Hey, that’s not Russian vodka you’re dumping — Stoli is from Latvia

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A symbolic gesture to #dumpstoli in West Hollywood earlier this week, the launch of a boycott against Stolichnaya vodka in protest of a new Russian law targeting gays. Latvian gay rights activists pointed out Friday that Stoli is made in Latvia and owned by a Luxembourg commercial group. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

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.

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  • Guest

    I am hearing boycott Russia …boycott the Olympics ….boycott A,B,C …that the U.S. should end all diplomatic relations with Russia ….here we go again think that the U.S. is all knowing all powerful trying to the rest of the world how to do things…no wonder we are so hated.

  • esco

    Meanwhile the fish downstream from the nearest storm drain die of alcohol poisoning from the vodka runoff. And it's not even Russian on top of that, geez..

  • Duncan Osborne

    Carol J. Williams has her facts wrong.

    Not even SPI Group, the Russian company that owns the Stolichnaya brand, is saying that this vodka is Latvian.

    SPI was founded in Russia in 1991. In the West, SPI marketed Stolichnaya as a Russian vodka until 2010. So for 19 of its 22 years as an SPI product, the company has proudly sold Stolichnaya as a Russian vodka. It still markets Stolichnaya as a Russian vodka in many countries, but not in the US.

    SPI has offices and operations in Russia where it employs several hundred people. The company grows the wheat and rye that are used in Stolichnaya on 19 square miles of Russian land, and all of the initial processing of the vodka is done in Russia at one of three distilleries the company operates in Russia. Only the final step occurs in Latvia. While SPI cannot market the Stolichnaya brand in Russia, it has other vodka brands that it sells in Russia.

    As the brand has gone global and the Russian identity has become an inconvenience for Stolichnaya in some markets, the company has altered the marketing and labeling. But marketing is not reality.

    Val Mendeleev, the CEO of SPI, disclosed all these facts in a July 31 interview with Michelangelo Signorile on Sirius radio except for the bit about marketing not being reality. SPI's spin clearly demonstrates that he believes marketing can become reality.

    SPI has launched marketing campaigns aimed at getting LGBT people to buy Stolichnaya, but this does not make SPI a friend to the LGBT community. What did SPI say when the Russian Duma was considering the recently passed anti-gay laws? Nothing. What did SPI say after these laws were enacted? Nothing. What has SPI said to the Russian government since this boycott of ALL Russian vodkas began? Nothing. Friends do not sit silently as those they claim to value are under attack. If it wants to be a friend, SPI has to stop arguing with the LGBT community and it has to start defending our LGBT brothers and sisters.