Business, Economics and Jobs

Russian vodka boycott to protest anti-gay law spreads


Last week, some bars in the United States stopped selling Russian vodka to protest an anti-gay law passed by Russia’s parliament in June and signed into law this month.

Now bars in Canada, the UK and Australia have joined in the boycott.

The Russian law bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” including  gay pride events.

More from GlobalPost: Russia's anti-gay bill reflects rising homophobia

Bars in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago have pulled bottles of Russian spirits off their shelves.

Revolver Video Bar, a gay bar on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, has boycotted all Stolichnaya Vodka branded products, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Revolver Video Bar could not support any brand associated with Russia at a time when the Russian government is implementing its anti-gay law that bans gay ‘propaganda,’ ” the bar said on its Facebook page.

BoxersNYC, a chain of bars in New York, has also joined the boycott, CBS News reported. “As the largest LGBT seller of Stoli in the region, we feel that this symbolic step is of great importance in showing our solidarity,” Robert Fluet, co-owner of the BoxersNYC bars, said in a statement.

Jeremy Joseph, co-founder and owner of the G-A-Y Group, which operates London's Heaven nightclub, said his company was boycotting Russian vodka for a similar reason. “Gay venues banning Russian vodka isn’t just about trying to hit the Russian economy, but it’s a way of showing solidarity and that the lesbian and gay community in Russia are on our minds,” he told the Independent.

The campaign has been encouraged by blogger Dan Savage.

Stolichnaya is being unfairly targeted, the CEO of parent company SPI Group Val Mendeleev argues.

“The recent dreadful actions taken by the Russian Government limiting the rights of the LGBT community and the passionate reaction of the community have prompted me to write this letter to you,” Mendeleev said in an open letter released Thursday. “I want to stress that Stoli firmly opposes such attitude and actions.”

The company is no friend of the Russian government, Mendeleev told RIA Novosti in an interview. In 2010, he said, “there was a law enacted specifically to disallow us to be the Russian vodka. We now produce it in the original distillery in Latvia,” using Russian ingredients.

Stoli’s Russian owner, Yury Shefler, “doesn’t live in Russia, he cannot even go to Russia, he was really kicked out,” Mendeleev added. The SPI Group is headquartered in Luxembourg.

“We as a group have always promoted fairness and transparency, and have been strong supporters of the LGBT community from years ago, and suddenly to be associated with what’s happening in Russia now, it’s nuts, because it’s just the opposite of what we do,” he said.

Russian Standard vodka, still entirely produced in Russia and owned by Russian oligarch Roustam Tariko, has declined to comment, the Independent reported.

While the vodka boycott is gaining momentum, at least one Russian gay activist has questioned its power. "What is the aim of this boycott?" LGBT activist Nikolai Alekseev said in an interview with Gay Star News. "The producers, even if they become bankrupt because of the boycott (which is unlikely) will not be able to influence Russian politics and President Putin as well as the decisions of the State Duma."

[View the story "Dump vodka?" on Storify]