From a post-1945 perspective, the history of alcohol consumption and the fight against alcoholism seems to divide the Baltic Sea region in clearly separated parts: The countries of Northern Europe have been shaped by a strong public striving for sobriety and the limitation of alcohol consumption, whereas in socialist Eastern Europe rather unrestricted consumption and partly even politically motivated distribution of alcohol prevailed. This common perception shall be challenged by looking more closely into the activities of temperance associations in the Baltic regions of the tsarist empire (i.e. Finland, the Baltic and the Lithuanian provinces) during the long 19th century.
In fact, a closer look at the temperance activities reveals similar points of departure and trajectories in the Scandinavian countries as well as in the tsarist regions of North Eastern Europe. Temperance activities appeared in two waves based on religious backgrounds, one in the first decades of the 19th century and a second one since the late 19th century, which will be in the focus of this presentation. In both periods, one will also find major differences between both parts of the Baltic Sea region. They refer first to the attitude of the tsars being afraid of revolutionary tendencies of their subjects, but also to critical attitudes within protestant church structures in Russia, whereas in Scandinavia temperance activities were regarded as a major pillar of popular movements. The second difference is based on the fact that in Sweden the second wave was connected to the religious movement of the International Organisation of Good Templars (IOGT), whereas in North Eastern Europe the ethnic aspect enters the scene since the mid-19th century. Beginning among catholic Lithuanians before the uprising of 1863 with short-lived brotherhoods of sobriety and then also in the mainly protestant Baltic border regions of Russia, abstinence societies became increasingly connected to the small nations of the Finns, Estonians, and Latvians, partly in conflict with Baltic German associations. Those temperance associations were partly organized within church structures or by protestant clergymen but played an important role in the nation-building processes as well. The development in Russia became even more complicated, when the state monopoly on vodka sale was introduced in 1894 combined with the implementation of the guardianships of national sobriety (popechitel’stva o narodnoj trezvosti), creating an alternative approach of society as a state-organized activity in contrast to the associations of the small nations. Within the structures of the tsarist empire one may notice, however, also aspects of cooperation.
The cases of the Baltic borderlands of Russia, thus, show entanglements on two levels: first the impact of influences and from regions from outside the tsarist empire, starting from religious temperance movements in Northern America to closer contacts with Scandinavian and German regions. Second, confessional and ethnic entanglements within the region (e.g. between Finnish and Estonian associations) played a major role, partly in contrast to the official tsarist politics of integration through Russian culture.
Jörg Hackmann is Alfred Döblin Professor at the Department of History, University of Szczecin, Poland, and since 2021 Director of the International Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Szczecin. He is also associated with the University of Greifswald, Germany, and serves as Vice-President of the Johann Gottfried Herder Research Council (Germany) and as president-elect of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies. Jörg Hackmann holds a PhD from the Free University Berlin and received his habilitation at Greifswald University. He has been a visiting scholar at many universities in the Baltic Sea region as well as in Chicago. Publications focus on the history of North-Eastern and East Central Europe, in particular on historiography, memory cultures, civil society and regionalisms with a focus on transnational entanglements. Recent publications include Geselligkeit in Nordosteuropa (Sociability in North-Eastern Europe), Harrassowitz 2020.