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Drunk Tanks Face Money Woes, Bad PR

Published: December 15, 2006 (Issue # 1230)


MOSCOW Two police officers escorted Boris into the station at about 6 p.m. His speech was slurred. He had trouble recalling his last name. When the cops forcibly removed his coat and sweater, the stench of booze and sweat was overpowering.

Why did you bring me here? Boris screamed after the nurse managed to coax his age, 53, out of him.

When the officers told him hed have to take off all his clothes, Boris less-than-politely declined.

One double-arm lock later, three officers had Boris hoisted in the air, immobilized. They removed his boots, stripped him down to his tattered boxer shorts, and hustled him off to a ward where two men who had urinated on themselves hours before were passed out on their cots.

Boris is among the hundreds of thousands of Russians scooped up off the street by police each year and forced to dry out at the infamous, century-old institution known as the vytrezvitel, or sobering-up station.

With winter approaching, sobering-up stations can be lifesavers for people who drink themselves unconscious in freezing temperatures.

But now the sobering-up station, or drunk tank, is facing an uncertain future, plagued with financial woes, legal questions and a public image tainted by times past.

Since the Soviet collapse, the number of sobering-up stations has plummeted. There are now 586 stations in the country, down from 1,249 in 1990, said Yulia Ivanova, spokeswoman for the Interior Ministrys Public Order Department, which oversees the stations.

In Moscow alone, several sobering-up stations have been closed in recent years. There are 12 facilities in the city 11 for men and one for women.

Police Lieutenant Oleg Sergeyev of Moscows No. 3 Sobering-Up Station, in the Northern Administrative District, voiced serious concerns about the months ahead.

Winter is especially dangerous, Sergeyev said. I think our patrol guys have saved the lives of a lot of the people theyve found. We get thank-you notes from people thanking us for saving their lives.

The No. 1 problem facing stations is money. The fees charged to drunks for sobering up vary widely 100 rubles in Moscow, 50 rubles in Vladimir, 1,900 rubles in Yakutsk and are rarely enough to cover overheads.

Another hurdle the drunk tanks must contend with is the courts. With the forced disrobing and prison-like atmosphere, many have questioned whether Russia, like the Soviet Union before it, has the right to force people to get sober.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Aug. 28


Learn more about the citys upcoming municipal elections during the presentation of the project Road Map for the Municipal Elections being presented this evening in the conference hall on the third floor of Biblioteka at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. Steve Kaddins, a coordinator for Beautiful St. Petersburg, which gives residents an online forum to lodge complaints about infrastructure problems in the city, will be on hand to answer any questions. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to all.



Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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