Did East Germany contribute to its own demise by launching an official program to combat alcoholism? New research, packaged under the ominous title The Blue Strangler (a nickname for cheap vodka), makes the case:
Despite the steep prices, high proof alcohol was popular and the average GDR citizen drank 23 bottles of liquor a year – more than double the amount consumed by the average citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany. This high per capita consumption made the GDR the world’s heaviest drinker when it came to spirits. Statistics from 1988 suggest that the average GDR citizen also knocked back 12 liters of wine and 146 liters of beer a year…
Party officials did not know how to deal with the problem. It wasn’t until 1983, when the documentary film “Addicted” was produced by state-run film company, DEFA, that the dangers surrounding alcohol were spelled out. The film tells viewers about Rostock-based shipbuilding company Neptun Werft’s in-house alcohol support center. As it began to feature more prominently in the media, alcohol abuse became a subject of public debate in the late 1980s.
As a result, there was a noticeable decline in consumption. A report written by the Council of Ministers in 1989 found that people had bought 82 hectoliters less alcohol than in the previous year. When the peaceful Monday demonstrations against the authoritarian government of the GDR got underway in autumn 1989, alcohol consumption sank to a historic low within a matter of weeks.
Correlation is not causation, of course, but there is something to the argument that a drunken populace is one not prone to anti-establishment tendencies. Alcohol is a drug that, when taken in excess by certain individuals, leads to decidedly anti-social behavior. But those in power are just fine with yobs braining each other with two-by-fours in the streets; what they fear is the more cerebral sort of unrest that can only be the result of clear-headed debate.
(Image of disgruntled East German commuters by Harald Hauswald)