In November, Poland will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its independence. In the event of the upcoming celebrations, the Catholic Church has launched a nation-wide sobriety campaign, asking Poles to refrain from drinking alcohol for 100 days. Bishop Tadeusz Bronakowski has called the campaign, which officially kicked off on August 4, “a test of freedom and love for your country”.
This initiative is only the latest move by public officials to tackle the issue of alcohol consumption in Poland. Earlier this year, President Andrzej Duda signed a new law to allow local governments to cap the number of concessions for alcohol sales, shortly after another bill restricting alcohol consumption in public areas such as streets and parks. The government has been trying to curb Poles’ notorious love for alcoholic beverages in order to limit related health problems (obesity, short-term hospitalizations, diabetes, alcohol poisoning, etc.) and safety issues (road accidents, domestic abuse, etc.).
Poles rank among the heaviest drinkers in Europe – although still less than their Czech and Slovak neighbours – and the world. They drink, on average, around 12.5 litres of pure alcohol every year, with men drinking almost three times as much as women. Although Poland is particularly famous for its vodka (a brand-new museum dedicated to their national drink recently opened in Warsaw), Poles are also among the world’s top 5 beer-drinkers (over 100 litres per year per capita) beaten, in Europe, only by the Czech Republic (the worldwide champions), Germany and Austria.
Official figures estimate that between 500.000 and 800.000 Polish citizens suffer from alcohol addiction. Moreover, although the country stands out for being one of the cheapest places to buy alcohol in Europe, Polish households spend much more money on alcoholic beverages than other countries: EU households spend, on average, 1.6% of total consumption expenditure on alcohol; it reaches 3.6% in Poland (tied with the Czech Republic). Finally, while alcohol consumption has consistently decreased in most European countries, no such clear trend can be observed in Poland.
What remains to be seen is whether the initiative of Poland’s religious authorities will be able to make a difference.