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Dan Savage: Why I'm Boycotting Russian Vodka

1374691438-dumprussianvodka_square_logo-1In an article posted to the Slog blog, Dan Savage addressed the recent spate of human rights abuses against LGBT individuals in Russia, arguing these offenses have become so egregious as to warrant action by members and allies of the LGBT community. Savage echoed the calls of others such as Harvey Fierstein who in a recent op-ed implored, "Can we allow this war against human rights to go unanswered?" The answer, according to Savage, is an emphatic and resounding, "no." However, assuming something should be done, what's the best course of action? There has been some debate as to how supporters of LGBT rights should go about responding to the violence and hate in Russia. Ruminating on a potential boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia, Savage points to Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play Project, and his rejoinder to the question of an Olympic boycott:

"In 1968, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar refused to play in the Olympics as a protest against the treatment of blacks in America. The same year, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on a medal stand, gloved fists in the air, as a protest against the treatment of blacks in America. History remembers the athletes who showed up.... To send the strongest possible message of support to the LGBT community, we must send our athletes—those who are LGBT, those who are LGBT-supportive, those with LGBT family members or friends. Let them show that champions stand strong with their teammates and training partners. Send our openly LGBT and “publicly pro-gay” athletes and let them compete. Let them win. Show the world that there are elite LGBT athletes who are not afraid to be themselves, on and off the playing field. That the majority of the world’s finest athletes support their LGBT teammates, coaches, and opponents by treating them as equals in competition."

However, irrespective of the Olympics, Savage suggests a boycott of Russian vodka is a more effective and immediate way to stand up to Russia's thugish anti-gay actions, giving momentum to previous calls for a boycott. Savage writes,

Savage"There is something we can do right here, right now, in Seattle and other US cities 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 Putin's increasingly fascistic Russia: DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.

Here is a list of Russian vodkas currently available in the US: Dovgan, Gold Symphony, Standart, Hrenovuha, Kauffman , Kubanskaya, Moskovskaya, Narodnaya, Pyatizvyozdnaya, Putinka, Rodnik, Ruskova, Russian Standard, Shustov, Starka, Stolnaya, Youri Dolgoruki. The two best known Russian vodkas? Russian Standard and Stolichnaya.

If you drink a Russian Vodka like Stoli, Russian Standard, or any of the other brands listed above, switch to another brand from another country, or even a local brand from a local distillery. Stoli is the iconic Russian Vodka and it's returning to Russian ownership in 2014. Other brands like Russian Standard should also be boycotted. Do not drink Russian vodka. Do not buy Russian vodka. Ask your bartender at your favorite bar—gay or otherwise—to DUMP STOLI and DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA."

Savage also makes sure to point out that, despite what their wikipedia page might suggest, Stoli is in fact a Russian owned company and therefore a worthy target of the boycott.

Some have already begun to join the boycott. The Windy City Times reports that Sidetrack, one of Chicago's biggest gay bars, has stopped serving Stoli and other Russian vodkas. Another bar in Chicago, The Call, has joined the boycott as well.

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  1. I would say not just vodka but boycott anything else made in Russia.

    Posted by: robert | Jul 25, 2013 8:51:54 AM

  2. Words sure aren't going to catch anyone's attention in Russia. There needs to be a strong boycott of Russian Vodka for sure (that's an easy one). Not just one brand though. Dump them all and any other Russian products (some not so easy), since we aren't so sure what comes from where when it comes to oil, minerals and gems.

    Posted by: Hey Darlin' | Jul 25, 2013 8:54:43 AM

  3. Boycotting the Olympics would be a better tactic, but I doubt that entire nations would stand in solidarity with their gay athletes to make such a move.

    Boycotting Russian vodka won't have much of an impact. There are plenty of Russians who would drink up the excess.

    Posted by: Jack M | Jul 25, 2013 9:03:36 AM

  4. A nice rainbow motif incorporated into the US official attire would be nice. Let the athletes compete but let the fans watch it on TV. No one should visit Russia as a spectator or tourist. South Africa was pressured in the 80's and it worked. The same pressure should be applied to repressive countries like Russia. Isolate them economically and culturally.

