No. XVI (1989)

Social response to the church appeal for sobriety of August 1984

Antoni Bielewicz
Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology

Published 1989-07-11


  • women,
  • men,
  • abstinence,
  • test

How to Cite

Bielewicz, A. (1989). Social response to the church appeal for sobriety of August 1984. Archives of Criminology, (XVI), 101–139.


On the last Sunday of July, 1984, a bishops pastoral was read out for the first time in all Polish churches: it contained an appeal to the nation to abstain from vodka and to be moderate in consumption of other alcoholic beverages throughout August, a special month in the history of Poland. The appeal has a special position in the Church's postwar activities aimed at ,,sobering the nation up". Its chief novelty is the way in which the need for such renouncement is grounded. The authors cite first and foremost the national values: ,Forty years ago, Warsaw ran with blood. It is the highest time now for (...) Poles to bring themselves to a definite act of sobriety as a tribute to those who fell in the streets of Warsaw fighting for freedom and in the name of the noblest ideals. (...) May this great nationwide abstention from vodka become the Nation's moral rising against subjugation which finds one of its most tragic expressions in drunkenness (...). May this be a rising against this aspect of incapacitation of the Polish nation". A similar appeal was also issued a year later and in 1986; in the latter case, it was for total abstinence.

              In 1986, a study was carried out at the Lublin Catholic University. It was to define: 1) the range of social backing for the Church appeal of August 1984; 2) the social circles in which the backing was greater vs. smaller; and 3) the state authorities attitude towards that initiative. Examined was a nationwide representative sample of 2,105 persons aged at least 18.

              A decided rnajority of Polish society were well-disposed towards the Church's August initiative, 80 per cent of the examined persons expressing a favourable opinion about the appeal. Every fifth respondent voiced his fullest approval. Also most of the examined persons stressed the Church's high prestige and social authority in their statements: in their opinion, these factors should contribute to a higher social approval of the appeal. Others who also backed the appeal pointed to the dangers that result from drunkenness and alcoholism. In many cases) the respondents added to their statements various relevant postulates which they believed the society and government ought to meet. ,,There was a great need for such an appeal'', said one of the respondents, ,,all Polish people should back it." Another one said, In my opinion, this (initiative) is super. The government should give all its backing to it."

             About 7 per cent of the respondents were ill-disposed towards the August appeal. Some of them thought it to be senseless; but others were highly aggressive towards it. ,,A clerical whim", was one of such opinions. Women were much better-disposed towards the Church's initiative than men. The Episcopate's pastoral received the warmest reception in medium-sized and big towns, and the coolest-in small towns. Those with secondary and incomplete elementary education were most favourable towards the appeal than intellectuals, and than factorymen in particular.

               The respondents were rather skeptical about the results of such appeals. Of the 829 persons who expressed their opinion about this problem, only 16.5 per cent believed such initiatives to be generally effective. They thought most of the nation would comply with the appeal which might thus ,,stop the extention of  drunkenness’’ or ,, hold the nation on the edge of a precipice’’. Their optimistic attitudes resulted from their recent observations. A considerable group of respondents saw ,, a smaller number of drunks in the streets of Polish towns in August’’. About 15 per cent of those who expressed their opinion about this problem estimated the August appeal not to be very effective and thought only the ,,deepest believers’’ would comply with it. 16 per cent of the respondents were ambivalent, and the largest proportion, about 34 per cent of the examined persons, found the Church’s August initiative to be ineffective. Most of the latter thought this situation to result from the fact that ,, those who drink never go to church’’.

                As follows from the study, 10.5 per cent of adult Poles gave their active backing to the August appeal. This means that about 2.8 million of Poles abstained from alcohol in August 1986, thus expressing their solidarity with the Church appeal. Interesting are motives that actuated the decision to comply with the appeal for sobriety. Among them, the motives of a social nature prevail, with over two-thirds of the discussed group of respondents stating that they found the appeal to be just and useful and hence supported it, or that they wanted this way to contribute to the reduction of drinking and alcoholism in Poland, or believed alcohol to bring about much unhappiness and suffering. About 30 per cent of this group mentioned religious motives, including about 27 per cent who were actuated by general, and 3 per cent by personal religious reasons. Women’s response to the appeal was much more favourable than that of men: 12.7 per cent of adult Polish women complied with the appeal for sobriety, as compared with 8 per cent only of adult men. Persons aged over 60 gave the strongest backing to the appeal; also those in their forties and fifties were well-disposed to that initiative. It won but a weak support of the youth, and the least favourable were those aged 26-40. The higher educated circles were less willing to comply with the appeal than those with a lower level of education. The appeal proved most convincing for the population of medium-sized towns and communes; instead, the inhabitants of small towns and big cities were most reserved towards it. Among the professionally active, peasants and intellectuals were much better-disposed towards the bishops pastoral than entrepreneurs, workmen, and especially peasants who have extra jobs as workmen. Of those who are not employed pensioners and housewives were equally inclined to support the appeal, this tendency being weaker among students and schoolchildren. A strong correlation was found between the attitude towards the appeal and religious observance. The church-going persons were better-disposed towards the appeal than those who practice occasionally or not at all. A relation was also found between a Party or trade-union membership and the attitude towards the appeal. Members of the Polish United Workers Party were more critical towards it than persons with no party affiliation; a similar interdependence found also in the case of trade-unions membership.

               As shown by statistical analysis, the following traits are most strongly correlated with the attitude towards the appeal: regularity of religious practices on holidays: sex; socio-professional group ; age; type  and size of locality; education; membership of the Polish United Worker’s Party and trade-unions.


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