Updated at 18:21,18-06-2018

Hard-Drinking Belarus Considers Ways To Curb Alcohol Dependency


Hard-Drinking Belarus Considers Ways To Curb Alcohol Dependency
Belarus has for years been recognized as a world leader in alcohol consumption. (illustrative photo)
The Belarusian government is announcing last call on its nation of heavy drinkers.

Belarus has for years been recognized as a world leader in alcohol consumption, and the country's Health Ministry reports that nearly 2 percent of Belarus's 9.5 million citizens were either diagnosed as alcoholics or as suffering from alcohol-related psychosis in 2016.

The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, has reported that some 25 percent of all crimes in Belarus are committed by intoxicated individuals. In cases of serious crimes, such as murder and robbery, that number rises to a startling 70 to 80 percent.

Alcohol abuse also played a major role in Belarus being cited in a widely published study as one of the four unhealthiest countries in the world.

Faced with such dour statistics, the Belarusian government is now considering an array of measures to curb people from drinking alcohol.

Among the new measures being discussed in Minsk is raising the drinking age from 18 to 20 or 21, reducing the number of places allowed to sell alcoholic beverages, and imposing curfews on stores that sell alcohol so that it can only be purchased during specific hours.

A 'Very Difficult, Difficult Problem'

The issue has even caused Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka -- who described himself as someone "who does not drink much" -- to say at a labor union meeting in Minsk on December 8 that heavy drinking in Belarus was a "very difficult, difficult problem."

He also urged his fellow citizens to pay more attention to "a healthy and active way of life" while drinking less, such as only on holidays and other special occasions like the launching of a new business.

Belarus's problems with alcohol are something several other former Soviet republics are also facing.

Hard-Drinking Belarus Considers Ways To Curb Alcohol Dependency

Alyaksandr Lukashenka (center), his son Nikolai (right), and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen make a toast during a banquet in Beijing last May. The Belarusian president describes himself as someone "who does not drink much."

Lithuania -- which consistently ranks with Belarus and Russia among the top five countries in the world in alcohol consumption -- decided last year to raise the legal drinking age from 18 to 20, and to reduce the time frame for alcohol sales in a bid to cut down on drunkenness. Lithuania's stricter rules on the purchase and consumption of alcohol go into effect on January 1.

And in early December, the Health Ministry in Russia's Zabaikalsky Krai declared an alcohol epidemic, with some 2 percent of its more than 1 million citizens suffering from alcohol-related disorders.

Two years ago the region banned the sale of alcohol after 8 p.m., the type of restriction that Belarus is now considering implementing.

But the reduced hours to buy alcohol in the Russian region apparently has done little to stop people from drinking.

Severe Social Problems

Zabaikalsky Krai Health Minister Sergei Davidov said alcoholism was the cause of severe social problems, including a sharp decline in average income in the region and in quality of life.

The Belarusian Interior Ministry has initiated an online voting system for people to register what they think of the various restrictions on alcohol that the government is proposing.

Results of the survey are to be factored into finalizing the Belarusian government's draft antialcohol law.

The ministry's survey asks people if alcohol sales should be banned from 10 p.m. until 9 a.m., or from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m., or if there should be no limitations on sales. It also asks if all alcohol sales should be banned at gas stations or if only hard alcohol (everything but beer and wine) should be.

The Interior Ministry argues that Belarus has a very high concentration of stores in which alcohol is sold, with one such shop for every 600 Belarusians compared to one store selling alcohol for every 4,500 people in Norway and Sweden.

The online survey also asks whether Belarus should increase the drinking age from the current 18 years to 20 or 21 years of age. Moving it to 21 would give Belarus the highest minimum drinking age in all of Europe and join just a handful of other countries -- most of them predominantly Muslim, along with the United States -- where one has to be 21 to be served an alcoholic beverage or to buy beer in a store.

Hard-Drinking Belarus Considers Ways To Curb Alcohol Dependency

There are concerns that placing restrictions on obtaining alcohol as a way to try to curb consumption could lead alcohol-dependent people to turn to stronger, surrogate alcohols to satisfy their addictions.

In Russia's Irkutsk region in December 2016, 76 people died after about 120 people were poisoned while drinking a bath lotion that contained a powerful methyl alcohol.

Written by Pete Baumgartner based on reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service.