Temperance movement

Image - A sign on the monument dedicated to the temperance monument in Bilky, Transcarpathia.

Temperance movement. An organized effort to secure complete abstention from alcoholic beverages or to ensure moderation in their use. The late 18th and early 19th centuries witnessed an increasing interest in North America and Europe in problems connected with the abuse of alcohol. Moves to promote temperance spread from the United States to Ireland, where the earliest temperance organization in Europe was founded in 1818. It and other temperance societies provided models for subsequent Ukrainian activities. Their characteristic features included the identification of distilled spirits as a prime enemy and the voluntary pledging of temperance or abstinence by members. Leadership was usually provided by the clergy.

Western Ukraine. The earliest Ukrainian temperance movement was begun in Galicia in the 1840s. Modeled on Irish temperance missions and societies, it was part of a wider sobriety campaign supported by the Catholic church in many parts of Europe. The sobriety movement of the 1840s was under the patronage of the governor of Galicia and had the full support of Metropolitan Mykhailo Levytsky. Many village and town sobriety brotherhoods were formed at that time, their purpose more to foster moderation than to bring about abstinence. By the 1850s, however, the movement had faltered.

The impetus for the movement's revival was provided by the publication in 1869 of Rev Stepan Kachala's pamphlet Shcho nas hubyt’ i shcho nam pomochy mozhe (What Is Destroying Us and What Can Help Us) and by two pastoral letters from Metropolitan Yosyf Sembratovych in 1874 on the harmful effects of alcohol and the need for sobriety missions. Priests began to encourage temperance from their pulpits, and the best orators from among the clergy went among the general population and proclaimed the sobriety message. Their activity gave rise to an upsurge in missions, the goal of which was the establishment of sobriety brotherhoods. Those largely religious events tended to follow a definite pattern. They lasted several days and included religious services, special homilies rich in appropriate imagery, and prayers led by the most talented missionary priests. The focal moment was the taking of the vow to abstain from alcohol or from the use of distilled spirits. Total abstinence was usually the goal in the 1870s and 1880s. People who took the vow solemnly signed their names (or made their marks) in a ‘golden book.’ The statute of the brotherhood was then read. Typically that document would give the name of the brotherhood and of the parish with which it was connected, and stipulate the need for a monthly brotherhood service and a festive but nonalcoholic brotherhood celebration every six months. Between the monthly services each member was to observe the behavior of the others and to encourage them to keep to their oaths. A prayer for the brotherhood ended the mission. Special crosses were often erected afterward to commemorate sobriety missions. The Prosvita society and the Kachkovsky society contributed further to the spread of sobriety through the provision of temperance literature and the engagement of occasional speakers on the topic.

The Greek Catholic church wished to retain control over the temperance movement in eastern Galicia. In 1886 the consistory systematized the operations of church sobriety brotherhoods, which were required to send periodic reports to a special consistory commission. In 1895 a pastoral letter of Metropolitan Sylvestr Sembratovych reformulated the regulations for the brotherhoods: the priest was the true head of each brotherhood, and only he had the right to accept new members into it; vows were to be binding either for life or for a specified period; breaking a vow was a venial, not a mortal, sin and could be cause for expulsion from the brotherhood; except for those on military service, release from vows could be obtained only from the ordinariate; drinking distilled spirits for medicinal purposes was permitted; and there were to be special certificates and prayers for members of such ‘canonical’ brotherhoods.

There are many indications that the temperance movement of the 1870s and 1880s was effective. The fact that women were permitted to join the sobriety brotherhoods may well have boosted their prospects. By 1888 three-quarters of all Greek Catholic parishes in Galicia had temperance brotherhoods. In some instances membership was very large, and even encompassed all the adults in a community. The Terebovlia deanery alone had 13,353 members. The number of taverns decreased. Some brotherhoods forswore alcohol altogether; in others the vow specified distilled spirits, and the people drank beer, mead, and homemade fruit wines, or tea with rum, instead of vodka. In 1894 Prof N. Cybulski of Cracow University concluded that there had been a definite decline in the consumption of vodka, and that in some counties of eastern Galicia one-third or even one-half of the people did not drink vodka at all.

The number of church-related sobriety brotherhoods remained fairly constant into the 20th century. Not until after Galicia fell under the rule of the new Polish state were the ties with the church markedly weakened. New secular temperance associations emerged in the 1920s. The most prominent was the Vidrodzhennia temperance society, headed by the physician and writer S. Parfanovych in the later 1920s. Intellectual leaders and students contributed significantly to the interwar temperance campaigns by encouraging thrift and highlighting the amounts of money spent on alcohol as well as promoting the playing of sports as a substitute for drinking. For reasons that are not entirely clear the campaigns were not as effective as those prior to the First World War.

