The WSJ had a scathing article on the Russian binge drinking that begins with the Western Christmas--celebrated since the fall of SU-- and ends on the commemoration of the Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 13th. During this season, most Russians will watch a movie whose title (Ironiya Sudbi ili Slekhkim Parom) might be loosely translated as "The Irony of Fate, or Have a Nice Sauna." It portrays the adventures of a man who gets drunk during a sauna on New Year's Eve and is put on a plane by his similarly drunken pals. He ends up in the wrong city and falls in love with a woman who finds him staggeringly drunk in her apartment. One must remember that in the old Soviet Times, the apartment in, then, Leningrad was the same structure as an apartment in Moscow. The movie is a tradition as beloved in Russia as "It's a Wonderful Life" is in America. The most amazing thing about all this is the way alcoholism is celebrated throughout Russian culture. Even intellectuals -- who regularly sound alarms about problems such as AIDS, drug abuse or the decline in numbers of Russia's population -- act as if alcoholism is funny, and make the evil appear attractive. I agree, this way of thinking is a decent defense mechanism for SHORT term problems but when it becomes alcoholism, there's nothing worse in the Russian culture than this insidious monster. The latest example came earlier this month. Yuri Simonov-Vyazemskii, anchor for the popular children's television program "Smart Girls and Smart Boys," told the intellectual newspaper Literaturnaya Gazeta: "The tradition of drinking proves the Russian national character. In my opinion, a person who doesn't drink at all is either under treatment or not Russian in his spirit because to live in Russia and not to drink is unpatriotic, anti-national, and unnatural." In Soviet times, popular culture developed the image of the alcoholic as someone who couldn't openly protest against the state, creating an inner tragedy that made him destroy himself through drink. The notion was that drinking was a form of self-destructive protest, or at least escapism. We saw this tragedy unfold with the suicide (murder?) singer, Vladimir Visotsky. There were also Sergei Dovlatov and many other talented writers who drank heavily, and celebrated drunks in their writing. Russia's chief physician, Gennadii Onishchenko, announced this month that there are about 2.2 million alcoholics and more than 400,000 heavy drinkers in the country. These figures only count registered patients in clinics and hospitals -- yet even that amounts to 1.5% of the population. The Health Ministry stated that about 8 million men, 2 million women and 500,000 teenagers below the age of 14 are suffering from alcoholism, according to the paper "Kommersant-Daily." The ministry also reported that during the last two years, the number of alcoholics grew by 30%. Those who suffer from alcoholic dementia rose by 50%. Mr. Onishchenko said that during the last three years, the number of teenagers suffering from alcoholism grew by 15% and drinking by teenagers increased threefold. He called alcoholism "an extreme emergency." The immoderate drinking of alcohol products, often of very bad quality, leads to death of a few hundred thousand Russians every year," he said. You would think the media would try to combat this national epidemic. But Russian television personalities seem not to notice how destructive the sympathetic portrayal of alcoholics is to Russia. In the post-Soviet era, the broadcast media has never sponsored a public-education campaign about the tragic sides of alcoholism. There have been anti-smoking ads, but no anti-drinking crusade. The problem is compounded by the Russian penchant for hard liquor. According to Russia's National Alcohol Association, vodka and other hard liquors comprise more than 70% of the drinks sold across the country. (Even in post-Soviet times, however, nearly all of that is vodka. Only elites drink Western hard liquor such as whiskey or gin.) Beer accounts for a mere 19% of consumption. In addition, about 30% of Russian households produce homemade alcoholic beverages. It's also estimated there are about 1,600 illegal distillers making fake vodka and other liquors. I believe this is also due to the price of Vodka (which was something like 25 US cents, vs. a bottle of beer which was something like 1.60 US. The telling part for me, and to anyone who looks in to this miserable tragedy, is the life expectancy for Russian men, which is now at third worldage of 58 -- lower than in Egypt or Bolivia. People will mention this is due to economy but a group of experts from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine demonstrated last year that alcoholism in Russia -- which plays a major role in traffic accidents, industrial accidents, domestic violence, homelessness, and other social ills -- is the real, initial culprit. In other words it's not correlation it is CAUSATION.