The Vodka Sea: Comparative History of Spirits Smuggling in the Baltic Sea

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Tufts University]On: 07 November 2014, At: 07:31Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Scandinavian Studies inCriminology and Crime PreventionPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:

    The Vodka Sea: Comparative History ofSpirits Smuggling in the Baltic SeaRaimo Pullat a & Risto Pullat ba Tallinn University , Tallinn , Estoniab Estonian Police and Border Guard Board , Tallinn , EstoniaPublished online: 16 May 2012.

    To cite this article: Raimo Pullat & Risto Pullat (2012) The Vodka Sea: Comparative History of SpiritsSmuggling in the Baltic Sea, Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention,13:1, 64-73, DOI: 10.1080/14043858.2012.670471

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  • The Vodka Sea: ComparativeHistory of Spirits Smuggling in theBaltic SeaRAIMO PULLAT1 AND RISTO PULLAT2

    1Tallinn University, Tallinn, Estonia2Estonian Police and Border Guard Board, Tallinn, Estonia



    James Finckenauer argues that the nature of

    organized crime means that it is not studied

    from a close range. They are dangerous

    people. And you cant just send out a self-

    report questionnaire (Finckenauer 2009).

    Analysing smuggling of spirits during

    Prohibition we can rely on archives, on

    memoirs of smugglers or bystanders, or on

    illustrative material published in the press.

    Considering the alcohol policy, the

    countries of the Baltic Sea belong to the

    vodka countries. Hence, the Baltic Sea could

    also be called the Vodka Sea, just as the

    modern Baltic Sea has been referred to as

    Mare Narcoticum (Blomberg 2009:71). The

    historical-criminological issue of spirits

    smuggling in the countries of the Baltic Sea

    is still topical, since it is directly linked with

    organized crime, which is, as we know, one of

    the most complicated global problems in

    todays human society. Drug smuggling is

    especially distressing and destructive, and its

    roots go no doubtback to the relatively recent

    past of the countries troubled by alcohol

    prohibition laws. We know that Estonian

    police persistently fought with cocaine and

    morphine dealers already since the beginning

    of the 1920s (Krikk 2007:109). It has to be

    underlined that former treatments of Esto-

    nianFinnish spirits smuggling had certain

    limitations and a national romantic under-

    tone. The authors and several other research-

    ers (e.g. Johansen 1985; Kula 1999;

    Andersson 2001:144; Filpus 2001; Ylikangas

    2001:5557) claim that smugglingof alcohol

    hasbeen theprincipal typeoforganizedcrime

    in the Baltic Sea region during Prohibition.

    To this day, no state has ever been able to

    win the war against smugglers, except for

    when the state has been able to meet the

    demands of the market-place for a scarce

    commodity or has been able to seal off its

    borders completely. This is also true of the

    This paper examines the spirits

    smuggling in the Baltic Sea region

    in the inter-war period. On 1 June

    1919 the Finnish Parliament

    passed the Prohibition Act for-

    bidding the production, transpor-

    tation, sale, and storage of

    alcohol which activated spirits

    smuggling to Finland. Large-scale

    spirits smuggling was arranged

    during Prohibition by criminal

    organizations through inter-

    national networks. Mostly

    cheap German liquor was deliv-

    ered to Nordic countries and to

    the United States. The represen-

    tatives of organized crime in the

    Baltic Sea region became rich fast

    during Prohibition thanks to

    limits set by countries. Contem-

    porary drug smuggling and spirits

    smuggling are comparable due to

    similar organizational structure

    and modus operandi.

    KEY WORDS: Corruption, Nordic

    countries, Organized crime, Pro-

    hibition, Smuggling

    64 Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime PreventionISSN 1404-3858 Vol. 13, pp. 6473, 2012 q 2012 Taylor & Francis




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  • illicit tradebetween Estonia andFinland and

    other Scandinavian countries. Thanks to

    Per-Ole Johansen we know that the chief of

    police in Southern Varanger wrote in letter

    dated 14 December 1919 to the regional

    commissioner in Finnmark wittily: While

    other fluids follow the force of gravity and

    sink vertically, alcohol has a magical ability

    to spread horizontally and find invisible

    ways into societys inner corners.

    The trade relations between the inhabi-

    tants of the southern and northern coasts of

    the Gulf of Finland go a long way back in

    history. Illicit trade on the coast-line has

    always been widespread, and no laws have

    ever been able to stop it completely. Barter

    and friendly trade have, of course, been

    widespread since the Middle Ages. Accord-

    ing to Kustaa Vilkuna, friendly trade

    (sepralaitos) between Estonians and Finns

    had already begun in the 13th century

    (Vilkuna 1964a:140163; Vilkuna 1964b:

    619).YakovGilinskiy stressed thataban on

    selling alcohol is a criminogenic factor which

    gives birth to smuggling and fosters

    the spread of organized crime. In the 1920s

    the trade of smuggled spirits overshadowed

    all other commerce in the region. Sub-

    sequently, it is difficult to determine what

    amounts of spirits from Estoniaand later

    also fromPoland,Germany, theNetherlands,

    Hungary, Memel, Free City of Danzig

    (Gdansk), and Czechoslovakiawere

    smuggled into Finland and other Nordic

    countries during Prohibition.

    The Estonian community on the north-

    ern coast of the Gulf of Finland took an

    active part in spirits smuggling, e.g.

    inhabitants of Kabbole village near

    Loviisa. Nowadays examples of such

    groups are the networks of drug trafficking

    that rely on alien communities in Nordic

    countries. On the one hand, the criminals

    take advantage of the relative isolation of

    an ethnic minority for hiding their criminal

    activity, while, on the other hand, they

    have knowledge of the local infrastructure

    (Pullat 2009:111).

    Smuggling of the Baltic pestilence

    On 1 June 1919 the Finnish Parliament

    passed the Prohibition Act forbidding the

    production, transportation, sale, and sto-

    rage of alcohol. In Sweden, alcohol con-

    sumption had been limited by the so-called

    Bratt system. In Norway, the Prohibition

    Act, which had taken effect at the beginning

    of the century, remained law until 1927.

    In 1927 the Prohibition Act was abolished

    under the economic pressure of the wine

    countries (France, Spain, and Portugal).

    In Denmark, Germany, and Poland, the

    governmental policies regarding alcohol

    regulated its consumption through heavy

    taxation; these policies were obviously

    made ineffective by, among other things,

    the free ports in Hamburg, Danzig, and

    Copenhagen. In short, that was the inter-

    national political situation at the time of

    the Finnish Prohibition.

    Inhabitants on the coast-line reacted

    quickly and decisively at the onset of

    Prohibition. In the autumn of the 1921,

    there was a revival in spirits smuggling.

    This was an observation made by Finnish

    customs (Harjunpaa; TA. Kertomus [Tale]

    1929, s. 1. Finnish Customs Museum

    Archives). Even before Prohibition there

    had been active spirits smuggling, although

    to a much sm