Central and eastern Ukraine. A widespread temperance movement never developed in Russian-ruled Ukraine, and those efforts that existed were usually either localized or part of a broader campaign in the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union. In the mid-19th century the Europe-wide temperance movement began to have a minor influence in Ukraine, where it resulted in the establishment of some private, church-supported sobriety brotherhoods. Particularly from the 1870s on, the drinking of tea instead of vodka was encouraged by concerned private citizens. Not until excessive drinking by the working population of the empire had started to become an obvious impediment to industrial development did the imperial government begin to concern itself with temperance, in the 1890s. A state monopoly on liquor production and sale was proclaimed in 1894; by 1901 it was in force throughout the empire, including Ukrainian lands. The government also gave financial support to temperance societies called Wardens of Public Sobriety. Those efforts, however, failed to produce a decline in the per capita consumption of alcohol.

In 1897 a group of medical and social scientists in Saint Petersburg, concerned with problems stemming from the overconsumption of alcohol, founded the Russian Society for the Protection of Public Health. The society provided a focal point for the establishment of the special Commission on the Question of Alcoholism, the printing of the periodical Trezvost’ i berezhlivost’, and petitions to the government for socioeconomic reforms to combat drunkenness. In turn, the government established a department in the Ministry of Finance popularly known as the Guardianship of Public Sobriety, which was largely ineffectual and was regarded as suspect by the general public. An Anti-Alcohol Commission was established by the First State Duma. Partly because of differences in approach between scientists and politicians no effective temperance legislation was enacted. The scientists convened a national congress in Saint Petersburg in December 1909, to which reform-minded persons (but no government representatives) were invited. Although the congress drew attention to much-needed reforms in housing, education, and labor conditions, the government in 1912 proceeded with restrictive legislation that aimed to reduce production and increase the price of alcohol. From 1911 on, however, the tsarist authorities provided some financial assistance to certain temperance activities, especially those supported by the Holy Synod and the Ministry of Public Education. Existing church temperance societies were reorganized and expanded. With the outbreak of the First Worl War in 1914, total prohibition was introduced, initially for the period of mobilization, but soon it was extended for the duration of the war. In theory the measure brought compulsory temperance to all lands in the Russian Empire, but it is clear that from 1915 on there was much illicit drinking.

The Soviet period. In 1918 the Bolshevik regime established a ban on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. The prohibition was difficult to enforce. New measures in 1925 reintroduced a state monopoly on the production and sale of alcohol. The All-Union Council of Anti-Alcohol Societies co-ordinated temperance activities in the Soviet Union until it was disbanded in 1930. Women's groups also organized lectures on the harmful effects of alcohol during the 1920s. From 1930 until 1971 state and party bodies, and state medical personnel, were responsible for anti-alcohol propaganda. Cultural-educational measures were undertaken, without any obvious central co-ordination, by workers' clubs, reading halls, women's groups, the Communist Youth League, and the media.

Alcohol consumption increased after 1945, and there was an attendant rise in alcohol-related illness, birth defects, deaths, and crime and a lowering of labor productivity, all of which drew attention again to the need for enhanced temperance activities. A decree of the Supreme Soviet in 1972 to combat drunkenness produced little change. By 1980 it was estimated that each person over the age of 15 in the Soviet Union consumed, on average, 16–17 l of pure alcohol annually. Two Communist Party of the Soviet Union general secretaries, Yurii Andropov and Mikhail Gorbachev, demonstrated considerable concern about alcohol abuse. Gorbachev's efforts had their counterpart in the Ukrainian SSR with the 1985 decree ‘On Measures to Step Up the Struggle against Drunkenness and Alcoholism and to Eradicate Home Brewing.’ It was a serious anti-alcohol campaign, in which leading roles in promoting temperance and abstention were to be played by Communist party and Communist Youth League members, who were also to serve as examples to others. An All-Union Voluntary Temperance society was created; it had its own press organ, Trezvost’ i kul’tura (Sobriety and Culture), the first issue of which appeared in January 1986. Reduced production of alcohol, restrictions on its sale, and educational and preventative programs were other aspects of the government-initiated temperance campaign. From the state's point of view the results were disappointing, for there was widespread resentment, passive resistance, and a significant increase in home distilling. In 1989 the campaign was quietly and unofficially brought to an end.

Bryk, I.; Kotsiuba, M. (eds). Pershyi ukraïns’kyi pros’vitno-ekonomichnyi kongres (Lviv 1910)
Reid, C.V. Soviet Social Reform in the 1980s: The Anti-Alcohol Campaign as Antidote for a Flagging Economy (Ottawa 1986)
Savchuk, B. Korchma: Al’kohol’na polityka i rukh tverezosti v Zakhidnii Ukraïni u XIX–30-kh rokakh XX st. (Ivano-Frankivsk 2001)

Stella Hryniuk

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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