The organisation Liga otevřených mužů, or League of Open Men, is currently running its seventh “Dry February” campaign. The aim is to encourage Czechs to abstain from alcohol for the entire month and – among other benefits – enjoy greater self-awareness, higher energy levels and better sex.
The average Czech drinks about 14.5 litres of alcohol a year, consuming more than half of it in beer. Czechs are among the biggest drinkers per capita in the world and about 15 percent of the population regularly drinks to excess, as defined by the World Health Organization.
Petr Freimann, whose PR, marketing and communications agency specialises in working with non-profit groups, has been working on the campaign for several years now. He has also experienced a few “Dry Februarys” for himself.
According to the League of Open Men, approximately 20,000 people were involved in the abstinence campaign in 2015. At that time, the campaign was then at something of a tipping point, Petr Freimann says – in danger of fizzling out if not given something of a kick start.
“The NGO behind this is called the League of Open Men, which is about 15 years old. They are focused mainly on men’s health, and that’s why also on alcohol – because men drink four times as much as women. But ‘Suchej únor’ or ‘Dry February’ is now focused on the entire population.”
“I joined it about two years ago, when we were on the crossroads whether the campaign would go on or we would stop it. That was mostly because it’s run by an NGO, so there is a problem with resources. We needed to find some model to be sustainable.”
And now you have two sponsors… What kind of support do they provide? What are the expenses involved in running the Dry February programme?
“None of the people behind the campaign Dry February are abstinent. We know that we control alcohol and that alcohol doesn’t control us.”
“Actually, we have more of them now. We have one main sponsor, which is a health insurance agency. Then there are some smaller ones, like for example Suchej únor drinks, condoms, and some other stuff. It’s really hard to cover all expenses, so it’s not all that we need, actually. So another source is individual donors who want to support Suchej únor and are willing to pay, for example, for some merchandising – like tee-shirts and pens.”
So, if someone now visits your website, I see there’s a kind of support line. You track their progress and provide helpful ways how to keep from drinking, if it’s difficult for someone.
“That’s definitely an advantage of being subscribed to the website, registered with Suchej únor. Because of course you can try having a Dry February without being registered, but if you join the community, we will provide you with tonnes of information from psychologists, from our partners – we have some competitions and so on. It has many advantages, I’d say.”
Dry February is now in its seventh year. And for you personally, it’s the third or fourth?
“This is my third, but I have to say that this year it’s really full time and before I was just kind of an advisor. And this year, for the campaign to survive, we felt we had to start with greater energy – and it’s the same for me.”
“When I was one month sober? It wasn’t hard. But the truth is that after three weeks I was really considering having one glass of wine. But, in the end, it wasn’t a problem to stay sober for one month. And that’s the point. None of the people behind the campaign Dry February are abstinent. We know that we control alcohol and that alcohol doesn’t control us.”
Czech men drink on average at least three times as much as women, and it was for this reason that the “Dry February” campaign, now in its seventh year, initially focused on men. The campaign has become more focused on education so people – men and women – realise the risks associated with alcohol. Last year, the campaign noted the link between excessive alcohol intake and cancer, for example.
The Czechs are famous for their beer, and per capita consumption of beer and alcohol here is always among the highest in the world. Some years they’re number one, number two. So, you have a real challenge, I suppose?
“Yeah, for sure. Yesterday I was asked what’s behind the fact that we are in the top five countries in consumption, and honestly we don’t have a proper answer. We just know that’s the fact. What’s really nice for us, for example, is when we see people in our Facebook group talking with each other, it’s great when they say, ‘Five years ago, I was taken as totally crazy among my friends that I’m not drinking’ or ‘Last year, my husband said he would do it also with me, and this year also my friends are involved’. So, we see the trend is rising.”
Maybe you could describe – since I haven’t done the Dry February before myself – what sort of physical, mental or emotional differences do you feel?
“We see that you sleep better – and even have better sex, for sure.”
“I personally don’t feel any big differences, as I’m not a heavy drinker. But all the people involved – as we know from feedback and so on – they say that they have much better mornings. And for sure they remember what they did the night before. They feel much better physically and mentally. They have more time for the family, their wives or husbands, and children, since they’re not going to the pub. We see that you sleep better – and even have better sex, for sure.”
Not sure I can ask for too much detail in that regard! But, where did it start, actually? Because it has become a global phenomenon…
“The dry something – a dry month? The funny thing is that probably the biggest ‘competitor’ is the ‘Dry January’ in the UK. They started in the same year as we did, and we didn’t know about them until three or four years ago. And before we talked to them this year, they didn’t know about us. Now it’s in Canada, France. So, it’s growing, but not globally interconnected.”
And you didn’t choose February because it’s the shortest month of the year, right?
“It’s not the reason, but many people think so. When the guys from the NGO that is behind Dry February were thinking about problem drinking in the Czech Republic, it happened to be January, and they decided to start it the next month.”
Is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you’d like listeners to know?
“Hmm... I would say that the biggest advantage that you can get from ‘Dry February’ is that all the people involved are talking about psychology, self-esteem, self-respect and so on, so I think it’s a really go opportunity to realise if you know yourself, if you know your limits, your strengths and weaknesses. It’s a really good opportunity to see yourself in a different light.”
So apart from giving your liver a holiday, it’s a chance for reflection and to discuss mental health issues in general?
“I would definitely say so. And for the registered people we have, as I said, special content. And one psychologist speaking there said that she had a client and he – sorry for talking about sex again! – but that he hadn’t had sex in about 20 years without having had alcohol beforehand. So, just if you see this example, it’s really, really grave, I would say.”
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