Two vodkas with the same name?
The organisers behind the 28 September Johannesburg Pride event have clarified claims that they have accepted sponsorship from a Russian vodka brand.
On Tuesday, local gay site Queerlife slammed the event because, it said, the “main financial sponsor of this year’s Joburg Pride is the controversial Vodka company, Stolichnaya”.
The brand was one of the first targets of a global boycott of Russian vodkas as a means to show support for the beleaguered Russian LGBT community.
Blogger Pierre Le Roux joined the fray by stating on Facebook that he would boycott Johannesburg Pride.
“It would not be right for me to join Joburg Pride while knowing full well what is going on in Russia. If I did I would be morally corrupt, void of integrity and a bigot,” he said.
Johannesburg Pride’s Kaye Ally slammed the website, accusing it of not reporting the facts accurately. “They are blowing this completely out or proportion,” she said.
She pointed out that Stolichnaya is not Pride’s main sponsor at all but is in fact only sponsoring one fundraising pre-Pride event; the Follies dinner and show taking place at Montecasino over four days in September.
The sponsorship is not cash-based and involves the donation of bottles of Stolichnaya, she said.
Ally also insisted that SPI, the company that made and is providing the Stolichnaya, is not Russian at all, and that the vodka is made in Latvia, an independent country and a member of the European Union.
The issue is indeed more complicated than it first appears and the tide seems to be turning against targeting Stolichnaya in the boycott.
It’s come to light that there are actually two versions of Stolichnaya. One is produced in Russia by a state backed company while the other is produced in Latvia by the SPI Group, which is based in Luxembourg.
SPI and the Russian government have been in dispute for a number of years over who owns the international rights to the brand. Russia claims that SPI ‘stole’ the Stolichnaya brand.
While the bottles from the two groups look similar, the Russian-made Stolichnaya has the words “Russian Vodka” on the bottle while the SPI version has the words “Premium Vodka” on the label.
Val Mendeleev, the CEO of SPI Group insisted in a statement that, while their vodka may include some Russian ingredients, his company is not Russian He has also asserted his support for the LGBT community and its opposition to Russia’s anti-gay law.
“We fully support and endorse your objectives to fight against prejudice in Russia. In the past decade, SPI has been actively advocating in favour of freedom, tolerance and openness in society, standing very passionately on the side of the LGBT community and will continue to support any effective initiative in that direction,” said Mendeleev.
The Stolichnaya brand has a history of backing the LGBT community by sponsoring events and other pro-gay initiatives.
The position against boycotting Stolichnaya was further strengthened when Mozaika, an LGBT group in Latvia, came out against the action.
In a post on Facebook, Kaspars Zalitis, Mozaika board member and co-chair of Riga’s EuroPride 2015, wrote: “Stolichnaya vodka is not produced in Russia. All Stolichnaya vodka for worldwide export is produced in Latvia. Stolichnaya is produced by the Latvian company Latvijas Balzams and production takes place in Riga, the capital of Latvia.
“We would kindly ask you to reconsider your actions in regards to ‘Dump Stoli! Dump Russian Vodka!’ as this campaign will only harm Latvia, Latvia’s economy and employees of the company Latvijas Balzams. It could also backfire and have unintended negative consequences for the extremely fragile LGBT community in Latvia,” Zalitis said.