[FOUNTAIN]Spirited leadership

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[FOUNTAIN]Spirited leadership

Vodka is Russia's national drink. The name comes from the word "voda," which means "water" in Russian. Just like water, vodka is translucent and does not render a distinctive taste or odor. Thus, vodka is called the liquor of the three no's: no color, no taste, no smell.

Vodka also is the liquor of emperors ?a drink of power. In 12th and 13th century Europe, the production of spirits was based on a country's expertise in chemistry. Before then, dominant drinks on the market were fruity wines with low-alcohol contents. The fact that a country could produce a strong alcoholic beverage symbolized that the country possessed great scientific prowess.

In the 15th century, vodka earned popularity among the Russian populace. Russian emperors started to pay attention to the drink around that time, and Peter the Great (1672-1725) put the production and sale of vodka under the direct rule of the emperor.

Russian emperors also took much interest in distilling vodka, and they mobilized the best chemists for that task. Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleyev (1834-1907), a chemist who is best known for his development of the periodic table, was no exception. Mendeleyev set the standard for the concentration of alcohol in vodka, and he categorized vodka into two types ? either 40 or 45 percent alcohol.

Russian emperors secured licenses to make vodka a major source of revenue, and emporers utilized vodka to strengthen the rule of the central government. But any time in Russian history when emperors lost their clout, unlicensed drinks became rampant, and thus diluted the power of an emperor.

After the Russian Revolution, the Communist Party nationalized the production of vodka. But whenever the party's grip loosened, privately made vodka found its way on the market.

Yuri V. Andropov (1914-1984) and Mikhail Gorbachev (1931- ), the former leaders of the Soviet Union, tried to crack down on unlicensed liquors, only to provoke resistance from the people.

Boris Yeltsin, who is credited for the democratization of Russia, decided to privatize vodka licenses in 1992. Previously state-owned vodka brands were sold to private companies en masse during this period of weakened national political power.

The Putin administration reportedly has asked for the renationalization of vodka brands. Because vodka once served as a yardstick to measure Russia's ruling power, the litigation to win back vodka brands by the Russian government may be interpreted as a sign of strengthened government clout.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Kim Seok-hwan

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