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Latvian distiller owner tries to defuse boycott of Stoli vodka

Friday, August 2, 2013

RIGA, Latvia — Many gay bars in North America have stopped selling the famous Stolichnaya vodka brand to protest Russia’s crackdown on the gay community. But the vodka’s maker has joined forces with Latvia’s leading gay rights group to say that the boycott is misplaced.

Though Stolichnaya is an historic Russian brand and some of its ingredients come from Russia, virtually all of the Stoli sold in the west is made in Latvia, a former Soviet republic that is now part of NATO and the European Union.

It’s the perception that it’s Russian that’s prompted the boycott — Russia recently introduced a law that bans so-called “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” and imposes hefty fines on those holding gay pride rallies.

The vodka is produced in Latvia by Latvijas Balzams, which has 600 employees and is one of the nation’s biggest exporters.

However, Latvijas Balzams is nearly 90 percent owned by Luxembourg-based SPI Group, which in turn is controlled by Yury Shefler, a Russian-born billionaire who left Russia a decade ago after falling out with the Kremlin over his support of opposition political parties.

Latvijas Balzams spokeswoman Dana Hasana said Friday that SPI is “continuing a dialogue with the (gay and lesbian) community” to dispel confusion about the origin of Stolichnaya vodka.

The Stoli.com website also proclaims it stands “strong & proud” with the global gay community “against the attitude & actions of the Russian government.”

And Mozaika, Latvia’s homosexual rights group, appealed to organizers of the “Dump Stoli! Dump Russian Vodka!” to drop their campaign.

“This campaign will only harm Latvia, Latvia’s economy and employees of the company Latvijas Balzams,” Mozaika said in a statement Thursday.

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Despite the boycott, Latvijas Balzams officials said the distillery saw no reason to consider decreasing Stolichnaya output in light of the boycott and that production of the world-famous vodka was up 10 percent in the first six months of the year.

As yet, there’s no sign that the boycott will be called off.

In the wake of Mozaika’s appeal, one group, Queer Nation, contended that SPI remained an appropriate target for a boycott.

“Though the company claims to be friend to our community, it was silent as the Russian government considered this horrific law, and it said nothing after the law was enacted,” Queer Nation said in a statement. “Stolichnaya only spoke up after the boycott was announced. Friends do not keep silent when those they claim to value are under attack.”

Queer Nation urged Mozaika to put pressure on SPI to take action in Russia seeking repeal of the anti-gay legislation.

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17 more reader comments:

  1. Well, I hate to say it, but if they get 10% of their materials from Russian sources than that´s still money to help persecute gays.

    Posted on Friday, August 2, 2013 at 7:00pm
  2. Rock and a hard place. =/

    Posted on Friday, August 2, 2013 at 7:35pm
  3. I agree with Queer Nation and with Erica Cook. Money from the sale of it is still putting money into the Russian economy. And, do we know Latvia´s policies regarding LGBT folks. Are they condemning what Russia is doing? The bottom line is this, folks. Do you want ANY of your queer dollars going to Russia, even one penny? If not, then boycott this and any other products which have Russian ingredients, and encourage the boycotting of the Olympics which wil put millions into the Russian economy.

    Posted on Friday, August 2, 2013 at 8:10pm
  4. WOW Turner, really grasping at straws to try and find some way to “punish” the Russians government. Even boycotting a pro lgbt company that may get some of its grain from Russia. Surely there is a better way! This Stoli boycott is not only completely silly….its downright outrageous. I hope Stoli forgives the lgbt community for stabbing it in the back….

    Posted on Friday, August 2, 2013 at 8:26pm
  5. The companies are intertwined. Buy Absolut, it´s better anyway.

    Posted on Friday, August 2, 2013 at 9:08pm
  6. Well then Turner I hope you plan to boycott absolutely everything because at some point it probably benefited Russia.

