Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Teetotaler of Ulaanbaatar

January 11th, 2012 · 1 Comment


It’s a little hard for Americans to wrap their heads around alcoholism’s social toll in places like Mongolia, where the perpetually inebriated constitute a significant percentage of the potential workforce (and also commit the majority of crimes). So it will be interesting to see whether the government’s lead-by-example campaign makes any sort of impact on the problem:

It’s been a year since President Ts. Elbegdorj initiated the “Forward, to an Alcohol-Free Mongolia” campaign. On December 14, the Head of the Office of the President D. Battulga made a statement regarding the campaign’s accomplishments and effects during this period of time. Since the implementation of this alcohol-free idea, every event or ceremony involving the President should happen with no alcohol. The Alcohol Free Mongolia Association was formed, and so far the President has visited 10 provinces and made speeches concerning alcoholism and its negative impacts…

We clearly remember how the President welcomed the New Year with milk instead of champagne, and many people applauded and praised his action…Since April, every ceremony in the Wedding Palace has required the use of milk as the ceremonies are alcohol-free.

I have my doubts as to whether the average citizen will be inspired to give up drinking because their president abstains. The argument in favor of the program relies on evidence from a mid-1980s Soviet experiment, when Mikhail Gorbachev switched from vodka to orange juice at state functions. But the subsequent decline in alcohol consumption (since entirely reversed) probably had more to do with accompanying restrictions on access to drink than anything else. That sort of control was easy to accomplish in a nation with a state-run economy; in modern-day Mongolia, with its 91 distilleries, the road to relative sobriety will be much bumpier.

(Image via Mikel Aristregi)

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