Libertarian Magazine Calls Boycott of Stoli Vodka Over Russia’s Anti-gay Regime A ‘Very Bad Idea’

BoycottIt's been a stressful week for companies like SPI Group, producer of Stolichnaya vodka, as boycotts of Russian products are currently underway in response to the country's anti-LGBT regime under Vladimir Putin.

So far, however, reactions to the boycott have been somewhat mixed. Some commentators, such as Scott Shackford with the libertarian magazine Reason say the boycott was started before all the facts were on the table.

Responding to the arguments that Dan Savage, Queer Nation, and others have made to continue the boycott despite the SPI Group's statement pledging their support to the LGBT community, Shackford says that there is a 'big Western bias' that is being left out of the equation.

Says Shackford:

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that the boycotters quite get it. Stoli sent out an open letter Thursday, declaring its support for gay rights, mentioning its history of activity within the gay community in America and other countries. But, Dan Savage posted, this isn't enough. What are they doing about the suffering of gays in Russia? Scheffler (SPI Group's CEO) is one of Russia's richest men!

There's a big Western bias in this argument, assuming that Russia's corporatism is like America's or Europe's corporatism. Because Scheffler's rich, he must have some sort of government influence! There must be something he can do! No doubt there are certainly similarities, but you simply can't ignore Russia's deeply nationalist streak and how closely it's flirting with autocracy. It doesn't take that much research to see how difficult a position Scheffler is in. Russia wants his company.

Shackford goes on to detail how, back in 2002, police ransacked the SPI headquarters in Moscow in an attempt to renationalize the Russian assets of the company. Scheffler himself is wanted for 'questioning' for allegedly threatening the director of the parts of the Russian company that were renationalized.

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. 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.

 In related news, The Guardian points out that even Russia's own gay rights activists are saying the boycott is misguided

"They mixed everything up. Stolichnaya isn't Russian," Said the lawyer Nikolai Alekseev, head of the Moscow Pride organizing committee.

Still, SPI Group isn't the only vodka company with ties to Russia. Russian Standard vodka, unlike Stolichnaya, is actually produced in Russia and owned by the Russian oligarch Roustam Tariko. The company has yet to comment publicly about the boycott.  



  1. says

    Of course Alekseev is against the boycott: it wasn’t his idea and he doesn’t get any attention from it, except by opposing it.

  2. anon says

    Shackford is arguing in both directions. In the first portion of his statement he claims the rich owner of Stoli has no power or influence with the Russian government. IN the second portion of his statement he says if the rich owner of Stoli loses his company to the government, we lose a POWERFUL ally.

    Which is he, powerful or not?

  3. FakeOutrage says

    Anon, it’s actually both.

    If he loses his company to Russia, he loses his platform on which to speak out against Russian. (put another way…his company isn’t owned by Russia, but identified with Russian and has some ties with the country, therefore his speaking out reflects on the country by extension…if Russia just takes the company he loses that)

  4. Dearcomrade says

    I have never consumed Stoli or any other Russian products. We should have nuke’d those commie’s a long time ago.

  5. tom says

    We are supposed to listen to the insane clown posse known as the Libertarians? Just a side note for the people being duped: Ted Cruz is supported by the Libertarians. Nuff said. Boycott Sochi and all Russian products!

  6. Hyacinth says

    Someone should just publish business research on Stoli (e.g. what accounting laws do they answer to, etc.).

  7. Gee says

    Good luck with Russia. It didn’t work in the 60’s and it won’t now. At least with the gay marriage fight you didn’t have to hide under your desk at school.

  8. Andy says

    Unfortunately, Stoli will have to be a casualty in this situation. I feel bad for them—truly—but many more companies will have to take the fall until Russia realizes it can’t export their tainted products to places that embrace freedom and kindness.

  9. JMC says

    I was under the impression the point of the boycott was more to raise publicity about what’s going on in Russia anyways, it’s received a ton of press already. It’s not like anyone expects Stoli to go bankrupt.

  10. JeffNYC says

    If we destroy Scheffler’s Stoli, Putin gets to nationalize it.

    It become Putin’s Stoli.

    The boycott will punish no wrongdoers and only serve to make things worse.

