US: Stoli vodka ‘upset and angry’ at Russian anti-gay laws

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Stolichnaya, one of the most popular vodkas in the United States, has joined the battle against the controversial anti-gay “propaganda” laws in Russia with a worldwide message of support for the LGBT community.

The company wrote on its facebook page on Thursday: “Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong & proud with the global LGBT community against the actions and beliefs of the Russian government.”

President Vladimir Putin signed the controversial law last month banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors, a move that has been criticised as part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community.

Four Dutch tourists shooting a film about gay rights in Russia were arrested earlier this month, the first foreigners to be detained under the new law.

Stoli said its message was in response to recent calls in the United States by gay and lesbian groups for a boycott of Russian products, including Stolichnaya and other vodkas.

Gay rights groups, including the New York Russian-American group RUSA LGBT, have claimed Stolichnaya’s allegiance as an early victory in what may be a long-fought battle.

“I think it was great. It was definitely unexpected because the Stoli ties with Russia are strong,” said Nina Long, co-president of RUSA LGBT, in an interview with RIA Novosti.

“If the news traveled to Russia that Stoli was so vocal in their support, with such a strong statement, that would be an example that you don’t have to take the stand of the Russian government. You can say, ‘No, I don’t think so. I am for equality and that can be the policy of my company,’” she added.

RUSA LGBT launched their social media campaign following Dan Savage’s call for a boycott of Stoli and other Russian products in a blog post this week.

In addition to the Facebook posting, Val Mendeleev, Stolichnaya’s chief executive, issued an open letter to the LGBT community on Thursday, in which he said he was upset by the “recent dreadful actions taken by the Russian Government limiting the rights of the LGBT community.”

He added that the “passionate reaction of the community” had prompted the letter.

Mr Mendeleev said Stoli was “upset and angry,” and “has always been, and continues to be a fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community.”

He listed a number of programs and campaigns Stoli has launched in support of the LGBT community, and appeared to distance himself from the company’s long-established connection to Russia.

“The Russian government has no ownership interest or control over the Stoli brand that is privately owned by SPI Group, headquartered in Luxembourg in the heart of Western Europe,” he wrote, adding, “Stoli’s production process involves both Russia and Latvia. Stoli is made from Russian ingredients (wheat, rye and raw alcohol) blended with pure artesian well water at our historic distillery and bottling facility in Riga, Latvia.”

Stolichnaya has long been listed among the top-selling vodkas in the United States.

“This is real vodka, Russian vodka, vodka that burns all the way down and lights a fire in your chest. This is the vodka supplied to the Kremlin and rationed to Soviet soldiers as they held back the Nazis at Stalingrad,” said Ask Men magazine in a poll listing top US vodkas.

Dan Savage, in his polemical blog post wrote: “Stoli is a Russian vodka. Do not drink Russian vodka. Do not buy Russian vodka. Ask your bartender at your favorite bar—gay or otherwise—to dump Stoli and dump Russian vodka.”

Last week, speaking exclusively to PinkNews, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg urged Russia to protect the rights of LGBT citizens following concerns about gay athletes and spectators attending the 2014 Winter Olympics.

He said: “Those days should be long behind us now and for those countries and those governments and regimes who don’t see it that way I think they have to move with the times.”