As of this year, sobering stations have officially reopened in Russia. After several years of “alcohol freedom,” the government is concerned about the safety of people who have got drunk too much. According to the authorities, it is in winter that the risks for drunk people are the highest.
However, it might be a stretching point to say that the decision indeed takes care of people with an inclination for drinking. A relevant law, for example, came into force on January 1. It will take time to restart operations of full-fledged sobering stations that closed down across Russia on January 1, 2012. All the more so because now the government agencies will be partnering with some private investors to run these facilities. Taking into account that almost half of January is a holiday time and that these private investors need time to get started and arrange the medical sobering facilities, there is no question of saving drunken people from freezing to death in winter. Most probably, the system will be fully back on track by public holidays in May. In this case, the sobering stations will be functioning more smoothly, i.e. more profitably.
Yet first things first. The bill was submitted to the State Duma back in May 2019. After a long passage through all the "law-making ordeals" it first was promptly passed by the Duma in December 2020, although there were long breaks between discussions on it. Then it was signed by Vladimir Putin on December 29, and on the same day it was published.
Justifying the need for the law, its authors explained that "more than 50,000 Russians, mostly of working age, die annually due to alcohol intoxication. A total of 8,000-10,000 people die from hypothermia on the streets.
In addition, once on the street in a helpless state, these residents often become victims of various accidents.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as part of the preventive work carried out by patrol police squads in the 12 months of 2018, over 1 mln intoxicated people were detected in public places. Among them there were 180,000 people who had lost their ability to move or think straight.
In turn, these circumstances influence the general trend towards an increase in crimes committed by zonked people. In particular, the number of crimes committed in a state of alcoholic intoxication increased by 34.9% from 2011 to 2018. There were 352,062 crimes in 2017 and 326,269 crimes in 2018, respectively, 36.4% and 35% of the total number of offenses.
In other words, "a full package of humaneness", followed by bewilderment over the financial provision of that very humaneness. Thus, for example, the explanatory memorandum is quite detailed as to who has to eventually "pay for the banquet," as the Russian saying goes. The leitmotif of this explanation looks something like this – "Well, who will pay?" Moreover, the healthcare workers entrusted with the mission of "examining" the drunkards were again mentioned. They are hardly really interested in taking care of drunkards especially since they were credited with this duty "honorary" in 1990s without any additional payment or help from law-enforcement authorities.
In the end, private investors have to pay for “prolific drinkers.” This fact was enshrined in the law. The idea is that these investors would first invest in creating these medical sobering stations, and then they would get a guaranteed profit.
The scheme seems reasonable. However, the "human factor" intervenes again. The law "On Amending Article 13 of the Federal Law "On Police" will be used to identify people who are lost or who pose danger to themselves and others. Patrol policemen, in other words, those who have no education but have "strong career aspirations and proactive attitude" and, therefore, motivation for career advancement will be used to identify them.
In this case, as one Interior Ministry officials told wek.ru, the issue of "freezing on the streets" will not be solved but the problem of policemen bleeding the drunken dry will appear again.
"It's impossible to watch for everyone," the officer told wek.ru. "The same thing will happen again as it did before. A slightly drunken person will become a coveted and legal prey for the patrol officers. They will hardly notice a drunken vagabond. Chances are they will let him freeze to death. However, they are likely to stop a drunken well-dressed man on quite legal grounds. Police would keep him detained until he pays them to get free. Moreover, as I understand it, there are no sober stations yet and they would have a free hand to take the man by car from one place to another or make him or her walk around with them. And even when the stations are built, little will change. A drunken person will not be able to judge adequately what has been taken away from him or her. Maybe, he lost his money and valuables in a pub or on the street. Or maybe the cops took it away. It is impossible to prove anything. That is why drunken people are the favorite clients for everyone – for robbers, swindlers and, unfortunately, policemen too."
This viewpoint is corroborated by the publicized story at Zhdanovskaya metro station (now Vykhino) in Moscow where in the 1980s a drunken KGB officer who fell asleep was robbed and killed by the duty police officers. This incident prompted a behind-the-scenes war between the KGB and the Interior Ministry. In fact, it ended with the change of power in the USSR. Yuri Andropov, the head of the KGB, came to power in the country. Then he handed it over to Mikhail Gorbachev, and the end of this reshuffle is common knowledge.
However, this is a general description. To be more precise, some doctors are against the old order turned new one.
"Yes, there are always issues with drunken people", says Zinoviy Mirskiy, a former ambulance doctor, "but there were more problems with the cops. Sometimes we refused to accept a man from them because he had been beaten up and robbed, and before us the cops had dealt with him. The situations in the medical sobering stations... They were the cops’ fiefdoms. They did there whatever they wanted. I don't know a single person who came out of there with money still in the wallet. Mostly, the man’s pockets would be emptied and he would be really lucky if he had fallen asleep straight away and had not been clubbed.”
Taxi driver Ravshan Abdullayev agrees with Mirskiy. He believes that the law might lead to law enforcement officers cleaning people out on the street without sending them to the detox facility.
"I used to carry a lot of drunken persons," he told wek.ru. "I was an unlicensed taxi driver back when our market was not like it is now. Drunks were problematic but profitable customers. Yes, I charged them a lot but I drove them home. To the doorway. I was sure that my passengers would get home. In winter, I sometimes carried them for free and covered my losses on other, richer customers, but saved them from freezing to death on the street. That is how the new law would have stated it. What’s the need in sober stations? Let the police take people home and charge them fines "for services." Let them make pay the fare and a fee for distracting cops from their work. This person will pay later, but he or she will be home. And no stations will be needed."
Let’s take a look at the financial component of the law. It is assumed that the base rate for the services of the medical stations will be 1,500 rubles ($20.27.) However, this is, as they say, "an ideal situation." In fact, each region has the right to introduce its own cost of "service." In the USSR, when a resident was put in a medical station, a report was drawn up and sent to his or her place of work. After three such acts the person had register with a special outpatient clinic for abusers. In reality, nothing of the kind happened. The person just got into the station, greased the right people, and the 'stinking letter' wouldn’t be posted.
The situation has changed these days. Far fewer people are afraid of such 'letter of happiness.' That is why there will be no reports to their employers. Most likely, if this system does become viable, there will be an increase in the rates of payment for the services of a sobering station. A private investor is a businessman in the first place and then a 'person feeling empathy.' An investor needs to get back the money they have spent as soon as possible in order to make a profit afterwards.
That, firstly. Secondly, we have the State Duma election coming up. It is safe to say that even the most "progressive" crowd will certainly include a certain percentage of tipsy people. It is an axiom. That's yet another reason to detain people and send them to jail. The law enforcers will not be running around with breathalyzers during possible protests. Moreover, the law allows them to determine the degree of intoxication "by eye." They might even arrest the protesters on plausible pretext, give them a fine and then publish the data on how many of them were drunk. What an excellent idea! Pinning labels to people is a tradition in Russia, and that’s common knowledge.
Finally, the icing on the cake. If the government does not have time to convince the investors, the investors will not have time to equip the medical facilities in the next one or two months. One month has already passed. By the time, the investors will manage to do it, the public holidays in May will start and then the summer with barbeque and liquors will come. Chances are there will be no 'snowdrops' [the bodies of those who died of frost in winter and are found after the snow melts] for you. It is an exceptional time to make money on the Russians who get fun in the sweat of their brows.