Flat Earth: Drinking for the sake of the party

WE may have our problems with lager louts, but the Russians have turned beer-drinking into a political party. Why not vodka? Well, it's not because of shortages after the temporary closure of Moscow's main vodka distillery, of that you can be certain. 'After vodka you want to hit someone in the face, but beer unites people,' says Dmitri Shestakov, chairman of the Beer Drinkers' Party.

The union of politics and booze has a venerable history that goes back to the misty antecedents of the modern Russian state a thousand years ago. Its founder, Grand Prince Vladimir, ruler of Kiev and by all accounts a genial old buffer who converted Russia to Christianity, gave alcohol the stamp of official approval. 'Russia's joy,' he said, 'is drinking.'

With Vlad's advice as its campaign slogan, the Beer Drinkers' Party expects to sign up 100,000 members by the start of the summer, when Russians are most thirsty. To widen the party's appeal, Mr Shestakov has formed a political alliance with the Pelmeni Lovers' Party - named after the ravioli-style snack they gobble when they imbibe - and with the Association of Dissatisfied Women, which has no complaints about drunken husbands - its cause is to fight high prices.

TOE-HOLD ON HISTORY

A hospital identification tag and a hank of hair sold for dollars 8,800 ( pounds 6,000) at an auction in New York last week. We were told it set some sort of record, but no one seemed to know what for. The successful bidder said he was 'not into the morbidity of the whole thing. I just look at this as an investment.' The toe-tag and lock of hair were used to identify the corpse of Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President Kennedy.

PEKING TUNES OUT

Ballroom dancing, to China's Communist Party, is like sexual scandal to Britain's Conservatives - you cannot comprehend one without the other. Mao Tse-tung was at it every Saturday night, soft-shoeing his way from the caves of Yenan to the pavilions of the Forbidden City. Deng Xiaoping, on the other hand, played bridge, which may explain how he survived while others were wrong- footed in the Great Helmsman's reels.

Now the Peking apparatchiks, forever killjoys, are attempting to end it all. Last week an edict listing new 'don'ts' for party cadres included dance parties. It was part of the latest anti-corruption drive. 'Lavish' dances will be off, but the occasional tea-dance may be permitted as long as the sound is turned down.

GREEK TO US

There comes a time when you have to admire the tenacity of Greek politicians and, against our better judgement, we have grown fond of the way they anger the rest of Europe with their highly strung chauvinism. Their latest provocation, on Friday, was to declare Turkey's national day on 19 May a day of mourning for the 'genocide' of Greeks on the shore of the Black Sea in 1919.

(Photograph omitted)

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