There are probably several ways to deal with a nationwide alcohol problem, legislatively. There are those task forces people start (do they actually do anything?). You could start an ill-thought-out “War on Drinks,” since the other one did so well. And then there’s everyone’s favorite—higher taxes. But easily the most creative political approach to dealing with a nationwide alcohol problem comes from Eastern Europe, where countries like Poland and Russia have dealt with the impact of hard liquor — namely vodka — for many many decades.
It may seem counterintuitive; America, at least, liked to think that high rates of alcohol consumption in the Eastern Bloc had to do with oppression under Communist rule. But much of the region actually had a spike in alcohol consumption, with alcohol-related death rates in Poland alone doubling in the years following 1980.
The solution? Form a political party, in Poland’s case, the Polska Partia Przyjaciół Piwa, or Polish Beer Lovers’ Party. A name which would seem entirely insensitive, except it was a satirical party, at least at first. The PPPP was founded in December of 1990 as a response to the country’s staggering alcohol problem, presumably encouraging beer consumption over vodka. The basic idea was to encourage an English pub-style approach to alcohol, namely sipping warm beers over long discussions.
Not only would this slow the rate of consumption, it also seemed to encourage collective enjoyment of new freedoms. According to materials sourced from the Library of Congress, “the humorous stated goals of the party—lively political discussion in pubs serving excellent beer—were a symbol of freedom of association and expression, intellectual tolerance, and a higher standard of living.” Maybe that’s why the PPPP earned 16 seats in parliament (really), though the party eventually split into Big and Little Beer parties, the former actually taking on a political aspect in earnest and changing its name to the Polish Economic Program.
The PPPP (which yes, if you’re 10 years old and say it out loud, is kind of a hilarious acronym) was one of several parties that joined into Eastern European parliamentary elections—part of the political flotsam in the wake of Communist rule. Russia followed suit just a few years later with its own Beer Lovers Party. According to a 1995 article from The Chicago Tribune, it was one of 43 factions looking for a spot in Russia’s parliament in the era of Boris Yeltsin. And their central complaint was slightly different from the other…well, yeah, 42 factions running for office.
“He’s a vodka lover,” chapter leader Vladimir Sanatin told the Tribune. “Everybody around him is a vodka lover. Vodka lovers rule this country, and they have brought us to this miserable condition. Vodka distorts your judgment,” the chapter leader finishes, a truism that applies far beyond the carnage of destructive political theory.
Whether you agree with Sanatin, or the Beer Lovers Party on his next point depends on your feelings about beer. Sanatin continues, “beer loves are more stable and trustworthy…They’re more sophisticated, more in touch with the modern world. Vodka makes people aggressive, while beer leaves you feeling mellow.”
If you’ve ever been outside the wrong bar at the wrong time, watching two beer-brimming full-grown adults duke it out over something incredibly stupid, you know that’s probably not true. But Sanatin, a philosophy professor apparently, wasn’t kidding. “We are as worried as any other party about the major issues,” he told the Tribune. (Remember this is way back in 1995, when a Russian male, per Tribune, drank a pint of vodka per day.) “But we have an overriding cultural goal: To change the destructive drinking habits of this nation. We think that is a requisite for meaningful and political economic reform.”
The Russian Beer Lovers Party was more earnest in its aims at the get-go. Or rather, it wasn’t taking the same satirical tack as the PPPP. But the fact that two major nations approached their countries in the wake of Communism from a (reasonable), if differing, alcoholic standpoint is significant. The fact that they didn’t last in a politically significant way shouldn’t detract from the relative ingeniousness of the response itself.
Now if only Americans could think about quitting the sauce, at least until this election season is over…