Dry nights ahead for Lviv drinkers New local regulations will ban all over-the-counter alcohol sales after 10pm
In a bid to combat a rising tide of alcoholically fuelled anti-social behaviour in the city, the Lviv authorities recently unveiled new regulations restricting the sale of alcohol from 22.00 until 10.00 daily. The new regulations, which will not affect licensed premises such as bars and restaurants but will instead target kiosks, convenience stores and supermarkets, are part of broader efforts in Lviv to address the problem of alcohol abuse and make the city a more pleasant place to be at night. Retailers have promised to challenge the legality of the new regulations in the courts, but the move has been warmly received by cultural figures and tourism sector representatives who see it as a civilizing step towards modern European norms.
“Young people will drink less. Now every Lviv teenager will know that after 22.00 he will not be able to buy anything more to drink and will go home instead,” commented Lviv Oblast police department spokesman Igor Kravchuk. He explained the need for more stringent conditions regarding the availability of alcohol by pointing to some depressing statistics: Since the start of the year Lviv police have recorded 9399 incidents of drunken young people or those caught drinking alcohol in public places. 850 teenagers have been detained for late night drunkenness while 15 teenagers have been convicted of serious crimes while drunk. These statistics, police officials argue, point to the need to place limits on the availability of alcohol. Officers have cited 24 hour sales as a key factor fuelling anti-social behaviour and excesses.
Rogue sellers risk losing license
Many Lviv residents were initially skeptical that the new regulations would have an impact on drinking habits. “If alcohol sales are banned after 22.00 then the majority of young people will just make sure that they have purchased their drinks beforehand. The show must go on,” joked 21 year old Lviv student Pavlik. Others predicted the rise of illicit sales both from stores willing to break the curfew and black market sources. Police officials promised to keep a close eye on the market and come down hard on repeat offenders — outlets caught selling alcohol after 22.00 will face fines and the confiscation of produce, while serial after-hours sellers could lose their alcohol sales licenses. Lviv’s entrepreneurs responded cautiously to the news, questioning why the business community had not been more closely consulted in the planning stages of the initiative. The Lviv authorities reportedly spoke to representatives from local church groups and law enforcement officials, but according to some in the business community nobody thought to address them. Zinoviy Bermes, the Chairman of the Lviv Association of Employers, was quoted in Germany’s Deutsche Welle as saying that the authorities had effectively violated market regulatory procedures with their new regulations. There was no advance publication of the draft plan or public hearings where commercial concerns might have been addressed, Mr. Bermes complained. He added that many felt the selective nature of the new rules – which prohibit shops from sales but allow restaurants and nightclubs to continue operating as usual after 22.00 – was inherently nfair. “At the moment we are receiving complaints from small businesses and big supermarkets alike, all of whom want to know why their rights are being violated even though they purchased all the relevant licenses and documents,” he concluded. Meanwhile, restaurant owners are not as yet experiencing a boom in post-22.00 revelers looking for a place to continue drinking. Officials from Lviv’s Guild of Restaurateurs stated that they did not expect the new ruling to have a major impact on local drinking culture or the restaurant trade in general as most of those who relied on kiosks and
supermarkets for their drinking needs were part of a different demographic to the usual restaurant clientele.
A long history of heavy drinking
This is not the first time that the authorities in this part of the world have attempted to confront the negative impact of the legendary Slavic taste for strong liqueur. Similar nocturnal bans on alcohol sales have recently come into place in Moscow and are currently being considered in a number of other Russian and Ukrainian cities. Such moves are broadly popular in post-Soviet society, which has been ravaged by rampant alcoholism since the collapse of the USSR. The epidemic of alcoholism which has swept the former Soviet empire since its collapse has been widely cited as a key factor in the plummeting life expectancy of post-Soviet males, which in Russia has actually fallen below the 60 year mark. Tens of thousands of deaths annually are attributed to alcohol, while the region’s appalling domestic abuse statistics are also thought to be closely tied to a culture of alcohol abuse which all too often leads to spousal abuse and broken homes.
Alcohol has always played a big part in every aspect of Slavic life — in fact one of the earliest surviving documents we have detailing ancient Slavic civilization outlines this passion for intoxication in graphic and geopolitically important terms. Ancient chronicles recount how in the tenth century Kyiv’s Prince Volodymyr the Great, when faced with the challenge of choosing a monotheistic religion for his people, effectively dismissed Islam due to its prohibition of alcoholic intoxication, thereby making a decision which would come to mark the boundaries of Islamic expansion into northern Eurasia. “Wine is the joy of the Rus, and we cannot live without it,” he is reputed to have uttered when told of the requirements of the Muslim faith. This passion for alcohol has remained a prominent feature of local culture and folklore ever since — throughout the Tsarist era vodka distilleries accounted for a huge slice of state revenues, while the hectic modern- day schedule of annual feast days and holidays is also a vestige of this cultural preponderance towards regular alcoholic excesses.
Gorbachev’s disastrous prohibition
At various times throughout the Soviet period attempts were made to curb these excesses, with one particularly famous propaganda poster featuring a handsome Soviet male declining a glass of vodka one of the most popular pieces of kitsch art decorating expat apartments throughout the former Soviet Union. The biggest government drive to cut down on Soviet drinking occurred in the early days of Mikhail Gorbachev’s period in power. In 1985 one of General Secretary Gorbachev’s first steps in power was to launch a nationwide campaign against alcohol abuse which involved the rationing of vodka alongside public awareness efforts to make drunkenness less socially acceptable. The initiative was largely abandoned within a year after it led to a sharp rise in deaths from consumption of alcoholbased industrial liquids and deadly home brews, but not before it had also resulted in the uprooting of ancient vineyards throughout the Carpathian region and Crimea. Many post-Soviet wine lovers continue to bemoan the loss of these ancient vineyards — the lost Crimean vines in particular were thought to have been producing grape since ancient Greek times and their destruction has come to be seen as one more black mark against Gorbachev. The experience of the Gorbachev years, together with more recent efforts to decrease alcohol abuse by pushing up prices, have led many to predict that any new restrictions on sales will lead to a sharp rise in both a thriving black market in unlicensed products and homemade spirits – known locally as ‘Samohon’. The distilling of strong homemade liqueur is something of a local art in which many Ukrainians pride themselves, but it can be a deadly business which is thought to be behind large numbers of fatalities and other health concerns. A growing black market would also expose more drinkers to unregulated and often counterfeit goods – which can also be deadly. Efforts to make Lviv a safer and more pleasant place will be applauded by everyone in the tourism sector, but if the authorities are also serious about fighting back against the alcohol problems of modern Leopolitan society then they will have to confront the illegal trade in alcohol and also move to prosecute those producing their own bathtub vodka. This may prove more of a challenge to contain, leading to a rise in alcohol poisoning and related conditions, but the new restrictions on over-the-counter sales will at least send out a strong message that alcohol abuse will no longer be tolerated on the evening streets of Ukraine’s cultural capital.