Estonians told they drink too much

  • 2001-05-17
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - The Estonian president broke the news in his Mother's Day speech in Tallinn on May 13 that Estonia is the number one consumer of alcohol in the world. According to Karin Piir, the president's spokeswoman, the data for the speech was presented to Meri by Tartu University professor Atko-Meeme Viru.

"What is worse is that the evil born in the economic misery of communism has been handed down to our children. About 24 percent of Estonian boys and 10 percent of girls have been drunk at least once by the time they are 13," said Meri.

The president asked the Estonian people to have more responsibility in the name of future generations, and added that 2,300 people die annually as a result of injuries, accidents and violence, 60 percent of which result from alcohol, and that 269 people died last year directly because they drank too much alcohol.

Viru, professor emeritus at Tartu University and doctor of biology, told The Baltic Times that the data on the level of alcohol consumption in Estonia for the president's speech was based on material from two international conferences that took place in Syracuse, U.S.A., and Stockholm, Sweden, last year.

He added that he had no idea where the information for the conferences was initially taken from, but that part of it originated from The Globe magazine.

According to Viru, the data on alcohol-related accidents and poisonings also mentioned by Meri were collected by Enno Kross, a neurology professor and former employee of Tartu University, from various statistics sheets.

"It is clear we should not hush up the problem, but rather handle it as a matter of national concern," said Viru.

A possible way out would be the creation of different attitudes toward alcohol, Viru suggested. "People should realize drinking is evil."

In the 1930s, Estonians drank half the amount they do today, noted Viru.

"At that time sobriety was more valued. Even in the mid-1980s the average Estonian consumed nine liters of alcohol per year, and now this number has risen to 14 liters," he said.

According to Viru, in Europe the annual consumption of alcohol (in the sense of pure alcohol or spirit) decreased from about 12 liters per adult annually between 1970 and 1982 to seven liters in 1996. The amount of alcohol consumption in the Middle East and east Mediterranean regions has always been close to zero, while people living in the western part of the Pacific ocean region drink more than they did 20 years ago. Statistics on the U.S.A. say Americans have been steadily consuming from six to seven liters of pure alcohol per year.

The risk group of potential alcoholics embraces over half of the Estonian population, which makes it far more dangerous to society than drugs, said Viru.

The professor links the abnormal usage of alcohol to Estonia being a Soviet republic for over 50 years.

In a related story, an Estonian man on a two-month drinking binge covering all three Baltic states stumbled into the western Lithuanian town of Plunge on May 13 and asked the police to help him get home.

Speaking broken Russian, the drunk Estonian introduced himself as 32-year-old Raivo Kannola. He told police he had misplaced his passport and could not leave Lithuania.

The Estonian said he did not remember how he came to be in Plunge, which is about 200 kilometers from Vilnius. He said he had been drinking in the Estonian city of Tartu, and then celebrated the traditional Victory Day celebrations on May 9 in Riga, Latvia.

Kannola, who claimed to have been drinking daily for two months, was moderately drunk according to breathalyzer equipment. He was placed in a temporary holding cell.

Once sober, Kannola was detained for a further 48 hours. Police sent a request to Interpol to try to establish the man's identity. Unless police hear back from Interpol within two days, the Estonian will be sent to Lithuania's Foreigners' Registration Center in Pabrade, just north of Vilnius on the border with Belarus.

The detained man admitted he had been released from jail in Estonia in January. He said he was sentenced seven times in the past for armed robbery, burglary and disorderly conduct.