Saturday, September 19, 2015

Ethnic Russians in the North Drink the Most; Muslims in the Caucasus Drink the Least

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 19 – A survey by “Komsomolskaya Pravda” confirms what most people have long believed: ethnic Russians in the northern portions of the Russian Federation drink the most, while members of the traditionally Muslim nationalities in the Caucasus drink the least, a pattern with profound consequences for their respective well-being and live expectancies.

            But as dramatic as the differences the paper found, experts say, they understate the differences in consumption of pure alcohol because northerners tend to drink vodka and southerners wine, because they ignore illegal sources of alcohol which are usually stronger, and because officials committed to one or another alcohol policy misstate local numbers.

            Nonetheless, the Moscow paper’s figures, compiled by dividing the total volume of all alcohol sales by region by the population of the regions are instructive, even though there was no data available at all on alcohol consumption for Chechnya and Ingushetia, two North Caucasus republics (

            The top five regions in terms of alcohol beverage consumption were Magadan, Kamchatka, Arkhangelsk, Karelia and Leningrad, all in the north and all predominantly ethnic Russian in population. The bottom five were Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Osetia, Adygeya and Orenburg, all but the last predominantly Muslim.
            In terms of volume, the former consumed from five to 15 times more alcoholic beverages than the latter, the paper found. And it pointed out that because the northern Russians mostly drank vodka and the Caucasians who drink at all wine, the difference in consumption of pure alcohol was “much more serious.”
            Appended to the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” report is a comment by Vadim Drobiz, head of the Moscow Cexnter for the Investigation of Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets.  He argues that some of the paper’s findings were entirely plausible: in Magadan people really do drink more than elsewhere. But other figures were problems.
            Rosstat says and the paper uses that agency’s numbers that in recent years, alcohol consumption has fallen in St. Petersburg, But Drobiz says “I do not believe this.” All the figures from the northern capital mean is that more people there are drinking moonshine and other unregulated alcohol.
            With respect to wine consumption, he says, the official figures are even more unreliable. They suggest that people in Krasnodar kray drink only half as much as those in Karelia.  “How can this be?” he asks rhetorically.  The answer, he suggests, lies in the decision of officials ot put out numbers confirming their faith that “if prices go up, people will cease to drink.”
            No, he says, they will simply turn to moonshine and even more dangerous surrogates, something that makes the Russian-Muslim divide even more troubling given the impact those have on live expectancies.

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