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LGBT activists target brands including Stolichnaya and Russian Standard in response to ban on ‘gay propaganda’
There’s nothing more Russian than vodka, so when gay and lesbian activists decided to protest against the country’s persecution of homosexuals it made sense to target its most famous drink.
The US sex writer Dan Savage, famous for his online campaign against the homophobic senator Rick Santorum, called for a vodka boycott to draw attention to new laws allowing police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual or “pro-gay”.
“To show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people and straight allies in Vladimir Putin’s increasingly fascistic Russia: dump Russian vodka,” Savage wrote on his blog, He singled out the brands Stolichnaya and Russian Standard, coining the hashtag #DumpStoli for the campaign, which has been backed by Queer Nation and the Russian-American group Rusa LGBT.
Savage said attacks on LGBT people in Russia were escalating, and criticised the state for banning gay pride marches in Moscow and St Petersburg.
Six bars in Chicago announced they would stop selling Russian products, and a seventh bar said it had withdrawn Stolichnaya, according to Windy City Times, a Chicago LGBT newspaper.
The campaign seemed to have an instant success when the manufacturers of Stolichnaya criticised Russia’s record on lesbian and gay rights.
In an open letter published this week, Val Mendeleev, the head of the SPI group, condemned the Russian government for “limiting the rights of the LGBT community” and noted that the Russian state has no ownership or control of the brand, which is produced in Latvia.
On its Facebook page, the company posted a multicoloured banner reading: “Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong and proud with the global LGBT community against the actions and beliefs of the Russian government.”
Stolichnaya, with its distinctive red-and-white label, was produced by the state in Soviet times and was reportedly the favourite vodka of Boris Yeltsin. After an attempt by the Russian state to regain the brand name in the 2000s, SPI Group, which is based in Luxembourg, has produced Stolichnaya in Latvia using Russian ingredients. Meanwhile, the state-owned Soyuzplodimport produces a nearly identical vodka in Russia.
Russia’s leading gay rights activist said the boycott was misguided.
“They mixed everything up. Stolichnaya isn’t Russian,” said the lawyer Nikolai Alekseev, head of the Moscow Pride organising committee.
“This is all good for attracting attention to the situation in Russia, like any other action, such as boycott of the Olympics, but it will not drastically change anything,” he added.
Unlike Stolichnaya, Russian Standard vodka is produced in Russia and is owned by the Russian oligarch Roustam Tariko. A spokesman for the company declined to comment.
In June Russia’s parliament unanimously passed a law banning the spreading of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors, prompting calls for other countries to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The law in effect makes it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships, and to distribute material on gay rights. It introduces fines for individuals and media groups found guilty of breaking the law, as well as special fines for foreigners. Four Dutch activists were charged in Murmansk this week under the law.
This is not Savage’s first controversial LGBT campaign: in 2003, he held a contest to create a definition for “santorum” after Santorum made comments critical of gay marriage. The new word was defined as “the frothy mixture of lube and faecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex”.