Turkmenistan: Liquor Ban Sends Drinkers Scrambling for Supplies
As soon authorities in Turkmenistan declared last week that the country would be a liquor-free zone for the duration of the upcoming Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, distressed drinkers stormed their local stores.
The ban took effect on August 19 and will last through to the start of October — more than enough to ensure that none other than the most determined will get their hands on booze during the competition, which takes place September 17-27.
Part of the inspiration for this joy-killing move appears derived from the games slogan: “Health. Inspiration. Friendship.” Depriving visitors of alcohol appears certain, however, to undermine at least two of those themes.
Upon hearing the news, panicked Turkmens first headed to wholesale traders, who normally stock large amounts of alcoholic goods. Traders, sensing the likelihood of serious financial losses, appeared willing to meet people halfway and offloaded whatever they could. Shoppers carted off crates of beer and as much of the strong stuff as they could carry.
“Well it turns out that we have a whole bunch of drinkers, and yet in the papers they keep talking about how everybody has adopted a healthy lifestyle,” one Ashgabat resident in his 70s who witnessed the shopping spree quipped to a EurasiaNet.org correspondent.
In a time of economic hardship, the destructive policy is leaving many perplexed.
“Why would you prevent something that brings so much money into the state coffers?” asked another witness to the alcohol-shopping dash. “I remember in 2012, in April, how they banned spirits, but that was just for a week, to celebrate the Week of Health and Happiness. Now for an entire month the government won’t be getting this huge amount of revenue from the sale of alcohol, and then again, as usual, they’ll be holding back people’s salaries.”
In any event, the 2012 ban wasn’t too hard a blow for shop-owners, many of whom secretly purveyed liquor under the table. Some traders even sold cheap Turkmen wine by the glassful, to be drunk in-store.
Bar and restaurant owners, who were ostensibly among the few people actually awaiting the games with eager anticipation, are going to feel the blow particularly badly. The prospect of sport fans and journalists propping up bars is now gone, if the government sticks to its guns.
On the first day of the ban coming into effect, one beerhall in Ashgabat quietly allowed a few select and known customers to drown their sorrows. The establishment now anticipates weeks without clients.
“People often used to come and celebrate their birthday and other family events in the open air in our bar. It was always civilized, without any bad stuff happening or fights. And now people have nowhere to celebrate special events, except at home. May the end of this Asian Games 2017 come as soon as possible. Everybody in town is already sick of it,” said one beerhall owner, who declined to provide his name and surname.