Riga set to ban night-time sale of alcohol

  • 2002-01-24
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - Riga City Council is set to follow the example set by some rural towns and prohibit alcohol sales during the night. But Latvia's problems of chronic alcoholism may not be so easily solved; car owners will simply drive on to the next town when they feel like a nightcap.

Andrejs Vilks, chairman of the council's security and ordinance committee, told The Baltic Times he was confident these new sales restrictions would go through in March.

"The trade in alcohol should be banned for retailers from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., except for bars, cafés and restaurants during their opening hours," Vilks said. "We're still discussing what to do about nightclubs and gambling halls."

Meanwhile, Peteris Apinis, a Latvian MP, said the new draft regulations foresee tougher restrictions for beer with an alcohol content of more than 1.4 percent.

"This will also improve the quality of beer in Latvia," he said, and added he did not approve of alcohol being sold in roadside gas stations.

Beer is currently not viewed by Latvian legislation as alcohol. It is therefore sold as a food product.

"We want the supply of alcohol to be reduced, and consequently the consumption and the negative effects that inevitably follow," the committee chairman said. "All society should help in the battle against alcoholism. It affects everyone. The government and municipalities cannot do it by themselves. It is, after all, an individual choice to consume alcohol."

Should this attitude among officials prevail, the country's biggest brewery, Aldaris, knows it is in for some rough times.

"Of course, such legislation will have a negative impact on the future development of Aldaris. We do understand the problem of alcoholism, and we need to solve it using legal mechanisms in dialogue with the government, non-governmental organizations and business organizations," said Elina Jankovska, a spokeswoman for Aldaris.

"We doubt that prohibiting the night-time trade of strong alcohol, and possibly beer, is the best method to solve social and economic questions. We have to figure out the reasons for them, not only the consequences."

Jankovska added that the brewery is well aware of Latvia's uncomplimentary situation compared to European Union member states, where beer and wine consumption dominates. In Latvia it is often the sale of homemade alcohol.

"It looks like the prohibition of trade is a popularized method, escaping the essence of problems such as preventing poor-quality products from appearing, raising the social responsibility of producers and, most of all, helping us fight against illegal alcohol uncontrolled by the state."

Since Nov. 11, 1999, only cafés, restaurants, nightclubs and bars have been allowed to sell alcohol around the clock in the town of Jelgava, southwest of Riga. Regular stores must close sales between midnight and 7 a.m.

"We keep alcohol sales restricted in order to fight alcoholism. But people with cars drive to nearby villages and buy their liquor anyway," said Jelgava City Council spokeswoman Baiba Pusinska.

She said the municipality is focusing on preventing people from taking to the bottle.

"Our prevention work is very good. This is where we put our focus - prevention. We educate our teachers and students in various programs against drugs and alcohol," she said. "Young people need hobbies, so they won't have time for drinking or taking drugs."

Other cities like Olaine and Valmiera have a similar alcohol trade ban in force at night.