“Double Stoli, please” – Why The List London Will Serve Russian Vodka

Chris Hitchings

Word around the gay scene is that we, homosexuals, and our friends, should be boycotting Russian Vodka, due to the state’s recently criminalisation around key areas of LGBT lifestyles. Stoli, as seen in a fair few bar chains in the UK, is the main target. Fair point, and it seems easy enough, but opinion is split, as Adam Lowe and Lewis Fellows have previously noted, and the facts around the boycott aren’t true.

It is with this debate and the current human right violations being committed in Russia in the background, that The List London’s choice to serve Stoli at a gay event, in a Russian art gallery, is remarkable. The List London hosts speed dating and networking events for gay professionals around London. The informal networking event takes place tonight at Erarta – a gallery specialising in contemporary Russian art. Along with the cultural wealth on show, the event hosts the CEO of Human Dignity Trust, Jonathan Cooper, speaking on what is happening in regards to LGBT rights abuses in Russia.

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Since the increased coverage of the abuses in Russia has escalated the call for a boycott of Russian vodka in America, arguably the most enduring link between the LGBT community and Russia in economic terms, the organisers of The List London events have their reservations. Events Manager James Roberts states: “While I think it is a great way to get media attention on the issues in Russia, the boycott itself is going to have no impact on Russian law makers. […] It’s odd how the American campaign focuses on Stoli, when the Stoli produced inside Russia isn’t allowed to be exported, and the group producing and distributing Stoli outside of Russia isn’t based there (although owned by a Russian). We’re not boycotting Chelsea FC, or any number of British firms working and trading in Russia – so why Stoli ?”

You see, Stoli is made in Riga, the Latvian capital. The brand, despite being made from a few Russian ingredients, is produced a good 1000 km from the Kremlin. That is like saying a pasty made in Cornwall was baked in the northern reaches of Iceland – it couldn’t be further from the truth.

The whole basis behind the boycott is that if we stop drinking Russian vodka then it will have enough of an effect on the legislative powers of the country that they will repeal their anti gay laws, and we can all sit around eating rainbow cake and listening to t.A.T.u..

As Roberts argues, “The real problem with this kind of boycott is the slactivism others have spoken about: well meaning gays will change vodka brands for a couple of weeks and feel they’ve done their bit to help. Rather than a symbolic, but ultimately pointless, gesture people need to get informed and get involved to lobby and put pressure in places that will result in change.”

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Essentially, whilst well intentioned, the boycott of certain vodka brands is empty, and in its preference for symbolism over activism is potentially dangerous and offensive to the very real concerns of the Russian LGBT community. The thought is there, but the struggle faced by LGBT individuals in Russia will not be helped by you choosing to get trashed on a Friday night on a tipple from another country.

Real action, real solidarity, real knowledge is required. We should be petitioning our politicians, making people aware of the situation, and actually using our voices to get the word out there. Anything else will not suffice.

This is the focus of The List London’s event tonight, offering a chance to hear information about what is actually going on and find out what actions could have a real impact, rather than the red herring of alcoholic activism.

The event has been given some bottles of Stoli by their UK distributor and there will be free Moscow Mules throughout the evening. Tickets for the event are available on the website: www.thelistlondon.org

Make mine a double…

About Chris Hitchings

Chris Hitchings is a slightly disorganised journalism student living, working and generally trying to scrape a living in Leeds. Born and bred in the Welsh valleys Chris has a penchant for the countryside. He has previously been compared to the love-child of Bridget Jones and American Dad's "Roger".