Why I’m Bucking the Boycott and Serving Stoli Vodka this Pride Sunday

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August 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm  •  Posted in From The Editor, Human Rights, International Issues by  •  2 Comments

An Open Letter to Vancouver City Councillor Tim stevenson & His Response

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Councillor Stevenson,

My name is Reive Doig, and I’m one of the hosts of the NOIR Fetish Ball. We’ve announced our intention to serve Stoli Vodka at our Kinky Pride Party on Sunday evening, and given your criticism of the decision (as reported by the Metro Newspaper today) I wanted to tell you some of our reasoning behind it.
I’m also hoping, frankly, to sway your own opinion.
When I first took the time to learn about the boycott it was after seeing that The PumpJack had joined it. Having worked their for 9 years I was interested to learn more about how, what at the time I thought was an amazing and clever decision, had come about. I even offered my “Kudos” to them on their Facebook page before realizing just how wrong headed the decision to dump Stoli—the only “Russian” vodka the PJ carried when I worked there, and I imagine still—from their menu.
Stoli it turns out has a pretty positive record of supporting gay rights over the years. Dan Savage and other may simply refer to that as “marketing,” but it’s pretty clear that if you support a Pride Event in South Africa, where homosexuality is protected by law but still viewed harshly by over 80% of South Africans according to all opinion polls on the matter, that you’re committed to a cause other than just selling some product.
Of course Stoli sponsors many more LGBT events elsewhere, and while that may be in part or in whole “marketing” what else do we expect from them and from the Vodka industry? If all of the Russian Vodka makers were to adopt the policies of Stoli would it be sufficient to end the boycott of Russian Vodka? That would be a pretty big step forward—but if such step meant that Moskyovska, Russian Standard and others could then cross the lips of LGBT drinkers, then why not Stoli now?
Or is more required? Dan Savage seems to believe that nothing short of SPI, makers of Stoli, sponsoring gay Pride Parades in Moscow and St. Petersburg would be sufficient to warrant an end to this called for boycott. Mr. Savage is aware of the abhorrent gay-propaganda laws in Russia, but perhaps he’s unaware that being a Russian millionaire or billionaire hardly puts one beyond the reach of such laws. Neither does prominence make one any less likely a target of the Kremlin, just last week Alexei Navalny, a human rights activist and an opponent of Vladimir Putin, and a was sentenced to the better part of a decade in jail. His trial is viewed by most of the world as trumped up payback for his political opposition of Putin. Does the president of SPI need to go to jail before we consider the companies commitment to LGBT rights sufficient to end a boycott?
Now, while some may think my decision to defy a boycott “naive,” because I don’t understand how they work, I would argue that anyone who believes this boycott will have any effect is naive.
But there are certainly things that you, as a Vancouver City Councillor can do to make your opinion on this ring loud and proud if you choose.
You can move a motion that Vancouver City take NO PART in the upcoming Socchi Olympics unless Russia changes it’s gay anti-propaganda laws.
You can call for Canada to pull out of the Olympics. If we did so it would no doubt dash the dreams of many athletes who have worked years to compete, athletes who have done nothing wrong; but then putting SPI’s workers out of a job is pretty harsh treatment for a law they’ve done nothing to condone or support.
You can call for an end of all Vancouver, British Columbian, or Canadian Trade Missions to Russia, until such time as their draconian policies no longer remain in place.
Perhaps the NHL should ban all Russian players! Or at least call on them to declare their support of LGBT rights before they are allowed to play. Is that a policy you could get behind calling for?
I don’t know which, if any of those actions would be productive and the right ones. Perhaps none of them are going to be any more effective, or any less punishing of those not deserving it, than this called for boycott of Stoli.
I’ll be honest; I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know what isn’t: the all too comfortable, misplaced, and arm-chair activist call to action of the Stoli Boycott.
Sincerely,
Reive Doig
Councillor Stevenson’s Response:

Dear Mr. Doig,

Respectfully, I completely disagree with your current position and urge you to return to your original position you referred to as an “amazing and clever decision”. I agree . At the very least you could just (only) promote and sell Canadian vodka (I understand it is very good) rather than Russian vodka. That would be at least promoting Canadian jobs and the Canadian economy rather than Russian jobs and the Russian economy. Your suggestions about further actions are good ones and definite possibilities for Council when we return after the break in September. In the meantime I’d suggest the boycott against Russian vodka is spreading throughout the world and is effective. People are talking about Russian in a way we were not before. Here even you and I are being interviewed in the press about Russian vodka. That’s how it starts. The more people talk about it the better. Just today Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. John Baird spoke out forcefully against the draconian laws in Russian. Our Mayor spoke out with a press statement earlier this week. I would suggest that much (but not all) of the press coverage has come as result of the calls for a boycott against Russian vodka which has caught the imagination of the press in the Western world. This may my arm chair, comfortable, misplaced opinion, but it does come through the experience of hard knocks. If I get a chance I will give you a call later today but I am rather booked up at the moment.

Sincerely,

Tim Stevenson
Vancouver City Councillor

2 Comments

  1. Marissa Anne / August 1, 2013 at 6:09 pm / Reply

    Since the Stoli outside of Russia is produced by a different company (SPI) based in a different country (Luxembourg) produced in a different country (Latvia), Tim Stevenson’s argument no longer applies. In fact, SPI, the owner of the Stoli brand outside of Russia, has been locked in a dispute with Russia over the ownership of the brand since 1991. It is highly likely that any damage to SPI would make the Putin government happy. Stoli in Russia is produced by ITAR, a state-owned company. Of course, you cannot buy the ITAR-produced Stoli outside of Russia.

  2. jess hosiery blogger / August 7, 2013 at 11:11 pm / Reply

    Russia and Canada already have a very tense relationship. I know from first hand experience. So please, let’s not make it any more horrible with this pointless Stoli boycott of a pro-gay brand.

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