Thursday, January 03, 2008

You go, Rein!

Remember the blue laws? The ban on sales of alcohol in Tallinn after 8pm?

The entire idea is now being challenged by the Justice Minister, as unconstitutional. Freedom of enterprise is protected. Alcohol is not a banned substance, so the right of local councils to restrict trade in alcohol is iffy.

The JM has made a statement to this effect to the Minister for Economic Affairs, who is none other than former PM and Res Publica leader Juhan Parts. The MEA tried to introduce a bill that would ban alcohol sales between 11pm and 8am across the country; the Justice Ministry refused to sign off on it.

Now, I have no great love for Rein Land, I think he's a bit of a blowhard. (Then again, I'm not that big a fan of Parts either.) But in this case I admire what he is doing, even if he might have an ulterior political agenda to show the IRL camp its place.

By far the biggest problem in Estonian politics today is loss of vision, drive and confidence. The fifteen-year miracle of this country was based on a shared understanding that there was a best way to do things, and this way was to give people as much freedom as reasonably possible. It was this implicit trust in competence and common sense that allowed us to pull off something which most people said could not be done - and most people in other communities still say is impossible.

Estonian politics has consolidated into a few large parties, who are trying hard to come up with an actual platform. With Rahvaliit effectively discontinued, and Keskerakond unlikely to survive the next round of elections (and flailing about in embarassing ways as a result), the two big coalition parties are trying to resort to rhetoric.

For IRL, this means suddenly remembering that they are the conservative, right-wing party. While the Isamaa bit has primarily been about patriotism, the Res Publica bit seems to have decided that now they are going to be the defenders of family values, temperance, and unless we're all very careful, God.

This is deplorable. The unique working amalgam of positions that makes Estonia what it is requires us to be conservative in economic matters, but liberal in social ones. If Res Publica are now going to go start taking pages out of the US Republican book (and all the wannabe Repubs in Canada, Australia, etc.), then Parts needs to be taken out back and given what Mr. Bridger called "a right talking to".

If Reform starts to take its formal rhetoric seriously again, that's fine; they are officially the bunch that keeps the economy running and doesn't particularly bother with third-rail type issues. I don't really believe that's going to happen, but irrespective of all that...

For Rein Lang to come out and tell Parts and the prudes to stop it, because such a restriction of free enterprise is not the Estonian way - to bring back that level of discourse - is extremely admirable, and I wish him luck in his endeavours.

(Holiday positivity bonus: more babies were born in Tartu last year than people died.)

15 comments:

Andres Sehr said...

Have to disagree with you on this case, you say alcohol is not a banned substance but it is a controlled substance. The government has placed restrictions on who can buy it (no kids) so it can place restrictions on when it can be sold (or are you for selling liquor to kids as well?).

In a country with some serious social problems, which are often a result of alcohol, I see no reason why booze needs to be sold all day. The needs of free enterprise cannot always trump the needs of the society imo.

Flasher T said...

There's a valid reason for not selling alcohol to kids: kids have far worse judgement, have a worse physiological capability to process alcohol, and it can affect their development very badly.

Even then, let's face it, there are very few kids in Estonia who haven't tried booze until their 18th birthday. Restriction is a poor tactic. My parents taught me to drink responsibly, before legal drinking age, and I'm glad they did. Would I have gotten drunk more if I had legal access to booze before 18? Yes. Would I have gotten drunk in more stupid ways if my parents hadn't showed me the difference between the good stuff and Saaremaa X? Hell yes.

Do people drink less in Tallinn because they can't buy booze in the shop after 8? According to my experience - like hell they do.

Anyway, this article isn't about alcohol, it's about political discourse. The 11pm to 8am restriction is ineffective in any case; and thus the need to readjust the terms in which our politicians think is a far more pressing need at the moment.

Giustino said...

Would you say that there is a "drunk constituency" in Estonia that needs to be catered to, Flasher?

In terms of platforms, I think, like you, that Keskerakond is in bad shape. They allegedly represent the interests of the ethnic Russian constituency, but they haven't done them any real favors.

Plus the Estonian flat tax has become something akin to the British National Health Service -- something you just don't touch.

Savisaar's antiquated progressive taxation plan just doesn't sell. He personally has lost so many battles I don't see why they don't replace him with someone while he becomes a party puppet master, ala Skele in Latvia.

I had high hopes for SDE, but I feel they pull their punches. They are still a party though, and not one centered on one personality (though I am sure they are glad THI is in Kadriorg).

I am hoping they can eat up some of Rahvaliit's support in Jõgevamaa and Põlvamaa and become a party that unites the sort of 'teine eesti' rural voters and the 'educated, young, and urban' voters of Tartu and Tallinn.

Unfortunately, even with Urve Palo, they still aren't as sexy as Rein Lang's Reformierakond.

Flasher T said...

Would you say that there is a "drunk constituency" in Estonia that needs to be catered to, Flasher?

Not as such, and certainly not on a national level. Municipal? Yeah, it's gonna come back and bite Savisaar in the ass. National? People who bother to vote tend to have a better idea of what they're after.

