On booze, and Russian national security

On the day when a rampant terrorist shot the Russian ambassador in Turkey dead, the Russian people didn’t give a damn about that news, as much as they were shaken by other news coming from the heart of Siberia. And there’s good reason they cared about it so much, because it directly impacts their sense of safety and security – to such an extent that the local authorities declared a state of emergency in Irkutsk, banning all liquid sales. The reason? 60+ people went to meet their creator after having ingested fake alcohol. And that’s not just some obscure footnote in some online media, it’s the News.Ru being the first to report on it. So it must matter a lot, guys!

If that’s not the most Russian thing ever, I don’t know what is.

Just think about it. Those poor sods didn’t die of over-drinking, which is what you would’ve expected. No, it’s the stuff they drank that bought them a one-way ticket to Hell. It’s some sort of hawthorn potion called Boyarishnik (literally: ‘hawthorn’), used for cleaning bathrooms. Something like a liquid lotion. There were three-score fatally affected within a single day. 7 somehow survived – according to the local doc, the reason is they had consummated the potion with potatoes and some soda beverage. The rest had ignored this tiny detail, so they had had at it in full-force without any meal. They gulped the Boyarishnik, and soon they relocated to the netherworld.

If there’s one place such weirdness is seen as the norm, it’s certainly the vastness that is Russia. NTV reported that 33 had died on the spot, another 17 had woken from their coma just for a short while, only to report about the circumstances of the incident… and still another 2 were found dead in the… wait for it… collector tanks of the local heating company?!

Oh, by the way, this massive intoxication happened in the Novo-Lenino residential area of Irkutsk. Those who managed to testify said they had all drunken from the hawthorn concentrate, even though they had clearly read the label, saying it shouldn’t be consumed. Apart from the classical ethanol alcohol, there was also methanol (poison), and antifreeze in the mix. Soviet innovation, you know.

The ensuing investigation found thousands of bottles of the potion in the vicinity, so Irkutsk now has an all-round ban on selling any liquids, even ones with the tiniest possibility of containing alcohol. A similar thing happened about a month ago in neighboring town Sayansk, except back then the scandal was somehow covered up because of the relatively “small” number of casualties.

Now after the fact, the Russian media report on the fact that this sort of alcohol substitute has been quite popular among Russians because of the lower price compared to real alcohol. The deeper the economic crisis gets, the more rampant this problem becomes. In this sense, the prevalence of fake-alcohol intoxication is a fine indicator for the real economic state of affairs in Russia. In 2010-2014 for example, such drinks had killed 45,000 people in Russia. This, within half a decade. Seems like Russians don’t really need wars or terrorism to threaten them – they’re already losing entire cities worth of population to bad alcohol on an annual basis.

But let’s face it. Despite the localized, temporary measures, nobody is able to stop Russians from passionately loving alcohol. Just try to ban it nationwide, and you’ve got a revolution on your hands. And because legal alcohol is expensive, and they can’t stop drinking, they come up with all sorts of ingenuous alternatives. In October, the town of Kaluga witnessed a huge scandal, because suddenly a street vending machine popped up in the city center, where one could buy thornapple tincture for 20 roubles (30 euro-cents). Without any regulation or oversight. One could drop a coin, get a 100 g bathroom-washing chemical containing some alcohol, then drink it. Needless to say, a long line immediately formed behind this machine, dead-drunk folks queueing all day for the elixir of oblivion. This caused quite some outcry.

Then there was a similar vending machine in Chita in the Far East. This new fad spread so widely, federal MP Nikolai Govorin proposed a bill banning alcohol vending machines altogether, plus forceful court-imposed rehabilitation for alcoholics. On top of that, PM Dmitry Medvedev has now officially commented on the Irkutsk tragedy, finally recognizing it as “a grave problem”, and the illegal alcohol trade as “a national-security threat”.

He’s very correct, of course. Russia don’t need no Chechens, Taliban, Ukrainians, Americans, sorosoids or Europeans. The real threat to Russia is this innocent liquid called alcohol, which keeps decimating the Broad Russian Soul at the rate the Mongols did: low-quality alcohol, fake methyl alcohol, lotions, perfumes or dish-washing liquids, you name it. Turns out, as soon as the Russian sniffs alcohol, all national security goes down the sink. Literally. So, don’t be tellin’ me nuffin’ about no Russian hackers tilting US elections for Trump or anything like that! That wouldn’t make any sense – not in a country where you’d hardly find enough sober people to do a job so specific and sophisticated.

An old acquaintance of mine once used to work in Siberia for a few years. Bulgarians mostly used to work in the Republic of Komi during commie times, near the Urals. You make good money there, which you don’t have where to spend – and alcohol becomes your regular companion in those frozen forests. So he spent a couple years in Syktyvkar. He came back a complete Russian-style drunkard, but at his rare times of sobriety he used to say, “I saw such wonders there that I can’t find the words to describe – but at some point it would all sink into an alcoholic haze for me, when the vodka took over. Down and down you spiral, until it all merges into a blur. Even the Mariana Trench has been better explored than the drunken Russian!” At some point he went back to Russia (this time Moscow). Not because he needed the money, but because he “couldn’t drink here as much as he wanted” (and mind you, I’m talking of Bulgaria here!) In a few months, the terrible news came that he had been found frozen to death in a ditch, a couple blocks away from his home – a half-empty vodka bottle in hand, a smaller one in the pocket of his coat.

That was a long time ago. Communism may’ve fallen since then, but the Russian’s love for alcohol hasn’t faltered even one bit in the meantime. Hackers, terrorists, and national security? Pfeh! Those are a joke. Just give’m vodka, hawthorn concentrate and bathroom-washing lotion, sit back, and watch!

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