Russia Gay Ban: Boycotting Stoli For Gay Rights Won't Make a Difference

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has signed into law a measure that outrightly denounces a gay person to the extent of allowing police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual or "pro-gay."

The expected backlash from the pro-gay community came in the guise of a boycott of the most authentically Russian drink, vodka.

While a strategically apt move on the part of the pro-gay community, however, the boycott may not end up being strong or widespread enough to overturn the newly passed law. Historical contingencies, plus contemporary Russian dispositions, seem to dictate otherwise.

Six bars in Chicago had announced they would stop selling Russian products, and a seventh bar said it had withdrawn Stolichnaya, Russia’s most coveted vodka brand.

This leads us to address two key issues stemming from the boycott of Stolichnaya : First, the Russian authenticity of said brand is ambiguous, and secondly, Russian policies are unlikely to respond to a U.S. boycott of one brand of vodka.

"They mixed everything up. Stolichnaya isn't Russian," said the lawyer Nikolai Alekseev, head of the Moscow Pride organizing committee. Stolichnaya has Latvian origins, which effectively diminishes the success of the popular Stoli boycott, as any economic losses will have to be shared with the Latvian company. Also, it should be kept in mind that pressuring Russian vodka companies does not equate to pressuring the Russian government.

Moreover, as boycotts seems to be emanating from the USA in the main, Russia will likely stand its ground and not allow itself to be swayed into reversing a policy which a large number of Russians support.

The ban on "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" is part and parcel of the promotion of traditional Russian values over Western liberalism, which the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church perceive as corrupting Russian youth and contributing to the protests against Putin's rule. Russia has been on a fascistic road for some time now and it is highly unlikely that a mere ban on Russian vodka, which has many substitutes in the market to begin with, will engender an impact large enough to bring about an about-face on this legislation, which is considered a cultural essential for a Russian structuring of society. 

The timing of the ban, just six months before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, has been met with calls to boycott the Olympics as well. However, the implementation of the ban is highly dubious. "The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games," according to the statement emailed to USA Today Sports. 

Age-old traits and rivalries only become more ingrained with time, and Russia will stand its ground once again against pressure directed at it from the outside. Russians did not give up Edward Snowden and its uncompromising stance on not allowing Western intervention in Syria subsists. Unfortunately, the vodka boycott will become another dim cry in the international quest to influence Russian policies.

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Shahab Ahmad

Undergraduate Political Science student at LUMS, Pakistan. Interested in anything and everything related to foreign policy and international relations.

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