The #dumpstoli campaign worldwide is targeting the wrong country.
Latvia’s LGBT organization Mozaika posted an open letter on Facebook calling for an end to the boycott of Stolichnaya Vodka. The August 1 post was made one day after a crowd of New Yorkers dumped bottles of Stoli vodka on a sidewalk in front of the Russian Consulate in New York. It was a symbolic protest against Russia’s draconian “anti-gay propaganda” laws.
“Stolichnaya vodka is not produced in Russia,” says Kaspars Zalitis, a Mozaika board member and co-chair of Riga’s EuroPride 2015. “It is misleading to say that it is a Russian product. All Stolichnaya vodka for worldwide export is produced in Latvia. Stolichnaya is produced by the Latvian company Latvijas Balzams and production takes place in Riga, the capital of Latvia.”
The global success of the #dumpvodka campaign may have been perpetuated by Cold War-era Russian stereotypes.
“Latvia was under Soviet occupation for over 50 years,” Zalitis wrote. “Therefore we are still very often mistakenly considered to be a part of Russia. Latvia is a proud member of the European Union and is striving to be an open, democratic country. We would kindly ask you to reconsider your actions in regards to ‘Dump Stoli! Dump Russian Vodka!’ as this campaign will only harm Latvia, Latvia’s economy and employees of the company Latvijas Balzams. It could also backfire and have unintended negative consequences for the extremely fragile LGBT community in Latvia.”
Mozaika’s support for Stoli Vodka confirms recent public-relations efforts by CEO Val Mendeleev to fight the #dumpvodka campaign. Mendeleev leads SPI Group, the multinational Luxembourg-based company that produces Stoli in Latvia.
“I appreciate the good intentions and the aims [of the boycott],” Mendeleev said. “But Stoli is not friend of the Russian government. They will be happy to see that the LGBT community is targeting them. This is not what the community wants. It is the opposite.”
Boxers owner Bob Fluet said at the July 31 rally in New York that Stoli Vodka is his second-best-selling vodka. At the “Vodka Dump” protest across from the Russian Consulate, Fluet and two Boxers bartenders dumped Stoli Vodka and Russian Standard Vodka in the gutter.
Regarding SPI’s public relations efforts, Fluet told said that the owners of Stoli “have the ability to pick up the phone and talk to Russian officials and we don’t.”
Could a known opponent of Putin succeed in lobbying in support for LGBT rights? “I don’t know,” Fluet replied. “I can’t speak to that.”
The vodka boycott has reserved no real or sustained outrage over Russian Standard Vodka, a true Russian-made product, or Kaspersky Antivirus, the second largest Russian consumer product in the U.S. after Stoli.
Regarding Kaspersky Antivirus, Nina Long of RUSA LGBT commented, “They are not as popular to an average person. They don’t position themselves as Russian, which is different from Stoli. If you take Russian out of Stoli, what’s left?” Along with Queer Nation, RUSA LGBT, a U.S.-based association of Russian-speaking LGBTQ activists, helped organize the July 31 rally.
Mozaika states that the international community “should act and react in regards to grave violations of human rights in Russia and elsewhere.” However, it added, ”it is essential to do careful research before every action to make sure it reaches the addressee of the campaign.”
Stoli CEO Mendeleev added that his company is seeking a local Russian group to which it could donate money to help fight the anti-gay government repression in Russia.
Mozaika, which organizes Riga’s EuroPride, says it will need this financial support. Kaspars said: “This boycott campaign targeting Stolichnaya vodka will heavily impact any future possibilities to cooperate with SPI Group and Latvijas Balzams, as well as with other local companies. For a small country like Latvia, Stolichnaya is a very important export product and has nothing to do with the anti-LGBT activities in neighboring Russia.”