Alcohol Law Changes in Russia
In June 2013 I have watched several programs on BBC and CNN International that discuss many of the changes that are going on in Russia.  Specifically about how there are greater restrictions on the use of alcohol products.  Several of my guests have mentioned watching these programs, so I decided to write an article with an insider’s perspective.

It is true the Russian culture is more oriented towards alcohol than many other cultures around the word.  The English-speaking news broadcasts I have watched have accurately explained a series of new laws and regulations.  I addition to these facts, I see the changes being made as much more.  They are a strategy of the Russian Government to change public perspective of alcohol consumption.  Specifically they are adopting policies and laws that they hope will change social acceptance of the amount of alcohol consumed and the areas where it is socially acceptable to drink.  

For example, in the past it was very common for people to purchase alcohol from a small stand on the street and consume them there on the street.  Perhaps this was on an 11am lunch break, or while going for a walk on Saturday afternoon, or after coming home from work at 7pm.  In recent years this was less common in the downtown, but still prevalent in the areas outside the tourist attractions.  Although drinking alcohol on the street has long been forbidden, it seemed there was little effort to stop this behavior, which was made obvious simply due to the existence of these kiosk stands.  This is the first detail that is undoubtedly changing.  As of June 2013 I haven’t seen a single kiosk stand selling alcohol.  I have witnessed several try and quickly they are reprimanded by the authorities.

I also have noticed signs on my local grocery stores that say that alcohol sale of any type are forbidden between the hours of 11pm and 8pm.  After reading some articles I learned that this policy has to do with the times when most alcohol related crimes and incidents occur.  Eliminating the source during these time frames is thought to curb these problems.

For some time it has been illegal to drive while having had anything at all to drink.  This policy has been strictly enforced as long as I can remember and I see as many driving check points as I have in the past.  I even see them in the mornings targeting people that were perhaps out very late or still have something in their bodies from the night prior.  I have been in a car at one of these early morning checks.  The police were very polite, asked us a few questions, and let us move along after being satisfied that nothing was amiss.

The next that I witness is that there is a very significant amount of repairing and construction of outside community areas and playgrounds that I believe ties heavily into the strategy of the Russian Government.   Not only are there greater restrictions on when and where alcohol is sold, but also where it is consumed.  The streets next to the stands were not the only area where alcohol was publicly consumed.  Community areas were often used at night (or day) by groups of people socializing.  This is not a problem in itself, until these areas are have broken bottles, cigarette ends, other litter or even people that have become unruly.  Considering that these areas also very often house playgrounds, it was unacceptable.   The good news is that not only are they rebuilding these community areas but the police are also patrolling them to be sure that they are not misused.    These new community areas have exercise equipment for adults, benches to relax at and state of the art playgrounds for the children.  

A final detail that I notice is a polite police presence.  In the past I rarely saw police unless they were in a vehicle passing by, which was and still is a regular occurrence.  However, now I also see police on foot making sure that they ask people to move along in the event they are breaking the new laws.  Very often I see the police strolling down the street or checking on the community squares.  When they see something amiss, they take the time to politely explain that it will no longer be OK to drink on the streets or playgrounds and they must find a new place to socialize.  I imagine in time to come they will become stricter in the event people continue to break the rules.  For now I see this strategy working and it is improving the situation.

Having grown up in the Soviet Union during the Communist Regime I certainly have seen a lot change.  I cannot speak for the whole of Russia, but only for what I see St. Petersburg regarding the new laws and regulations.  Certainly the changes being made with regards to this topic are for the better in St. Petersburg and I do hope that these new policies and laws continue to positively affect the Russian people as a whole.