‘Can’t You Live Without Vodka?’ : Won’t Relax Liquor Sales Curbs, Gorbachev Asserts
Squelching critics of his anti-vodka campaign, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev said Saturday that there will be no relaxation of his stiff yearlong restrictions on liquor sales.
Gorbachev, who is rumored to be a teetotaler himself, told a street crowd in the Far Eastern port of Vladivostok that the curbs on vodka sales had cost the state 5 billion rubles (about $7.2 billion) but that it was worth it.
Many women have written him that their husbands, who once were devoted to the bottle, now have time for their children, he said.
In addition, the official Tass news agency reported, Gorbachev cited a 20% decrease in work injuries and a lower divorce rate since the restrictions took effect in June, 1985.
Hours, Output Curtailed
Hours for sale of vodka were cut back, production of vodka and fortified wines was curtailed sharply, and the number of liquor stores was also reduced in an effort to replace widespread drunkenness with sobriety.
As a result, people in Moscow and many other cities now spend hours each day lining up to buy vokda and other alcoholic beverages.
In Vladivostok, where Gorbachev was making one of his meet-the-people tours, a man called out from the crowd that it was not right for people to spend so much time waiting in line to buy a bottle of vodka.
“Don’t stand in line, then,” Gorbachev responded. “Can’t you live without vodka?” When the man persisted in his criticism, the Soviet leader said that it is better not to have drunks roaming the streets or riding the trains, as they did before the crackdown on drinking began.
“We’re not going to backtrack on this business,” he assured the crowd and a national television audience that witnessed the scene on the main evening news program, Vremya.
“A lot of wives are writing me a lot of letters saying, ‘Thank you very much, Mikhail Sergeyevich’ ” he added, referring to himself. “They say children are seeing their fathers and we are seeing our husbands for a change.”
Gorbachev, with his wife, Raisa, at his side, toured Vladivostok as part of his effort to explain his policies in every major region in the Soviet Union.
His travels, and his willingness to engage in give-and-take discussions with ordinary people, represent a major difference with his three predecessors who stuck close to the Kremlin.
An aide held an umbrella over his head in rainy, foggy Vladivostok during his street-corner conversations, and Gorbachev joked that the rain helped to make children grow faster.
More Output, More Pay
He urged more productive, high-quality work by all Soviet citizens and said their pay should be governed by their output.
“I must say openly that we’ve been slipping, absolutely, comrades,” Gorbachev said. “The money goes out (for wages) and the goods are not increasing.”
Gorbachev also discussed a shortage of housing in Vladivostok with local officials, who said that thousands of people are on waiting lists for apartments, partly because of a lack of construction workers.
He also deplored delays in replying to citizen complaints and said that party officials should provide some answer within a month after receiving a letter requesting help.