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Russia once banned vodka

There’s a Russian proverb that speaks to the country’s love affair with a certain spirit: “Vodka is our enemy, so we’ll utterly consume it.” Russia and vodka are almost synonymous with each other, for better or, sometimes, worse. The problems associated with overconsumption have been known to Russia’s leaders for a long time — so long, in fact, that Tsar Nicholas II announced his intention to ban the liquor on September 28, 1914, in a telegram that read simply, “I have already decided to abolish forever the government sale of vodka in Russia.” He did so at considerable financial risk, as the government’s centuries-old vodka monopoly was responsible for a third of its revenue, but he felt it was important that the treasury was no longer “dependent on the ruination of the spiritual and economic forces of the majority of My faithful subjects.”

The tsar’s motivations weren’t purely altruistic, however. Russia’s 1905 loss in the Russo-Japanese War was attributed in part to soldiers’ drunkenness, and Nicholas II didn’t want to see a repeat of that in the looming conflict we now know as World War I. It didn’t work: Vodka prohibition stunted the country’s finances, infrastructure, and morale at a time when all three were of the utmost importance, and Russia was defeated in WWI as well. The prohibition law was repealed following the ascendance of Joseph Stalin, who reinstated the government monopoly in 1925.

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