    Posted by: terry | Jul 25, 2013 9:17:51 AM

  5. Hey, I'm all for it. And the 2014 Olympics, too.

    But I've been boycotting Russian vodka for years now, mostly because it's generally awful.

    Posted by: JamesInCA | Jul 25, 2013 9:22:31 AM

  6. Don't mess with Dan Savage
    Sidetrack Bar in Chicago is dumping Stoli and ALL russian vodka in protest
    Every LGBT Bar should do the same TODAY

    Posted by: Gilbert | Jul 25, 2013 9:25:29 AM

  7. As to the ownership of Stoli, it still seems murky. At one point the brands Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya did belong to a Dutch company, Spirits, but it is owned by a Russian oligarch, Yuri Shefler.

    Apparently the Russian government contested that ownership and wanted to return ownership of the brands to Russia, and a Dutch court agreed in 2012.

    The Stoli website is run by SPI, which is Shefler's company, and says the vodka is made in Riga, Latvia.

    Someone should really do the research on this to make sure it's not Dutch and Latvian workers who are punished by a boycott.

    Russkii Standart (Russian Standard) is incontestably Russian.

    Posted by: KevinVT | Jul 25, 2013 9:32:51 AM

  8. ...and what about Jamaican rum?

    Posted by: Rad | Jul 25, 2013 9:38:00 AM

  9. A lot of the raw ethanol for Russian vodka comes from the US. Shouldn't Dan be coming up with a nasty redefinition of the name Putin?

    Posted by: anon | Jul 25, 2013 9:44:32 AM

  10. A lot of gays/advocates have said this already!! ..typical of Dan Savage to take all the credit...Media Ho!!

    Posted by: Alan Brickman | Jul 25, 2013 9:58:15 AM

  11. @Terry, See that is the right thing to do, a vodka boycott seems stupid. Who in Russia is actually making money off of it? A better use might be to gay up russian websites and pages.

    Posted by: Fenrox | Jul 25, 2013 10:00:19 AM

  12. Boycott all Russian Goods!!....

    Posted by: Alan Brickman | Jul 25, 2013 10:00:37 AM


    Posted by: Rad | Jul 25, 2013 10:11:34 AM

  14. Alan Brickman, Dan Savage is out there getting things done and raising awareness. What the hell have you done? Oh you post comments on blogs. Very helpful. I'm sure you're changing the world with that.

    Posted by: Jerry | Jul 25, 2013 10:12:23 AM

  15. If the purpose of a boycott is to make a consumer feel better about his or her choices, or gain publicity for publicity seekers, then this is a great idea. But this boycott is not going to change policy through economic pressure, and it's silly to think it will.

    Exports, which are only about a quarter of Russia's GDP, are dominated by oil and natural gas and other raw materials. Of the roughly $41 billion in exports, only about a half billion is from alcohol exports (about one percent of exports, or .3 percent of GDP--and the U.S. is but one trading partner). About $6 billion in alcohol revenue comes from domestic and import excise taxes, and most of that tax revenue is on beer made by companies like Anheuser/InBev, Heineken, and SABMiller. Maybe we should boycott Budweiser, Miller, etc. since these companies pump much more into the Russian economy than vodka exports.

    If Dan Savage wants to be bold and promote a more effective boycott, he should advocate for the U.S. to no longer be dependent on oil, gas, and coal. He should stop driving, stop flying, and advocate for clean energy use and development. Russia and most other oppressive regimes are dependent on natural resource export. NOT VODKA.

    Posted by: Daniel | Jul 25, 2013 10:50:14 AM

  16. But how will Sister Savage get a compliment of cosmos down her constantly flappin' yap?

    Posted by: Bollux | Jul 25, 2013 10:50:54 AM

  17. Boycotting the Winter Olympics in 2014 is a very bad idea. It would hurt all American Olympic Athletes. Boycotting Russian Vodka, indeed boycotting all Russian products is a very good idea. It will hurt Russians and let them know that their bigoted behavior is unacceptable.

