The Emerging Case Against the Stoli Vodka Boycott

Is switching your vodka tonic order an effective way to protest Russia's anti-gay laws?

Photo: Moodie Report

Photo: Moodie Report

Dan Savage’s #dumpstoli campaign, encouraging American consumers to boycott Stolichnaya vodka in the name of opposing Russia’s increasingly stringent anti-homosexuality laws, is already drawing comparison’s to last year’s ill-fated #kony2012. And just like Invisible Children’s slacktivism campaign turned PR disaster, #dumpstoli is looking increasingly dubious as a growing number of critics take aim at its shaky foundations.

Louis Peitzman’s “Why the Stoli Boycott Is Misguided and Dangerous” makes the most comprehensive argument yet for why #dumpstoli does more harm than good. The full post is absolutely worth a read, but the heart of Peitzman’s argument is the false equivalency #dumpstoli draws between abstaining from Stoli and opposing the Russian government itself:

And what exactly does the boycott do to help LGBT people in Russia? It sends a message, yes, but Stoli — which has a history of supporting the LGBT community and sponsoring LGBT events — is not the enemy. Abstaining from a particular brand of vodka may make Americans feel better about themselves, but it does nothing for Russians.

In fact, Stoli’s CEO pointed out in a public statement that the company itself isn’t Russian at all; half its production takes place in the country, but Stolichnaya itself is headquartered in Luxembourg. Which means that #dumpstoli participants aren’t boycotting a Russian brand at all, but rather the idea of a Russian brand, a practice that itself encourages a dangerous strain of cultural xenophobia that equates the actions of Russia’s government with a national ethos.

Though the Atlantic Wire points out in a backlash-to-the-backlash type post that Peitzman doesn’t speak to any Russian activists himself to support his idea that #dumpstoli tells LGBT Russians that “we support you and not your culture,” prominent activist Nikolia Alekseev is similarly unconvinced by Savage’s campaign, calling it “a symbolic gesture doomed to failure.” The problem, Alekseev says, is that the boycott simply doesn’t do anything: Putin couldn’t give a damn what Stoli’s profit margin is, which means only a more dramatic gesture—like placing officials on a visa ban list, or withdrawing from the Olympics—will get through.

The bottom line is that #dumpstoli is self-indulgent at best and counterproductive at worst. The desire for Americans to feel like they are doing something to affect a political process they have no say in whatsoever is understandable, but channeling that frustration into turning an inoffensive company (well, in this repsect at least) into a scapegoat isn’t the solution. Calling for meaningful, politically risky action along the lines of Alekseev’s proposed visa ban takes a lot more wherewithal than pouring out some liquor. But if Dan Savage doesn’t want to go down in history as the next Jason Russell, it’s time to stop telling his followers that a Russian-sounding name equates to homophobia and commit to a more meaningful form of activism.

 

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