REVIEW – September 2012

Anti-alcohol movement and medical research in pre-war Estonia


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Anti-alcohol movement occupied an important position in the national movement of Estonians in the last turn of the century. Already from the beginning ideas from the areas of eugenics and hygiene were included in the rhetoric of the movement. This, too, stimulated Estonian doctors to act in the field. After Estonia became independent in 1920 the inf luence of anti-alcohol movement was continuously strong: before 1925 the movement received significant finacial support from the state. Part of this was used to sustain research at the University of Tartu. In the Medical Faculty the institutions that were the most active in launching studies on the effect of alcohol on the living organism were the Institute of Physiology (Prof. Alexander Lipschütz), the Institute of Pharmacology (Prof. Siegfried Loewe) and the Institute of Neurology (Prof. Ludvig Puusepp). In fact, the anti-alcohol movement made up an essential share of their research costs. The movement also supported students through application for scholarships and grants for carrying out scientific work. Estonian anti-alcohol studies peaked 1926 when the 18th International Congress of Anti-alcohol Organisations took place in Tartu. At the same time, Professor Puusepp published two volumes of the scientific periodical Questiones alcoholismi et narcomaniae.

In the middle of the 1920s the so far existing funding possibilities started to worsen (due to changes in the funding system but also as a result of developments in the political sphere). As a consequence, also corresponding research in the field diminished. The person who continued to seriously deal with the topic of alcohol in his institute was Ludvig Puusepp.

The opportunistic character of the involvement of the medical profession in anti-alcohol activity can also be illustrated by the fact that despite many discussions the designed anti-alcohol society of doctors was not founded. It seems that the anti-alcohol movement acquired negative reputation in the future years of the inter-war Estonian state, as it could be linked to leftist ideology but also as it inhibited the fiscal policy of the country. Finally, in such circumstances, it was the Estonian Eugenics Society (dedicating to anti-alcohol activity) that replaced the anti-alcohol movement in the leading position of public health rhetoric in Estonia.