    Posted by: andrew | Jul 25, 2013 10:53:15 AM

  18. You know, Putin LOVES to push that he's the most masculine man in the world. Why not start publicly saying we think he's gay. That his anti-gay rant is just covering for his latent homosexuality. "I have a friend who knows a guy who's friend had sex with him. Oh, he's a BIG bottom...!" He's not going to care much about boycotts and endless wringing of hands in the West... but having people say he takes it up the ass? That is a huge insult to him.

    C'mon gossip mongers! Get to work!

    Seriously... you know he probably is. It's like those French anti-gay protesters that are ALWAYS shirtless. Something is going on there and I'm sure it's the same with Vlad.

    Get glad with Vlad and tell him it's okay to be gay...

    Posted by: CMLion | Jul 25, 2013 11:04:46 AM

  19. "In 1968, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar refused to play in the Olympics as a protest against the treatment of blacks in America. The same year, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood on a medal stand, gloved fists in the air, as a protest against the treatment of blacks in America. History remembers the athletes who showed up."

    That would be a great argument were it not for the fact that[, for admittedly unrelated reasons,] in fact history remembers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and not Tommie Smith or John Carlos.

    Posted by: Patric | Jul 25, 2013 11:05:09 AM

  20. Patric has a point: history remembers the athletes who showed up and raised their fists in the air -- well, they remember the picture, if not the names of the athletes.

    Having said that, at the time, that picture was pretty damn explosive in world culture. Would be nice if something similar could happen re the gay rights issue at the Olympics in Russia.

    Posted by: Joseph | Jul 25, 2013 11:29:14 AM

  21. Boycott Russian products. Massive email to bombard the Russian embassies and consulates world-wide in protest. Hound Russian ambassadors and consular officials world-wide. And encourage all LGBTQ-friendly countries and athletes to show some symbol, in unison, as a protest, at the Winter Olympics and challenge Russia to arrest, deport or imprison any one who does. Call the Russians out on their homophobia.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Jul 25, 2013 12:06:38 PM

  22. Icelandic vodka is better anyway. You can boycott this product and still make fantastic beverages.

    Posted by: Gregoire | Jul 25, 2013 12:16:27 PM

  23. I still refuse to see what this boycott accomplishes, he's covered every argument that people have used against boycotting Stoli BESIDES the fact that Stoli is and has been very supportive of the LGBT Community!

    I saw a friend on Facebook post a petition yesterday. It urges Coca-Cola, VISA, Procter&Gamble, Samsung, and Panasonic to pull their sponsorship from the Olympics. Now THAT would make a huge statement! Why are we going out of our way to harm companies who are on our side by boycotting their product?

    I totally agree with his stance on LGBT Olympians attending the games though. There's nothing better than a worldwide stage to make a huge statement.

    Posted by: WDK | Jul 25, 2013 12:51:37 PM

  24. These are Stolichnaya's own words from their Facebook page.

    "Stolichnaya Premium Vodka continues to be fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community. This is true in all the countries the brand operates in around the world. SPI, the owner of Stoli, does not own the Stolichnaya brand in Russia. The Stolichnaya made in Russia for the local market is owned by a State controlled entity that has absolutely no connection to SPI. Stoli firmly opposes the beliefs supported by the Russian Government in relation to the treatment of the LGBT community. If SPI were to manufacture, market and sell Stoli in Russia, the brand would actively demonstrate support for the LGBT community as it does throughout the rest of the world where Stoli is available."

    Boycotting the most visible Russian brand is not the solution to the human rights crisis in Russia. Especially not when said brand is pro-gay.

    As others have said, non hydro carbon exports from Russia are a tiny percentage of its economy. Boycotting Stolichnaya is not the way forward because it won't help. Writing to one's elected representatives, staging protests in front of Russian embassies and consulates is a way forward. Just not as easy as giving up a vodka.

    Posted by: Greg | Jul 25, 2013 1:24:07 PM

  25. So is Stoli owned by the government? I mean why boycott a product just because it's owners are in Russia? Do we want all American products boycotted when other countries don't like our laws, or wiretapping against our citizens? Maybe I just don't understand.

    Posted by: Charlie | Jul 25, 2013 1:30:08 PM

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