Letter to Latvian LGBT Activists
1 August 2013
K.Valdemāra 18-1a, Riga, LV-1010
Dear Mr. Zalitis:
Thank you for your August 1 letter discussing the global call to boycott Russian products made by Queer Nation, Dan Savage, Cleve Jones, and many other LGBT activists. This call came in reaction to the shockingly oppressive anti-LGBT laws recently passed by the Russian Duma.
We have called for a boycott of ALL Russian vodkas. Because Stolichnaya is a Russian vodka that is made by a Russian company, it is also an appropriate target.
The situation in Russia for our LGBT brothers and sisters is dire: for them, it is life and death. We urge you to consider their lives and livelihoods. We will not ignore their circumstances or be distracted by the sponsorship of EuroPride 2015.
Our Russian LGBT friends and their supporters have called for a broad boycott of Russian goods and services as well as the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. We have attached a statement endorsing this action signed by 33 Russians representing several organizations: they put their lives at risk by signing it. We will follow their lead, and we ask you to do the same.
As to Stolichnaya, it is not a Latvian vodka. The SPI Group, the company that owns the Stolichnaya brand, has never claimed that, and the company does not make that claim today.
SPI has offices and operations in Russia, where it employs several hundred people. The company grows the wheat and rye that are used in Stolichnaya on 5,000 hectares of Russian land, and all of the initial processing of the vodka is done in Russia. Only the final step occurs in Latvia. While SPI cannot market the Stolichnaya brand in Russia, it has other vodka brands that it does sell in Russia.
SPI, which was founded in Russia in 1991, marketed Stolichnaya as a Russian vodka until 2010. For 19 of its 22 years as an SPI product, Stolichnaya was proud to be a Russian vodka. As the brand has gone global and its Russian identity has become an inconvenience for SPI in some markets, the company has altered its marketing and labeling. But we do not mistake marketing for facts.
And these facts are not ours: Val Mendeleev, the CEO of SPI, disclosed them in a July 31 interview with Michelangelo Signorile on Sirius radio. There is a link to that interview below.
In addition, here is what Mr. Mendeleev said to The Spirits Business, a leading spirits industry trade publication, on May 29, 2013, well before our call for a boycott: “The grain is 100% Russian and we have thousands of hectares of land 400 kilometers south of Moscow…The part ‘Russia’ plays is an essential element in our brand education. It’s where the brand was born and where our grain comes from today.”
Here is what Kevin Sniffen of the Susan Magrino Agency, Stolichnaya’s own PR firm, said to Forbes on July, 30, 2013: “We understand Stoli is probably the best-known Russian product outside Russia.”
More importantly, though the company claims to be friend to our community, it was silent as the Russian government considered this horrific law, and it said nothing after the law was enacted. Stolichnaya only spoke up after the boycott was announced. Friends do not keep silent when those they claim to value are under attack.
Now that Stolichnaya has found its voice, it chooses to argue with the LGBT community rather than confront the Russian government. These are not the actions of a friend or supporter; they are the actions of a company whose sole interest is its bottom line.
SPI’s posture towards the LGBT community may yet change. In his interview with Signorile, Mendeleev said that SPI may fund a group in Russia to challenge the law. We hope the company selects a group that has a history of selfless service to our community and an interest in fighting the Russian government, and not one that exists to promote itself and SPI’s economic interests.
If you have not already done so, we urge you to contact SPI and press them to act in Russia. We ask that you join this effort as well. Please be in touch so we can work together going forward.
In solidarity & for Queer Nation,
Duncan Osborne & Andrew Miller
For RUSA LGBT,
Nina Long & Yelena Goltsman