Andres Sehr said...

There's a valid reason for not selling alcohol to kids: kids have far worse judgement, have a worse physiological capability to process alcohol, and it can affect their development very badly.

Replace "kids" with "drunks" and you have your reason to restrict sales hours.

ailon said...

I've just finished watching Euroleague baskteball game on Viasat Sport 3 (registered in Estonia) because since January 1, 2008 new law in Lithuania prohibits advertising alcohol (even beer) on TV until 11pm and TV3 (lithuanian branch) and parlament can't agree if brewery logo on backetball player's shirt is advertising or not :)

How about this for a crazy law?

Flasher T said...

Yes, it reminds me of the situation with tobacco advertising and Formula 1. The Jordan team for example, sponsored by Benson & Hedges, would have "Buzzin' Hornets" written down the side, and then "BE ON EDGE".

Replace "kids" with "drunks" and you have your reason to restrict sales hours.

How many drunks do you know that will be seriously impeded by the sales restriction? It only affects recreational drinkers who don't have the foresight to buy early or the connection to get booze after hours.

Max said...

How many drunks do you know that will be seriously impeded by the sales restriction? It only affects recreational drinkers who don't have the foresight to buy early or the connection to get booze after hours.

So...Lang's pitching to part-time dimbulb pisstanks, as opposed to fulltime organized pisstanks... Why pitch to any of 'em at all? Maybe because Lang can't think of anything more useful to do, being a fulltime dedicated dimbulb hisself, eh? :)

Trek said...

I'm a fan of the law. Here in Tallinn it has reduced the amount of drunks hanging around on the streets at or near the liquor stores. Also, it's greatly reduced the ones stumbling around the alley behind my apartment building on the way to and from the liquor store around the corner in the evening. I haven't been hit up by a dirty sloppy drunk for a cigarette in months. They congregate together less in the areas they previously did where they would leave piles of cigarette butts and other assorted garbage. It's safer for my wife to go out in the evening alone. And I live in a relatively nice part of town, so I hope it's had similar effects in the worse parts of the city. I would imagine some alcoholics end up drinking less (at least in the evening) which would be a positive effect. Maybe it has/will reduce the number of drunk pedestrians killed by cars after dark. And if not, then at least it's made the area around my place safer, cleaner and quieter.

Anonymous said...

Writing in the New Yorker in 2002 Victor Erofeyev (in an article entitled "The Russian God") stated:

"When the war against Hitler began, every Russian soldier at the front was given a daily 'commissar's ration' of a hundred grams [of vodka] as stipulated by the ministry of defense. Vodka manufacturers claim that the drink was as important as Katyusha rocket launchers in the victory over Nazim, because it bolstered the Russian army's spirits. But Vladmir Nuzhny, a professor of narcology and one of Russia's best-known theoreticians of alcoholism, thinks otherwise. Those hundred grams were a disaster for the entire postwar generation, he told me. Alcohol dependence soared, and the result was a downward spiral of dissolution that continued into the 1960s."

Kristopher said...

People (in large populations) drink as much as they need to. There is no reason for the govt to be paternalistic.

The blue laws also insult the intelligence -- a time restriction only inconveniences people.

For example, the 24-hour pharmacy on Tõnismäe wasn't selling rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol in May. Or maybe rubbing alcohol is unknown because people use Liviko medicinally, I'm not sure. My child was running a fever one night at 2am and I needed grain alcohol which is effective in getting heat to evaporate. The whole thing with ice cubes ended up being more traumatic than it should have been.

Govt should trust its citizens.

(A separate issue BTW as to why you can get medicines only at an "apteek" instead of at a hypermarket.)

Anonymous said...

The blue laws also insult the intelligence

Esto intelligence doesn't seem to be cutting in on this issue in Disneyland North, where alcoholism has reached alarming proportions.

Governmental interventions do have an impact, and restricting access to varioous substances does limit consumption, as extensive research would support.

Here's just one paper:
http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/331/7513/393

Roger Trousers said...

This is all sounding rather libertarian and drink-sodden for Roger's trousers.

Governments are not in the business of trust. Governments are in the business of power.

Why does flasher t want to sell booze to kids under 18?

Max said...



"Bats have no bankers and they do not drink
and cannot be arrested and pay no tax
and, in general, bats have it made."

-John Berryman (1914-72)
Dream Song 63, in The Dream Songs (1969).

"It's a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people. You can hold your tongue and, moreover, you can time any little irregularity of your own so that everybody else is so blind that they don't see or care."

-F. Scott Fitzgerald: Jordan Baker, in The Great Gatsby, ch. 4 (1925), accounting for Daisy Buchanan's "perfect reputation."

Anonymous said...

Come on people! Drunks are still there and they will be even if restrictions will be even bigger. But lets think about people who work late and want to have one beer in evening or do not have money to go to bar or just want to spend evening with friends. Usually such decisions are made at evening and 20:00 is too early.

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