Photo: Courtesy of Stoli.
Since Dan Savage's op-ed in The Stranger late last month, bars in the United States have been boycotting Stoli in protest of Russia's fervent LGBTQ ban. While it's great to see institutions rallying behind gay activists, they're boycotting the wrong thing.
Stoli isn't Russian. It's a vodka with Russian ingredients, but it's not distilled nor is it distributed in Russia. In fact, Stoli's owner has been feuding with the Russian government for over a decade. Time reports that over $40 million worth of Stoli was seized by Russian customs in 2002, and subsequently the brand's rights controller, Yuri Shefler, was exiled. This, and the fact that Stoli is distilled in Latvia and distributed in the United States via William Grant & Sons USA, a sister company of a Scottish brand, weren't included in Savage's pious call to #DumpStoli.
Savage's intentions were good, though. Queer people living in Russia are seeing their rights being stripped away day by day. On June 11, a law was passed outlawing any education that deals with homosexuality. Not a month later, another law banned same-sex couples from adopting. There's talk that gay Olympians will be arrested when the games begin in 2014. But boycotting vodka, one of Russia's main exports, is problematic. It's like saying "the Italian government is corrupt — let's all stop going to Olive Garden!" Second of all, it's an easy and slightly lazy means of taking a stance. Why not focus on the actual issue? Or threaten to boycott the Olympics, a symbol of prestige and a long-term money maker that is close to the heart of any hosting country? That would be a much bigger blow, especially considering that boycotting Stoli (as Time's Eric Dodds points out) is probably making the Russian government happy, since they've been fighting the brand for over a decade. (Time)