Boycott spotlights a truly evil empire

WiG

Thirty years have passed since Ronald Reagan delivered his famous “Evil Empire” speech about the Soviet Union. Sadly, decades after the Iron Curtain lifted, the Russian bloc remains as evil as ever. 

A former KGB agent, Russian President Vladimir Putin maintains power the old-fashioned Soviet way, by torturing and killing dissenters and by sharing the wealth gained through corruption with his cronies. He’s also remilitarized the nation and cozied up to America’s enemies – the most brutal dictatorships and anti-democratic nations on Earth.

The underground black-market economy that thrived under Soviet deprivation has come under the control of a ruthless mafia that operates with impunity by plying the government with bribes.  As a result, drug addiction, prostitution and violence permeate the former Soviet bloc, which also is a major trafficker of child prostitutes.

Alcoholism and suicide are so rampant in Russia that the average life expectancy is 69 years – and only 64 for males.

Amid this bleak scenario, the Russian government’s smackdown of LGBT rights and the growing neo-Nazi violence against LGBT people has drawn attention from the West in a way that the nation’s many other atrocities have failed to generate. These days, only the American Christian right is cheering on the evil empire. For most of the rest of the Western world, the open persecution of gays has inspired condemnation, including a massive and growing worldwide boycott against Stolichnaya vodka, as well as other Russian products and tourism. 

Critics complain that Stoli is the wrong company to target, because it has supported the gay market and really isn’t a de facto Russian company. It’s true that Stoli’s COO lives in Luxembourg and its owner in London. But as Russia’s flagship export, it’s a great symbol. Also, it appears likely that international courts will return ownership of the brand to the Russian government next year. Even now, the product uses all-Russian ingredients and maintains considerable operations in its native land. It’s produced in  Latvia – another bastion of homophobia.

While the company now says that it condemns Russia’s anti-gay oppression, there’s no evidence that it’s ever taken any formal action against it. Stoli’s support of gays has been clearly motivated by marketing and not by human rights. That represents exploitation, not support. We believe that the way Stoli has pandered for gay dollars without standing up for our basic human rights makes the company a great target. 

Critics also argue that the boycott can’t possibly make a dent in Russia’s massive economy. That’s true. But the boycott is drawing global attention to what’s happening in Russia, and it’s illuminating consumers so they can make informed purchasing decisions.

The International Olympic Committee made a terrible mistake in selecting Sochi for next year’s Winter Games. In doing so, the IOC lent an aura of respectability to one of the most wretched governments on Earth – a country that is clearly at war with democracy and individual freedom.

Supporters of the boycott are countering this misperception and helping to undermine the legitimacy that Russia hoped to gain in the world’s eyes from hosting the games. While boycotters will not bring the Russian economy to its knees, they’re shining a spotlight on an empire that stubbornly remains both evil and medieval.