusement.— There, have been few pleasures for the working man or moujik. He is not educated. He is not ambitious. He is a good-natured fellow, with much of the barbarian in him. Vodka has been his solace. Sundays and saints' days--of which they have many in Russia—are devoted to carousal. I have seen a man go into a vodka shop, buy a bottle of drink (not to be consumed on the premises), come out, and, tilting the bottle, drink the lot at several gulps. Then he has gone into tho shop and repeated the transaction. Then he will do it again. Getting drunk has been the favorite Sunday amusement, with singing, slobbering over one another, but the men are never quarrelsome. Of course, very little work is ever done on a Monday. Indeed, this soaking and chronic befuddled state has deplorable consequences, "not only on the man, but also on his family. And now all is being changed. The Russian has become sober by Imperial edict. The gay life of the cafes has ceased, for they must be closed by 11 o'clock. Gambling is prohibited, even in clubs. We read of the heroic fighting of the Russian troops on the banks of the Vistula, but the greater wonder is being effected in the region behind, for a new Russia is being evolved. The mighty sluggish Muscovite race will have strange things to reveal now that the people arc realising what they are capable of doing. But how is Russia to make up for that fall o; £93.000,000 in her revenue? Three months ago the hint of losing that amount made Russian financiers wrinkle their brows. It has now got to be provided, and more. There is going to be a graduated Income Tax. Further taxes are going to be imposed on real property. Articles from abroad will have to carry heavier taxation. Russia will find the hundred millions and be proud to do it, instead of profiting by tho drunkenness of her people. Russia a sober and industrious nation—for those of us who know the country it seems like a dream 1 I wonder—l keep on wondering—what is going to happen at home. Already the public-house hours are curtailed. When Parliament meets, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer, viho is alert to seize ideas, have a proposal to submit? Tdo not pretend to have even the foundation for a guess. Rut I know this war is producing amazing things besides brave fighting, and I would not be surprised at anything.
MAKING RUSSIANS SOBER, Issue 15690, 2 January 1915
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