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Prohibition, Soviet style: Propaganda posters from the 1980s

One of the poster designs featured in "Alcohol: Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters." The title of the 1962 poster is "Brought to the Hospital," and the text on the bottle reads "horilka," a Ukrainian term for vodka.
(V . Glivenko / Fuel Publishing)

Vodka and Russia. The former is so ingrained in the identity of the latter, it’s hard to imagine restrictions on its sale and production. But in 1985, the Soviet Union’s newly appointed general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, did just that when he ramped up a nationwide campaign against alcohol.

Artists were tasked with creating propaganda posters to sober up citizens, warning them of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. Now, 260 of those previously unpublished posters from the 1980s as well as others dating to the 1960s have been collected in the new book “Alcohol: Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters,” by Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell of Fuel Publishing.

Vibrant images show hung-over, bleary-eyed, red-nosed boozers trapped in a bottle or being hauled away to an institution. One poster shows a bottle morphing into scissors, cutting a family photo in two.

A 1977 design from "Alcohol: Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters" reads, "Much evil and wrongdoing to the family." The text on the bottle says vodka.
A 1977 design from "Alcohol: Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters" reads, "Much evil and wrongdoing to the family." The text on the bottle says vodka. (I. Fridman / Fuel Publishing)

Russian historian Alexei Pluster-Sarno outlines a history of Soviet drinking and the proliferation of illegal home brewing in the book. Some bootleggers distilled organic waste or contaminated their brew with toxic oils; addicts resorted to dangerous substitutes, in some cases chugging perfume, drain cleaners and brake fluid. Distillers and breweries — forced to manufacture nonalcoholic beverages — eventually shut down.

“It was a failure,” Pluster-Sarno said. “The results of Gorbachev’s campaign were the disintegration of the country’s economy and the mass drinking that followed.”

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A 1985 image from
A 1985 image from "Alcohol: Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters." The text at the bottom reads, "His palette is rather broad, from kerosene to varnishes. And no one has been able to figure out so far how to talk sense into such a ... 'connoisseur'!" (V . Kyunnap / Fuel Publishing)
A 1981 design from "Alcohol: Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters" reads, "This is a shameful union -- a slacker + vodka!"
A 1981 design from "Alcohol: Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters" reads, "This is a shameful union -- a slacker + vodka!" (V .O. Pashenko / Fuel Publishing)
The cover image from "Alcohol: Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters."
The cover image from "Alcohol: Soviet Anti-Alcohol Posters." (Fuel Publishing)

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