    Among the stupidest things the gay community has done, this is right up there with normalizing barebacking.

    Way to go, gays!

  11. says

    Only a boycott of Russian oil and gas can make Putin re-think his position on ze gayz. And who boycotts oil or gas from anywhere at market prices? Nobody. Putin is the smilingest dictator alive today, and the likes of Mugabe are making themselves ill with envy.

  12. Jack says


    Anyone who says not to listen to an idea because of a label attached to it, rather than the merit of idea, and concludes with “nuff said” betrays their own closed-mindedness and unwillingness to consider any points of view other than their own.

    Congrats, you are an intellectual midget.

  13. Ryan says

    The libertarian toilet paper “Reason” is against a civil rights boycott? SHOCKER!!

    Honestly, we shouldn’t be paying any attention to Reason, even if it’s a clock-stopped-twice sort of deal. They don’t deserve our attention and certainly don’t support our causes. You don’t have to look much further than the Paul family to know how much of a cancer “libertarians” are in this country.

  14. Tristy says

    Sorry, I’m not giving up my Stoli Raspberry and 7-up’s to stroke the inflated ego of Dan Savage. This boycott is dumb. Stoli isn’t even a Russian company anymore, it’s based in Luxembourg. So they only really sell products in Russia. You know who else sells their products in Russia? Every fortune 500 company in this country. Are we going to boycott every company that sells in Russia? I’m willing to bet that the food and beverage choices of everyone participating in this silly boycott also sell their products in Russia. The only effect this boycott will have is to punish a company that is pro lgbt has been for decades. If the company goes under the Russian government will swoop in and grab it. Then Russia wins…

  15. Rob says

    The boycott is quite reasonable and makes a reasonable statement in the face of horrific mistreatment. I would like to see pressure for companies doing business in Russia to support us or withdraw.

    When I was in college people lived in Soweto style shanty towns on campus and demonstrated regularly to get the university to divest from companies doing business in apartheid South Africa. There was enormous international pressure for divestment, which in turn played a crucial role in the dismantling of apartheid. It works, people.

  16. Victor says

    Vodka? A drop in the bucket. Try boycotting oil. Tons of Lukoil gas stations in New Jersey. All of the profit oil money is piped directly to Moscow.

  17. ReasonableDoubt says

    “…he loses his platform on which to speak out against Russian.” – FakeOutrage

    And when as he publicly done so?

  18. steven says

    ahhh, there’s something odd about coming to the aid of a rich man. if he was truly our friend, he would exit the company in some way that his career was salvaged, that is if he even needs one. we do not need the greedy as our allies. we need a voice and this has given us one.
    boycott all things russian, i say. bring them to their economic knees. for it is only money and power that putin recognizes anyway. sd

  19. Henry Holland says

    “boycott all things russian, i say”

    Sorry, not going to stop listening to Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and other Russian composers or watching/attending performances by the Bolshoi and Mariinsky ballet companies.

    This is my favorite kind of boycott, boycotting something I don’t use (vodka) anyway! 😛

  20. bobat says

    Stoli Vodka is about as Russian as a Dominoes Pizza is Italian. Scheffler is already one of Putin’s enemies, he’s basically banned from going back to Russia. Russian Standard however, is fair game.

    Gay rights folks from the US and Europe have a bad habit of not listening to the actual Russian Gay Rights movement about the best approaches for Russia. I think they are more interested in getting attention and money for themselves because of these issues, then they are actually helping move gay rights forward in Russia.

  21. says

    BOBAT: there IS no unified Russian Gay Rights movement that speaks with one voice.

    Sure, Alekseev is against it. It wasn’t his idea.
    But 9 out of 10 Russian activists never agree with Alekseev, and MANY of them support the boycott along with other strategies.

    Stolichnaya, as research including in Russian will show, IS in fact much more Russian than you think. They built a $100 million factory in Tambov. They own the fields the grain comes from. All in Russia.

  22. EchtKultig says

    “We are supposed to listen to the insane clown posse known as the Libertarians? ”

    Exactly. The myth that the “vast majority” of libertarians are not homophobic is, well, a huge myth. Perhaps _some_ of them are not homophobic, but if you actually go read libertarian messageboards, you will find plenty of homophobia, just of different stripe that you would at religious-right website. I’ve read, for example, that we have “damaged genes” or an “unidentified infectious organism” that causes our gayness, and that having children is the last thing we should be allowed to do.

