Western Activists Urge Vodka Boycotts, Visa Bans To Protest Russia’s Antigay Laws

Kremlin and Moscow Environs Aerial View

(RFE/RL – rferl.org – Tom Balmforth – MOSCOW – July 29, 2013) Western lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists are ratcheting up the pressure on Russia over laws outlawing “gay propaganda.”

Among the tactics: an online campaign to “dump Russian vodka” calls for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, while another campaign urges a visa ban against the authors of the controversial legislation.

In an open letter posted online on July 28, dozens of Russian LGBT rights activists welcomed an international “Dump Russian Vodka” campaign.

“We appreciate and support all attempts to let the Russian authorities know that homophobic and inhumane laws will not go unnoticed,” the activists wrote.

On July 24, U.S. writer Dan Savage, the founder of the famed “It Gets Better” video campaign against the bullying of gay teens, called on his blog for a boycott of Russian vodka in response to the laws.

Savage singled out the popular Stolichnaya and Russian Standard brands and used the hashtag #dumpStoli and matching avatar on Twitter to popularize the campaign, which is backed by the U.S.-based Queer Nation and the Russian-American gay rights group Rusa LGBT.

Bars in several U.S. cities as well as in Canada, Great Britain, and Australia have announced they will stop serving the brands. In response, Stolichnaya’s Latvia-based manufacturer, the SPI Group, posted an open letter expressing solidarity with the LGBT community and condemning “the actions and beliefs of the Russian government” on gay-rights issues.

Love As A Battlefield

The vodka boycott is just one part of what appears to be a broader effort by Western LGBT activists to punish Russia. Rusa LGBT, for example, has called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. A statement read: “How can one attend the Sochi Olympics without compromising one’s integrity by supporting the economy of a country that promotes hate against” the LGBT community?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says it has received assurances from the “highest echelons of Russian government” that athletes and visitors at the Sochi games will not be affected by the legislation.

LGBT activists, meanwhile, are also appealing to the United States government to issue visa bans against St. Petersburg local lawmaker Vitaly Milonov and State Duma deputy Yelena Mizulina. Milonov is the sponsor of a St. Petersburg law passed last year banning “gay propaganda.” Mizulina, who heads the Duma’s children’s affairs committee, was a key supporter of similar federal legislation signed by President Vladimir Putin in June.

The activists posted the petition on the White House’s official website on a page where citizens can petition the government. So far, it has garnered nearly 1,900 signatures. According to the White House’s “We The People” petition program, it needs 100,000 to be formally considered by the administration of President Barack Obama.

Issuing Threats

The Russian authorities, meanwhile, appear unmoved by the condemnation.

On July 21, four Dutch documentary filmmakers were detained in the northwestern city of Murmansk and held for eight hours without food or a translator before being released and fined 3,000 rubles (about $100) for violating visa rules. They had been shooting a film about LGBT communities in Russia and say they were questioned about possible violations of the prohibition on “gay propaganda.”

On of those detailed, Kris Van de Veer, an LGBT activist and member of the Groningen City Council, told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that he feared he was under surveillance throughout his trip.

And on July 29, two lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party — Mizulina and Olga Batalina — asked prosecutors to open a criminal case against Nikolai Alekseyev, one of Russia’s highest-profile LGBT activists, for disparaging remarks he made about them on his Twitter feed.

Mizulina told the daily “Izvestia” that they are seeking to have Alekseyev prosecuted for “insulting a representative of the authorities,” which is punishable with a fine of up to 40,000 rubles (more than $1,000) or community service. She said she would seek to make him do community service in a place “where he will be unable to carry out his gay propaganda, for example, in a coroner’s van.”

Alekseyev — who opposes both the vodka boycott and the calls for an Olympic boycott — appears unfazed. He wrote on Twitter that he intends to stage a gay-pride march during the Sochi games’ opening ceremonies under the slogan: “Sochi Olympics boycott — NO, Sochi Gay Pride — YES!”

Article copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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