Learn about Life in the 1920s

1920's Prohibition in Belgium.

"Alcoholism is a problem in European countries, as it has been in America, but it has risen under a different environment. This article indicates, not only the difference between the European and the American phases of the problem, but also the difference in the two methods of dealing with it. It is an authoritative statement of the attitude taken by a European country that has been one of the foremost in grappling with the evils of the liquor trade.

BELGIANS drink much beer. It is, in general, a light drink. The ordinary beer, the most drunk, the so-called bière de ménage, has from one to three per cent of alcohol. Certain beers, however, such as the lambic or the uitzet, are stronger, but are not much drunk.


BELGIANS drink little wine. It is too dear. Belgium does not produce wine, but we have a customs union with the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, where white wine is produced. Nevertheless, since spirituous liquors can no longer be obtained at retail here, more wine is drunk in Belgium than formerly (though that is not saying very much), while the consumption of mineral water has enormously increased.

Hard Liquor

As with you in America, so here in Belgium, there is hardly any intoxication not caused by hard liquor. Recognizing this, the Belgian lawmakers did not enact any repressive legislation with respect to beer and wine (save that wine shall not contain more than 18 per cent alcohol), but they did with respect to more alcoholic beverages. At any cabaret or café, restaurant or hotel, one can without hindrance procure a glass of beer or wine; not so a glass of brandy. To get its higher percentage of alcohol one has to go to a grocer or a wine-and- spirits merchant. The law forbids him to sell anything by the glass. Nor is he allowed to sell less than two liters (about two quarts) of alcohol or more than six.

Nor is the buyer permitted to consume spirituous liquor on the premises. He must take it home. You might think that this would lead to an increase of domestic drunkenness, but such does not appear to have been the case.

The Law

THE present law came into force in 1919. During the war the Belgian Government had adopted a more radical system-that is to say, first the complete suppression of the sale of distilled liquor, and then the interdiction of more than 5 per cent of alcohol in beer and more than 15 per cent in wine.

But the Belgian Parliament, on its return to the homeland, would not go so far. Instead it passed the present law, suppressing the retail sale of hard liquor. Yet even with a greatly modified proposal the percentage of consumption of alcohol, compared with that before the law came into force, is now less than half as great!


CASES of fraud are comparatively rare. The procureurs généraux have been very severe in their prosecutions, although the attitude of certain magistrates has not revealed a too great sympathy with prohibition.

Crimes and immoral acts have greatly diminished, although perhaps hardly in proportion to drunkenness.

As elsewhere, drunkenness seems to have been a chief factor in criminality. Before the war there was a disquieting progression of immoral delinquency having alcoholic origin. For instance, in 1900, of 130 cases of homicide in Belgium, the criminals were drunkards in 101 of them. This proportion has declined, but even now alcohol, it is reported, is the cause of perhaps half the cases.

The proportion between persons of alcoholic heritage and others is not known; it is hard to estimate it exactly. Formerly, however, about half of the criminal drunkards had alcoholic parents, but now, in Belgium, as in America, one is glad to say, the unborn babe has a chance.


NATURALLY, a workman's fitness for his daily toil, as well as the state of his savings-bank deposits, has been favorably influenced by the new law. A patent proof is the disappearance of the saloons, about the railway stations near the large industrial centers, where the workman was apt to take a glass of something pretty strong while waiting for his train.

The Future

THE law has thus worked encouragingly well as far as it goes. But, in the opinion of very many, it does not go far enough. Instead of a minimum of two liters of alcohol and a maximum of six, the minimum and the maximum might well be the same, or at least four, and with moral advantage. As it is now, if some boon companions would "celebrate" at little cost, they have but to contribute small sums, totaling enough to buy two liters, and then send one of their number down the block for the "stuff." In not a few cases this reminds one of the old days of the corner saloon. The Belgian cercies privés, which appeal to less than one per cent of our population, correspond, in general, to the American "dives."

While the law's severity may possibly be increased, there is no chance at present in Belgium for a jump, like that you made in America, to total prohibition. At least two decades of anti-alcoholic popular education will be needed to make most Belgians at all favorably consider the suppression of fermented drink.

The defeat of prohibition in Norway, an agricultural country, will hardly influence Belgium, an intensely industrial country. The good results of our law are too evident not to appeal to a majority of our voters.


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