Katactpodpa!* (*Catastrophe!): Russians run out of booze


By Andrew Osborn in Moscow 
Published: 09 July 2006 

http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article1168235.ece

Buying a bottle of whisky in Moscow has become mission
impossible. Shelves once full of imported wine,
increasingly popular in the booming capital, have been
swept clear. Could vodka, Russia's national drink, be
next? 

Famed for their hard drinking, Russians are facing the
country's most serious alcohol shortage in 20 years.
Not since Mikhail Gorbachev, then Soviet president,
tried to crack down on alcoholism by curbing vodka
sales has there been such a crisis.

This time the drought is not the result of an
anti-alcohol campaign, but of a bureaucratic bungle
worthy of the most benighted Communist official. The
aim was to stamp out fraudulently labelled bootleg
alcohol, which can poison or even kill the unlucky
consumer, but far-reaching measures against
counterfeiting have had all kinds of unforeseen
effects.

A date that has come to be known as "Black Saturday",
1 July, was the deadline for introducing new barcoded
excise labels for all imported alcohol, and for
including them in a new electronic database and
tracking system. But nobody, from the Federal Customs
Service to alcohol producers and off-licence
operators, appears to have been prepared.

In the tradition of Soviet absurdism, most retailers
were not issued with the new excise labels. The result
was that they had to sell off all their foreign wines
and spirits at bargain prices before the end of June,
or simply send the booze back to the warehouse. Apart
from vodka, almost all wines and spirits that are fit
to drink come from outside Russia; the only
alternatives are sparkling white wines from the south
of the country or cheap, locally-produced beer, which
is looked upon here as a soft drink.

Supermarkets have taken to filling the space
previously occupied by whisky, gin, tequila and French
and Australian wines with their traditional
accompaniments, tubes of crisps and packets of
peanuts, which is simply exacerbating the frustration.

Moscow's best restaurants, which add huge mark-ups to
the vintage wines they serve to oligarchs, now
shamefacedly refuse to hand customers a wine list,
because almost nothing on it is available.

Natasha Dyachenko, a 25-year-old Moscow sales
executive, thinks the chinovniki (officials) are to
blame for the foul-up. "We don't have a prohibition on
drinking, so why is this happening?" she demanded. "If
they wanted to get rid of counterfeit products, they
should have done so in a competent fashion, not like
this."

It could be three months before the authorities get
their act together, according to industry insiders -
and by then vodka could be becoming hard to find.
Production of the spirit slumped by 20 per cent in the
first half of this year, and there are long delays in
getting supplies to retailers, thanks to the same
problem-plagued electronic tracking system.

The only people who are pleased are health officials,
who have been battling, mostly unsuccessfully, for
years to persuade Russians to moderate their drinking
habits. Alcoholism is blamed for the country's low
life expectancy, which is only 59 for Russian men. 








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