Today brought another blow for the Soviet Union's harried drinkers. After standing one, even two hours in a line to buy from a dwindling supply of vodka, they got to the counter to find that the price had gone up by more than 25 percent.
The campaign against alcoholism, launched in June, has entered a stage that threatens to frazzle the nerves of Russians who at first approved of the crackdown but now find it cutting into their personal lives.
Today's newspapers carried an announcement that the price of a typical pint of vodka would be the ruble equivalent of $6.80, an increase of $1.75. Similarly, prices rose for wines and beer.
The price increases were accompanied by news from the Ministry of Food Industry that a majority of distilleries would be closed or diverted to food production. It said that in Moscow, champagne makers were working at 20 percent of capacity, while sales of beer were down 25 percent.
To people who have watched the lines at the liquor counters snake through food stores and onto the streets, the revelation that alcohol is harder to buy comes as no surprise. As a hot spell settled over Moscow this August, sober people buying a bottle of wine or vodka for a weekend party could be heard to grumble that they were being penalized because other people drank too much.
"I had to wait two hours in line to buy vodka to take to my father at the dacha," said one woman. "Two hours -- for what? What are we supposed to do? Serve tea?"
Few Muscovites would deny that drinking had been getting out of hand in the Soviet Union and was hurting the economy. In that sense, new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's antidrinking initiative, his first major campaign, met with approval.
But lately there have barbed comments about "Lemonade Joe," a nickname for Gorbachev, who reportedly is a teetotaler. Some people also have joked that his title as Communist Party general secretary should been amended to "mineral" secretary, because of the new push to drink bottled water.
Still, the papers and television continue on the antialcohol campaign, pouring out accounts of medical and genetic deformities, social deterioration and criminal activity as consequences of drunkenness, while pumping the virtues of wineless weddings and alcohol-free drinks.
Under the new rules, no alcoholic beverages can be sold or served before 2 p.m. The number of restaurants in Moscow serving drinks has been cut to 97 from 600.
Arrests for public drinking are up. Vodka and other hard liquors have been swept from the tables at official banquets. To help push sobriety, the government has lowered the price of fruit juices. Fruit-juice stands have proliferated, offering solace in the current hot weather.
While sales of alcohol have gone down, alcoholics have taken to drinking perfume and industrial fluids, increasing cases of poisoning, a newspaper said yesterday.
Moscow's rumor mill had anticipated today's price. Last week, people stood in line for as long as two hours to buy bags and boxes of bottles. This, plus the cut in production, has depleted the store shelves. Today, at one usually well-stocked store, the only vodkas available were Polish, at $9, or deluxe Soviet lines starting at about $15.