A lot of anger has been directed lately at Russian vodka due to Vladimir Putin’s horrible anti-gay laws. One group, led by sex columnist/guy-we’d-totally-sleep-with Dan Savage is even leading a #DumpStoli boycott of Stolichnaya vodka because it is Russian. Unfortunately, Savage and his friends couldn’t be more wrong about Stoli (which is not a Russian vodka). So, the BYGays are here to help set the record flamboyantly straight.
Before we get started, we should point out that BYT has a wonderful working relationship with Diagio, which owns rival vodka brand Smirnoff and all it’s uber-delicious Smirnoff brands. So, we have no financial interest in presenting you our:
Complete History of Stoli Vodka as Told by GIFs
Created sometime around 1950, Stolichnaya vodka was an iconic brand of the Soviet Union. Everyone there drank it, and it was as Soviet as the Bolshoi Ballet, Sputnik, and dancing bears.
And we mean everyone in the Soviet Union drank it.
But then, in 1991 the Soviet Union suddenly broke up.
It was a crazy time in the former Soviet Union, and especially in Russia. No one knew what the fuck was going on.
Enter Yuri Sheffler, a Russian businessman who bought the rights to Stolichnaya vodka for around $400,000 from the Kremlin-controlled FKP Soyuzplodoimport company. It was a steal.
In the case of Stolichnaya and Sheffler, Putin was all like “I will hunt you down to the end of the Earth and take your vodka company.”
And Sheffler was like “Whatevs…”
Basically, every bottle of Stolichnaya vodka sold pissed off Vladimir Putin to no end.
In 2001, Putin threatened to throw Sheffler into jail and take his company. So, the Russian billionaire left for Western Europe and took Stolichnaya with him.
For the past twelve years, due to the fact that Vladimir Putin wants to jail its owner and steal his company, Stoli has not been a Russian company. Shefler lives in exile. The Stoli brand is owned by a Dutch company, whose parent company SPI Group is headquartered in Luxemburg, and who produces its Stoli vodka in Latvia.
But wait, there are actually two Stolis.
When Stolichnaya split from Russia, Putin set up his own Stoli. Putin’s zombie Stoli only sells Stolichnaya vodka inside Russia, but it retains the same label and packaging. Think of it as Stoli’s evil Russian twin. But, unless you’re drinking Stolichnaya vodka in Russia, you are not drinking Russian Stoli vodka. You’re drinking Dutch/Latvian vodka.
But, controlling his fake Stolichnaya vodka inside Russia wasn’t enough for Vladimir Putin. So, he decided to go all Legally Blonde and fight Yuri Sheffler in every court he could around the world in order to take control of the Stoli brand.
So far…he’s failed.
What Putin has succeeded in is passing a series of draconian anti-gay laws in Russia. Like, seriously, anti-gay.
That pissed off the gays, and they decided to do something about it.
And the gays LOVE vodka. Like, Lurrve it.
So, a bunch of rightfully angry queens (ahem, sexy DILFy Dan Savage) decided to do something about it. So, they launched a campaign to dump Stoli vodka because they heard it was Russian.
Before we go any further, let’s recognize that Dan Savage and the ‘Dump Stoli’ group is trying to do the right thing. That’s good.
The first problem, though, with the campaign is that it was launched by Westerners without actually talking to any activists inside Russia.
The second problem is that Stoli is not Russian. They were thinking of Vladimir Putin’s evil-twin Russian Stoli vodka.
When confronted with this fact, the Dump Stoli group responded by saying that Stoli’s owner is ethnically Russian (without noting that he’s on the run from Russia because Vladimir Putin wants to take his company).
But then, they protested that Stoli deserves a boycott because it says “Russian Vodka” on the label. But, that’s marketing (and it actually hasn’t said that in about seven years). That’s like protesting T.G.I. Friday’s because it serves German chocolate cake.
But, then they complained that Stoli uses some Russian ingredients…just like Coca-Cola uses some Russian ingredients in the products that it sells throughout Russia. Actually, Coca-Cola operates up to 16 plants in the Russian Federation while employing over 13,000 people there (and claiming its supply chain employs up to 130,000 people). But, no one is calling on gays to dump Fanta and Sprite and certainly not Diet Coke.
“Whatever,” Dan Savage and his ‘Dump Stoli’ friends responded. “At the end of the year Stoli will be a Russian company again.” Well…not exactly. A court in the Hauge ruled that the Stoli brand in the Netherlands, Luxemburg, and Belgium did belong to the Russian Federation. So, it could be possible that Putin could be selling his zombie Stoli vodka in those three countries soon (but, just there). But, it’s still unclear if that will happen. We’ll wait to see what the legal experts have to say.
“Well,” people like Savage say. “Stoli has never hidden its Russian roots and actually embraces them.” Yes, that’s correct. You can say the same thing for Cuban exile Gloria Estefan who has never hidden her Cuban roots, embraces them, and has capitalized on being Cuban. Yet, it would be unfair to target Estefan for the policies of the Castro brothers in Cuba. In fact, as a Cuban exile, Estefan has been on of their largest critics – just as Yuri Sheffler, as a Russian exile, has been one of Putin’s largest critics.
Ok, ok. We get that Stoli’s owner has been in a decade-plus battle with Vladimir Putin and Putin has persecuted Stoli vodka literally to the ends of the Earth. But, as people like John Aravosis of AmericaBlog argue, if hurting Stoli and Yuri Sheffler is the price to pay to raise awareness for this issue, then that is a good thing. It’s drawing attention to the greater good. Actually, that is called scapegoating, and it is one of the most evil things you can do as a human being.
On Friday, the Latvian LGBT group MOZAIKA called on the ‘Dump Stoli’ group to stop their boycott as it is actually hurting Latvia and not Russia.
When confronted with all of this, Dan Savage brushed it off saying that he couldn’t be bothered since he was on vacation.
But, refusing to recognize that they were wrong from the beginning, the Dump Stoli group continues to act like a bunch of crazy creationists and deny reality.
So, what can you do to combat homophobia and homophobic laws in Russia? The first thing to do is to listen to local Russian activists. The roots of homophobia and homophobic laws in Russia are different than the United States and the path forward is going to be hard. But, we can dialogue with local activists to see what they want us to do.
On the home front, in December, the U.S. implemented permanent normal trade relations with the Russian Federation. This means that trade with Russia will no longer be subject for review based on human rights violations. There are a few major U.S. companies who spent a lot of money lobbying for this. They include Caterpillar, Deere & Co., International Paper and Boeing. These companies make millions – if not billions – in Russia and operate multiple plants there. In fact, Boeing (while now headquartered in Chicago as of a few years ago) is culturally based in Dan Savage’s hometown of Seattle. Boeing is huge in Russia and even supplies the Russian state with military equipment. Boeing hopes that trade normalization with Russia will make the company over $130 billion over the next two decades. Instead of targeting Stoli, which is persecuted by the Russian state and which maintains a small footprint in the Russian Federation, it might be worth looking at what pressure can be applied to these companies who maintain massive operations in Russia…and what pressure can be applied the U.S. Congress.
So, can you drink Stoli? If you are outside of Russia, drink up. Not only is Stolichnaya an extremely LGBT friendly brand, every bottle of Stoli vodka sold pisses off Vladimir Putin to no end. We hope that Dan Savage will soon join reality so we can go back to fantasizing about giving him blowjobs (seriously, Dan, call us).
Although the BYGays drink vodka, they prefer whiskey. For more on DC’s LGBT nightlife scene follow the @BYGays on Twitter.