American bars start boycotting Russian vodka over Ukraine

Bars in Tennessee and Texas have begun boycotting Russian vodka in response to Russia’s invasion, and now-annexation, of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

A similar boycott of Russian vodka last year, primarily focused on superstar-brand Stolichnaya, is credited for bringing worldwide attention and condemnation to Russia’s draconian crackdown on its gay and trans citizens.

And now, as always, it seems the gays were, as usual, ahead of the trend.

(And yeah, Stoli is Russian. Read my note at the bottom.)

Russia boycott

Queer Nation/RUSA LGBT Russian vodka dump at Russian consulate in NYC by ©Scott Wooledge

Queer Nation/RUSA LGBT Russian vodka dump at Russian consulate in NYC in 2013, by ©Scott Wooledge

At Big Johnson Liquor & Beer, owner Johnny Johnson says he “just didn’t agree with the aggression Russia took on Ukraine.”  He says he’ll stick to “Texas vodka.”  Who knew there was Texas vodka?

And at Bob’s Package Store in Knoxville, Tennessee, Bob Gilbertson pulled all the Russian vodka off the shelves of his liquor store.

At the same time, Ukrainian-Americans in New York state are boycotting Russian oil giant Lukoil, which has gas stations in a number of American states.  So the Russians may be finding larger consumer opposition to the very few brands they have that can compete in the world market.

Boycotts don’t work, until they do

Now, while some claim boycotts don’t work, they don’t – until they do.  Boycotts are difficult things to pull off, but part of what determines your success is your goal.

When Dan Savage, Queer Nation and I (along with many others) kicked off our Russian vodka boycott last July, 2013, I’m not sure any of us thought that vodka alone was going to get Vladimir Putin to stop oppressing gay and trans Russians.  We did think, however, that the boycott would be a useful tool for getting the media’s attention, for galvanizing the gay community and our allies worldwide, and ultimately for educating people about Russia’s ongoing, and increasing, abuses of human rights.

And we were right, it worked. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who pays attention to the news who hasn’t heard about Russia’s oppression of gays, a topic that was relatively unknown outside of gay activist circles less than a year ago.

There’s also a moral argument for, and component to, boycotts, and Eric Sasson explains:

Putin may not change his position on the issue, and the discrimination will certainly continue, but the gays in Russia will know they are not alone. This alone is justification enough, because there is one thing that is almost always more useless than outrage: silence.

I’ll end with this tweet I saw yesterday:


Well, is it?

NB Stoli is Russian. And until they come out and say “Stoli is not Russian vodka,” which they oddly haven’t, they are:

Stolichnaya’s distributor in 2008 to Vanity Fair: “Stolichnaya as it is sold outside Russia is distilled in Russia and moved from Russia to Latvia where it’s put in bottles. There is nothing added, nothing taken away, no additions, no subtractions from the product that leaves Russia. Stolichnaya is the original authentic genuine Russian vodka brand made with genuine authentic Russia vodka from Russia.” Period.

That’s Stoli talking about Stoli, so it’s a legitimate target of a boycott.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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