  23. Bobby says

    Digital Sky Technologies(under Group), a Russian internet holding company, owns 5.4% of Facbeook making it the 3rd largest owner of the company. They also hold significant shares in Groupon and Zynga. Yuri Milner, founder of SKT, was named on Fortune magazine’s list of the world’s fifty most prominent business people in 2010 (the only Russian). This does not include the co-owner of Group, Alisher Usmanov, who is the richest Russian and 39th richest person in the world. I’m pretty sure their BILLIONS have more influence and does more for the Russian economy than the MILLIONS coming from Stoli. Why is no one calling on them to help force change in Russia or would it be too much for you to boycott Facebook?

  24. Brian says

    I think this boycott is misguided, and it seeks to punish Russia as a whole, including its LGBT citizens (or atleast, I perceive that’s the effect of a successful Russian liquor boycott). Why can’t we do something more meaningful like fundraising and more direct attempts at helping their LGBT population?

    This boycott feels stupid. It’s a crappy solution to something we should put more considerate thought into. We got money, as a community we should be able to provide REAL HELP. (perhaps with all that money we would’ve spent on vodka, lol.)

  25. John says

    Corporations in Russia don’t have the same influence as they do here in America. In America, they have lots of influence because we have a democracy, and corporations pour a lot of money into those elections to elect business-friendly politicians (which, I should point out, is something that really makes us upset here in the US).

    Russia, on the other hand, is on the verge of dictatorship. It is not a real democracy, and the legitimacy of its elections is highly questionable. If the elections are rigged, then corporations don’t have the same power to influence government that they do here. And again, we don’t like it in America when corporations do that anyway.

    While Russia certainly wants to keep money coming into the country, Stoli sales in the US don’t bring money into Russia. If we were serious about hurting Russia’s economic power, we’d go over the oil and gas industry.

    But we don’t because Americans don’t care about the human rights of others when it requires giving up our oil consumption. So instead, we pick Stoli. Not because it is an effective method of achieving our goals, but because it makes us feel good. And there is no loftier goal that tha.

  26. Heroic Mulatto says

    A good friend has pointed out to me that my last statement could have been misconstrued, and if that’s the case, I sincerely apologize for any emotional distress that it might have caused.

    Please allow me to clarify. The gist was to point out that for Ryan to be so cavalier in calling other human beings “cancer” is absolutely vile, especially coming from a member of a community that has had many experience the ravages and horror of said disease. My statement was a reflection on karmic justice expressed in a classically Yiddish mode (You should grow like an onion with your head in Hell, so you should know the tsuris I’m in.)

    And let me reiterate, libertarians are not an nebulous abstract concept encountered only behind one’s LCD monitor’s screen, but they are real people: men and women of all shapes, sizes, and colors who have family and friends who love them. And guess what? Some of them are even queer. So how dare Ryan refer to other human beings as “cancer” merely for the “crime” of disagreeing with his politics? (And who made him the Grand Political Commissar of All Gay People to determine just what supports or doesn’t support the “cause”)

    Referring to other groups of human beings as “cancer” has been the favorite rhetorical trope of genocidal maniacs throughout all of modern history. The Jews of Nazi Germany were referred to as “cancer”, the North Korean government regularly referrers to their domestic political dissidents as “cancer”, Milosovic referred to Bosnian Muslims as “cancerous”, and many other places in the world have experienced similar atrocities (mutatis mutandis), and I’m certain that in Uganda, Russia, and even the United States some bigoted demagogue is referring to gays as a “cancer to be excised” even as I type this.

    That Ryan would type such a thing is a chilling look into his psyche, for it is clear that he is a man that would gladly use the power of the state to send his political enemies to the camps (and, like Ernst Röhm, only to be confused when they eventually slap a pink triangle on him and send him there as well).

    I make no apology for calling Ryan out on his dehumanizing in the most disgusting way those whom he perceives as his political opponents. And if anyone has a problem with that, I hope you cut your foot while gardening and become infected with antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria and die.