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Russia Vodka Boycott In Protest Over Gay Rights Under Putin

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Vodka used to be worth 40% of the Russian government's revenue in the late 19th century. More than 100 years later, although it's now more just a source of national pride than an income-driver, it's where LGBT activists have decided to hit the country where it hurts.

Gay rights in Russia have come in for constant criticism. Two years ago, a number of regions banned the "propaganda" of homosexuality to minors, under the age of 18. Just last week, four Dutch tourists were arrested for breaching the ban, though later released.

Gay pride participants were badly beaten during clashes with anti-gay demonstrators in St Petersburg last month, with Russian police arresting dozens of people.

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A gay rights activist holds a rainbow flag as she takes part in a gay pride event in St Petersburg

The call for a boycott of two premium Russian vodka brands, Stolichnaya and Russian Standard, came from prominent sex blogger Dan Savage.

Savage reasoned that there would be no impact if the LGBT community announced a boycott of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia,

"Most of us weren't planning to go to the Olympic games in Russia this winter, of course, so we wouldn't be able to participate in a boycott if one got off the ground," he wrote.

"And there are good arguments to be made against boycotting the Olympics in Sochi. Outsports opposes a boycott. And Patrick Burke, co-founder of the You Can Play Project, an organization for gay athletes and their straight allies, makes a solid argument against a boycott."

But a vodka boycott was something that he could be a part of, he reasoned: "To show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people and straight allies in Vladimir Putin's increasingly fascistic Russia: dump Russian vodka."

Six bars in Chicago have since announced they will stop selling Russian vodka, and a seventh bar said it had withdrawn Stolichnaya, according to Windy City Times.

Although Russian Standard vodka, owned by Russian oligarch Roustam Tariko has declined to comment on the boycott, Stolichnaya's owners the SPI group wrote a strong response, condemning the stance of the Russian government.

The letter, published bu chief executive Val Mendeleev said: "The recent dreadful actions taken by the Russian Government limiting the rights of the LGBT community and the passionate reaction of the community have prompted me to write this letter to you.

"I want to stress that Stoli firmly opposes such attitude and actions. Indeed, as a company that encourages transparency and fairness, we are upset and angry.

"Stolichnaya Vodka has always been, and continues to be an fervent supporter and friend to the LGBT community."

The brand, reputedly a favourite of Russian politicians including Vladimir Putin, is headquartered in Luxembourg and produced in Latvia, though using Russian ingredients.

"Facts found online that often inaccurately link our company to the Russian Government," Mendeleev wrote. "The Russian government has no ownership interest or control over the Stoli brand that is privately owned by SPI Group, headquartered in Luxembourg in the heart of Western Europe."

"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."

On its Facebook page, the company posted a rainbow Pride banner with the words: "Stolichnaya Premium Vodka stands strong and proud with the global LGBT community against the actions and beliefs of the Russian government."

The International Olympic Committee announced on Friday that it had received confirmation from Russian officials that anti-LGBT legislation “will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.”

“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," the organising body said in a statement.

“This legislation has just been passed into law and it remains to be seen whether and how it will be implemented, particularly as regards the Games in Sochi. As a sporting organization, what we can do is to continue to work to ensure that the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media.

“The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation. The Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course athletes. We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardise this principle.”

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