A vodka boycott on the rocks - Macleans.ca

A vodka boycott on the rocks

Manisha Krishnan explains why the #DumpStoli campaign is hard to swallow


Pop quiz. How many of the following vodkas are 100 per cent Russian? Stolichnaya, Smirnoff, Russian Standard.

If you guessed one (Russian Standard), you’d be correct. Smirnoff is actually from the U.K. And Stoli is produced in Latvia, while its parent company, SPI Group, is headquartered in Luxembourg.

None of this has stopped bars from Vancouver to Chicago from boycotting Stoli in protest of homophobic laws adopted by the Russian government. The regulations ban “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations,” making it illegal to openly display homosexuality or fight for gay rights.

Some North Americans have called for a boycott of the Sochi 2014 Olympics. Dan Savage, a Seattle-based sex columnist and LGBT activist, has suggested we focus instead on “Russian” vodka.

“Do not drink Russian vodka,” wrote Savage on his blog, The Stranger. “Ask your bartender at your favorite bar—gay or otherwise—to DUMP STOLI and DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.”

Russia’s gag laws are reprehensible and should be repealed, yet it’s hard to see how it will help to single out a company that has no ties to the government but plenty with the global gay community.

But Savage’s soapbox is second to none. The #DumpStoli campaign went viral, prompting a response from Val Mendeleev. The CEO of the SPI Group slammed the Russian government for its “dreadful actions” and outlined his company’s support of the LGBT community and its sponsorship of a documentary series on the plight of gay Americans.

He used two paragraphs to clarify that Stoli is privately owned — its vodka is produced in Latvia with Russian ingredients. “We fully support and endorse your objectives to fight against prejudice in Russia,” he said.

Savage’s response: not good enough. The company, he argued, hasn’t actively promoted gay rights in Russia and its owner is one of the richest men in that country. OK. But plenty of wealthy corporations have yet to lift a finger to forward the gay rights movement. Should we boycott them all?

Vancouver’s Fountainhead Pub has announced it will no longer serve Stoli or any other products from Russia. “We hope the Russian government sees its error and swiftly corrects its decision,” reads the bar’s Facebook page.

Sidetrack, a popular gay haunt in Chicago, and nightclubs in West Hollywood have followed suit.

My Friday-afternoon survey of bars in Toronto — a city that hosts one of the world’s largest Pride parades — found bar owners and patrons mostly ambivalent.

“Everyone really jumped on the bandwagon without checking the facts,” said Dean Orico, general manager of Woody’s in Toronto’s Boystown. Orico suggested a better idea would be to donate directly to LGBT organizations in Russia.

The one bright side to the “unfair boycott,” he said, is that people are talking about the oppression.

Just down the street from Woody’s, bar patron Brad Fulton served up a likely explanation as to why so many have impulsively endorsed the boycott. “It just makes us feel good,” he said.

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A vodka boycott on the rocks

  1. Isn’t SPI Group’s sole shareholder Russian?

  2. This is an excellent and well-balanced article. #DumpStoli is a typical, and I may add hypocritical, knee-jerk reaction . Ban this, boycott that, and then forget about it once it fades from public consciousness. Kony 2012 anyone? Gay people are treated terribly in certain parts of Latin America and the Caribbean yet people are not cancelling their resort/cruise holidays there in droves or contacting the LCBO to demand that they stop selling spirits produced in those areas. Doing things like these doesn’t promote acceptance for us as gay people either, if anything, it causes animosity and further polarises society.

    • It’s hard in a globalized economy to hit the boycott on the head, true. No one with any humanity should support Jamaica or its products, it is still ranked the most homophobic place on earth. I won’t.

      The threat of boycott was interesting though, it has already got anti-Russian support from Stolli and NBC and the IOC (lip service so far, but we will keep up the pressure).

      As for public consciousness, this is THE time to do it to Russia, which has escalated its war on gay people so fast. Putin is getting worse and worse, but he is vain and proud and thin-skinned, so the public spotlight from now to Sochi si the best time.

  3. The Stolli boycott may not be “it”, but it got the ball rolling fast. I saw another suggestion I liked, which was:

    1) Send the athletes

    2) NO ONE ELSE GO.

    It’s the tourist dollars that bring in money, not the athletes.

    3) Run awareness campaigns during coverage in Canada and the U.S. and Europe, on these scapegoating, Nuremberg/Paragraph 175 type laws. We have aready seen this month violence against gay citizens endorsed (including by the state and Russian Orthodox priests); neo-nazi nationalists torturing gay teenagers; and the arrest of foreign nationals (Dutch film crew). Harvey Fierstein is asking for the entertainment unions to forbid their members from going (cameramen, producers, performers, etc) which also could be interesting.

  4. I fully support the boycott simply because of the gesture. I boycott Walmart. Does my lack of business serve any thHelen Mirren is nothing short of hot when she’s holding a deal weapon….threat? No. But it’s me doing a little thing.

    • Helen Mirren???

      • Er…um…how the HECK did THAT end up in there?!?!?! LOL!!!! Someone, a cut and past from a comment about RED2 got jammed in there mid sentence for sme reason…LOL!

  5. Nice try but the ingredients are Russian and they are using the perception of being Russian to sell their produce. Interesting that the tone is so supportive of the brands & does not take them to task on claiming they are Russian in the first place. ( False advertising?). They can’t have their bread buttered on both sides. If they call themselves ‘Russian vodka’ to sell their vodka then they are part of the Russian culture. Neither are we gays stupid enough to view age old guerrilla marketing of our community as support. More importantly how much money have they given to LGBTQ community in Russia & show me some examples of them speaking out in Russia on the communities behalf. I will continue to support the boycott of all Russian goods and ask you in turn, if you are so appalled by the oppressive homophobic legislation, what action will you be taking?