By Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times
Gay rights groups have been ceremoniously dumping Stolichnaya vodka into gutters from West Hollywood to Manhattan in protest against a Russian law banning gay pride events and other public displays of homosexual “propaganda.”
The problem with the North American boycott, known on Twitter as the #dumpstoli campaign, is that the vodka is distilled in Latvia and owned by a Luxembourg company controlled by a Russian billionaire driven into exile for his opposition to just the kind of official prejudice exhibited in the new law targeting gays.
Latvia’s leading gay rights group, Mozaika, has been leading the campaign to get well-intentioned Western comrades to cease boycotting Stolichnaya, arguing that it will only hurt Latvians who are committed to diversity and tolerance.
“Latvia was under Soviet occupation for over 50 years,” Mozaika board member Kaspars Zalitis wrote in a post on the group’s Facebook page, lamenting that many foreigners still mistakenly consider the small Baltic nation to be 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.”
Gay rights supporters “should act and react in regards to grave violations of human rights in Russia and elsewhere,” the Mozaika statement said, but cautioned that “it is essential to do careful research” to ensure the actions are aimed at the right target.
Latvijas Balzams, the distillery producing Stolichnaya, has 600 employees and is one of the nation’s biggest exporters.
“The #dumpstoli campaign worldwide is targeting the wrong country,” the international citizen-produced online newspaper The Journalist warned Friday.
In its coverage of a Thursday protest by New York City gay bar patrons outside the Russian consulate, the news website quoted one boycott organizer as saying Stolichnaya was Russian “in tradition” and therefore a legitimate target.
The boycott hasn’t seriously affected sales of Russian Standart vodka, a genuine Russian product, nor the popularity of Kaspersky Antivirus software, another major Russian export to North America, The Journalist reported.
SPI Group, the Luxembourg-based owner of the Stolichnaya label, is “very optimistic” about its prospects for getting the international boycott called off once the organizers understand that Stolichnaya isn’t a Russian product, a company spokesman was quoted by the Associated Press as saying in an emailed message Friday.
“We have been active in setting the records straight – that we stand on the same side and that we hate to be associated with the attitude and actions of the Russian government on this issue,” SPI Group told the news agency.