    The world doesn´t revolve around our community as much as places like Queer Nation would like to believe – a company based in Latvia that sometimes gets ingredients from Russia is probably not going to jump to stop them (not that they could).

    This has gotten so out of hand. Anyone who wants to continue this boycott even after it´s been proven Stoli ISN´T anti-gay and in fact, isn´t even Russian, is just as bad as the government they think they´re boycotting. Yes, I said it. At this point you´re just looking for excuses to be lazy and not do anything to actually implement change. Get over yourselves and do something to actually help those people, instead of beating a dead horse that wasn´t ever a horse to begin with.

    Posted on Friday, August 2, 2013 at 10:42pm
  7. This isn´t a rock and a hard place. Boycotting a company to sway a government was stupid when it started. That we´re not even boycotting a Russian company (and that we arbitrarily targeted ONE company when there are plenty of Rusian companies out there) is even stupider. It just demonstrates how ill thought out this whole thing is. Stop pretending like you´re some big hero. This is like bullying the nerd because the jock picked on you – we´re bullying Stoli for not stopping the biggest, meanest, richest kid on the playground. And as a community regularly victimized by bullying, the LAST thing we should be doing to get what we want is bullying others.

    Posted on Friday, August 2, 2013 at 10:45pm
  8. Boycotting Stolichnaya won´t do *anything* to sway the government. This is Russia, every little neighborhood grocer has dozens, if not hundreds of competing brands of vodka. Stolichnaya isn´t even sold in a lot of shops here. Stoli has been publicly pro-LGBT in their ads here in Russia in both English and Russian media for years. Since *before* all this recent furror over the local and national “homosexual propaganda” laws. Stoli is practically an Enemy of the State for criticising the government as they have done and are continuing to do. Here in Russia, newspapers are now printing disclaimers that articles “are not suitable for readers under the age of 18″ if the article has anything to do with Stoli.

    Posted on Friday, August 2, 2013 at 11:08pm
  9. buy Skyy

    Posted on Friday, August 2, 2013 at 11:18pm
  10. well i dont use that brand anyway , so no need here .

    Posted on Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 1:05am
  11. “… but if they get 10% of their materials from Russian sources..”

    Russia is the third largest producer of grain in the world, and the forth largest exporter. Unless you plan on hunting down every buyer of Russian grain and boycott them, you are full of shit.

    Posted on Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 1:20am
  12. Boycotting Stoilchnaya makes about as much sense as boycotting Ben and Jerry´s Ice Cream to oppose drone strikes in Afghanistan.

    Posted on Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 2:07am
  13. SPI Group, the company that owns the Stolichnaya brand, was founded in Russia in 1991 and it purchased the brand from the Russian government at that time. Its founder, Yuri Scheffler. is Russian. The company currently operates three distilleries in Russia, including the largest distillery in Russia, and it grows the wheat and rye that is used in Stolichnaya on 19 square miles of Russian land. The company employs several hundred people in Russia. For 22 years, SPI has marketed Stolichnaya as a Russian vodka and it still does that in many countries though the US is not one of those. By any and every measure, Stolichnaya is a Russian vodka that is owned by a Russian company, SPI´s spin notwithstanding.

    Posted on Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 11:01am
  14. I was gonna switch to Absolut, but then I read that Sweden once helped the Nazis during WWII, so I have to boycott them too. Then I thought I´d drink Grey Goose, but the French people have been really mean to gays lately. Then I thought about drinking SKYY, but then I realized the that United States discriminates against gays too, so we have to boycott them too. Guess I´ll just switch to tequila.

    Posted on Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 3:11pm
  15. Hit them where their pocket book is….,shut down the Russian Olympics. I know that will never happen…but it was just a thought !

    Posted on Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 3:53pm
  16. Gay Money,goes a long way. But you take it away,and they will feel the pinch ! Russia makes it´s money selling guns and financing wars in other Countries. Do you think they care about vodka sales ? Hardle not !

    Posted on Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 4:03pm
  17. cheap shot

    Posted on Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 5:58pm