The prevalence of drunkenness in Russia is often dismissed as cliché— a cultural quirk of little political significance. But just as vodka plays a central role in Russian society, so too is it central to understanding Russian history and politics.

Mark Lawrence Schrad explains how the persistence of Russia’s alcohol problem is not an ethnic or genetic trait, but rather the consequence of a remarkably enduring Russian political arrangement that built the institutions of autocracy atop a cornerstone of vodka.

Viewing Russian history through the bottom of the bottle helps us to understand why the “liquor question” remains an important issue in Russian high politics even today—almost a century after the issue has been put to bed in virtually every other modern state. Indeed, coming to terms with vodka’s devastating consequences will be the single greatest political challenge for this generation of Russia’s leadership, as well as the next.



  • Mark Schrad

    Assistant Professor of Political Science, Villanova University