Polish anti-alcohol poster campaigns 1945-1990: An analysis of visual public health strategies in an authoritarian state

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019


Our aim is to analyse public health posters connected with anti-alcohol campaigns in Poland. The project arises from a broader historical survey (1918-1990) exploring the relationship between Poland’s changing political, and ideological context (interwar independence, Stalinism, cultural thaw, decline and fall of communism) and public health messages. We ask how developments in graphic art mediated the relationship between state, science and society under the communist regime.


We surveyed and classified posters in five major archives in Warsaw, Krakow and Katowice according to date, content, artist, commissioning body, target group and style. Databases such as PubMed, MEDLINE (2006-2008), and that of the State Agency for Prevention of Alcohol Related Problems were reviewed for relevant literature.


Alcohol was a major public health concern: out of 479 posters identified 257 have anti-alcohol themes. With minor exceptions state agencies were the commissioning bodies (eg. Social Anti-alcohol Committee, Central Committee of the Trade Unions) and posters were subject to censorship. Stylistically socialist realism predominated initially, though from the late-1950s designs reflected the emergence of the Polish School of Poster (several of whose leading artists figure in our sample), with its eclecticism, openness to Western graphical style and use of symbolism and ambiguity.  Messages fall into three broad categories: the financial effects of alcoholism, risk of accidental injury and appeals to personal morality.  Subsidiary themes, such as drink-driving, sober tourism and youth drunkenness emerge in specific campaigns.


Although the emphasis on alcoholism in Polish public health reflects an underlying epidemiological imperative, it may also arise from the cultural status of alcohol as symbol of political disillusion and nihilism. Socialist realist images emphasized contribution to productivity, and social and familial obligation were important themes throughout. Appeals to the individual become more prominent after the thaw, though rarely on the basis of personal medical risk. Some symbolism deployed by artists was ambiguous, potentially subverting official messages.


Wellcome Trust


Krzysztof Krajewski-Siuda; Virginia Berridge; Martin Gorsky

Mr Wojciech Dutka