P.E.I. liquor stores pulling vodka brand due to complaints it refers to Stalin

·3 min read
A P.E.I. liquor store is shown in this undated photo. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has been asking for the removal of the Romanian vodka brand from P.E.I. liquor stores. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)
A P.E.I. liquor store is shown in this undated photo. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has been asking for the removal of the Romanian vodka brand from P.E.I. liquor stores. (Tony Davis/CBC - image credit)

The P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission has decided to take Stalinskaya Silver Vodka off its shelves after complaints the product references Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

"A review process for naming and branding guidelines is currently in the works," the liquor commission said in an email.

"While this process is underway, the [P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission] has decided to take Stalinskaya vodka off the shelves and website. A final decision will be made when an appropriate review has been completed."

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress has been asking for the removal of the Romanian vodka brand.

"The concern is the name referring to, Stalin — Joseph Stalin, who was dictator of the Soviet Union and perpetrated genocide upon Ukrainian people," said Ihor Michalchyshyn, the executive director of the congress.

"I'm glad to see P.E.I. liquor is doing a review and will take this concern seriously. We look forward to talking to them. There is a Ukrainian community, small though it may be in P.E.I., and I know that they would very much appreciate it."

Michalchyshyn said he was alerted by activists in the Ukrainian community who noticed the vodka brand was being sold in P.E.I. and Ontario and wrote a letter to liquor retailers in both provinces.

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario has since removed the product from their shelves and online.

The vodka company's website says the name was inspired by the Russian word "stal" — meaning steel. Stalinskaya, it says, means strength.

In a statement to CBC Toronto on Friday, the general manager of Prodal 94 SRL — the company that makes Stalinskaya Silver Vodka — said the name "had no intention to spark a debate" and clarified what the brand name meant to the company "on a cultural level."

CBC
CBC

It maintains the brand is focused on promoting the word's original meaning of pertaining to a "man of steel."

"None of our internationally registered brands have been created with the intent to promote, or associate with, the name, the policy, or the ideology promoted by Stalin," general manager Cristian Nastas wrote.

Problematic symbolism

However, Michalchyshyn said certain symbols being used in liquor advertising can be problematic for members of the Ukrainian community.

"Soviet symbols, the hammer and sickle, you know, Stalin, other things we have numerous issues with people, particular liquor companies using those kinds of symbols and brands. I think they believe it's a kind of ironic or humorous way sometimes."

Michalchyshyn said those symbols are considered hate symbols by some Ukranians and Eastern Europeans whose families survived through a decade long "Soviet tyranny."

"We're relating the story back to the experience of our community and its descendants in Canada as well as other communities about the hurt that the use of Soviet symbols has and equating them to other symbols of hate."

According to the liquor commission's website, there were about 120 bottles of the vodka in stock across various provincial liquor stores on June 21. The product has since been removed from the website.

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