Russia’s Homophobia, Boycott Of Vodka, Stoli’s CEO Reacts
If you haven’t been paying attention to this whole thing, this is what you need to know: Russia’s adopting and enforcing homophobic laws that has outraged the international community. Many Russian nationals have been arrested and prosecuted under this “anti-gay propaganda law” that President Vladimir Putin is championing across the country. And foreigners have been already been victims of this. Some people even have propose to boycott the Winter Olympics, which will be held on Sochi, Russia next year. This, however, has not taken off with many cause of the nature of the event and what it means to athletes, who could actually voice their opinions in favour of our community in a global platform. The Olympic Committee has voiced its opinion on this, calling for reason and the protection of Human Rights, and has declared that it got the assurance from the Russian Government that athletes and fans who attend to Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics will not be subjected to such law (we’ll see).
Queer Nation and many other activists, including Dan Savage, have been calling for a boycott on Russian products, specially vodka. Stoli is one of the most commercial and popular Russian products, and it has been the target of many boycotts by some of the biggest and most popular gay clubs and bars in the US, Canada, the UK and Mexico (and still counting). However, there’s been a bit of a controversy surrounding Stoli, given that it has been featured in many endorsements for gay news outlets and event organisers, including Queerty. And Stoli has sent out statements declaring that they 1) are not Russian owned, 2) they do not share the Russian Government’s views on LGBT issues. But Dan Savage is not swallowing: Stoli IS Russian, and owned by one of the most richest men in Russia. And most importantly, they have not yet voiced their opinion directly to Putin and the Kremlin, and until that, in the eyes of us all, no matter how many queer events they sponsor in America and Europe, they’re guilty by omission for the suffering and stigmatisation that LGBT Russians are going through. They owe it to their fellow countrymen.
Dan Savage reports:
The CEO of Stolichnaya Vodka released an open letter to the gay community today—so they’re paying attention, which is good, and they’re scared, which is even better.
For the record: Regardless of where SPI Group’s corporate offices are located, the company is owned by Yuri Scheffler, one of the 100 richest men in Russia. SPI is a Russian corporation, Stoli is a Russian vodka. And while it’s nice that SPI is willing to market to homos who are lucky enough to live in Austria, the US, and South Africa, what has SPI done in Russia? The group has sponsored gay pride events in Vienna and Miami. That’s nice. But have they sponsored gay pride events in Moscow or St. Petersburg? Val says that Stoli is upset and angry. That’s nice. So has Stoli said anything to the Russian authorities? Has Yuri Scheffler expressed his anger in an open letter to Vladimir Putin? Did the SPI Group speak the fuck up before the Russian government passed a law that made it a crime to be openly gay and a crime to publicly support someone who is openly gay? Frankly I’m not interested in Stoli’s marketing efforts in the West. I’m interested in what this Russian-owned company is doing in Russia. And from this letter it’s clear they’ve done and they only plan on doing squat.
Two commenters at JMG cut to the heart of the matter:
I guess the paragraph about how Stoli is going work toward demanding that the Russian Government end discrimination went missing.
Dear Russian Oligarch: You and your friends control your nation via your fortune and connections. Fix this or GTFO.
But this comment at JMG wins the thread:
So is the CEO of Stoli now subject to arrest and incarceration in Russia for writing this pro-gay letter?
And of course, Queer Nation has responded already by saying “Marketing is NOT enough”:
A Statement From Queer Nation; Marketing Is Not Enough
Val Mendeleev, the chief executive officer of SPI Group, the owner of the Stolichnaya brand, confirmed in an open letter on July 25 that SPI produces this vodka in Russia and that SPI has offices and operations in Russia. Stolichnaya is a Russian vodka that is owned by a company that was founded in Russia in 1991.
On the same day that SPI released its open letter to the Advocate, we learned that Russian thugs, emboldened by Russia’s anti-gay law, have taken to gay web sites to lure gay people to supposed encounters where they are viciously beaten. This is just the latest in a series of violent attacks against LGBT Russians and foreign LGBT nationals in Russia.
This violence follows news reports of Russian police and prosecutors targeting LGBT people and groups in Russia for arrests and trials. At least two Russian LGBT groups have gone underground as a result.
In the open letter, Mr. Mendeleev cited a few LGBT events where SPI promoted its Stolichnaya brand as evidence of the company’s support for our community. Mr. Mendeleev, marketing will not save LGBT lives.
A single open letter that was discreetly placed with a single gay publication in the US will not help LGBT Russians nor will it have an impact on the Russian government’s anti-gay campaign. This and your refusal made in an earlier statement to confront the Russian government’s anti-gay bigotry make clear that you are not the fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community you claim to be.
By its own admission, SPI Group operates in Russia and pays taxes to the Russian government. That money funds these continuing attacks on LGBT people and organizations in Russia. Queer Nation will continue its boycott of Stolichnaya and other Russian vodkas until this anti-gay law is repealed and the Russian government guarantees the safety of its LGBT citizens and foreign LGBT nationals in Russia.
We will not help you fund the Russian war on LGBT people.
Some, like Scott Shackford, do not agree with the boycott, at least, the one directed to Stoli:
"What’s sad about this effort is that if Russia succeeds in getting its hands back on Stoli, then a boycott actually makes sense. But the consequence will be that a powerful businessman who does support the gay community will lose his company. Boycotting Stoli now is a very bad idea. [Stoli owner Yuri] Scheffler is an ally who the gay and lesbian community needs to work with, not alienate. From a Western perspective it may be hard to realize that an incredibly rich person like Scheffler has the potential to be a victim of Russia’s authoritarian regime like its gay citizens or members of Pussy Riot, but it’s extremely important not to look at the nature of power and influence there the way we do here."
I must remind everybody that the boycott targets all Russian products, and because vodka is a primary export from Russia, it is the object of many. Stoli is specially targeted cause of its status in American and European market and because of its denial of being Russian owned (when actually it is). But the boycott is aimed at ALL Russian brands.
Let’s see where it leads. At least, as Dan says, they are listening.