Alberta Government Says No to Offensive Symbol on Vodka Bottles

June 25, 2018 Updated: June 25, 2018

The Alberta government has barred a Russian brand of vodka featuring a hammer and sickle from entering the province.

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission announced this week that Hammer + Sickle vodka will no longer be brought into Alberta, “effective immediately.”

The announcement came after Ukrainian Albertans raised concerns. The symbol is inextricably intertwined with a history of genocide by starvation.

“The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission recognizes the Holodomor was a horrific period in Ukrainian history,” the commission said in a statement.

“The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission has heard from Albertans and is working directly and in collaboration with the liquor agency on this matter, ensuring that, effective immediately, this product (Hammer + Sickle vodka) will no longer be brought into Alberta.”

The decision is a victory and a relief for many Canadians with a Ukrainian background, and follows a jointly written letter by two Alberta MLAs—Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview MLA Deron Bilous and Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Jessica Littlewood. They explained to commission CEO Alain Maisonneuve in a letter last week what the symbol represents for hundreds of thousands of Albertans of Ukrainian descent.

“For us, the image is an abhorrent symbol that represents the genocide of millions,” they wrote.

The genocide they referred to was Holodomor, also translated as “Terror-Famine.” Between 1932 and 1933, the Soviet regime of communist dictator Joseph Stalin sentenced the Ukrainian nation to death by starvation.

Bilous told Postmedia that the label on the vodka bottle reminded him of the horror his father went through.

“When I saw the label, knowing when he left Ukraine what he was leaving behind, and that people of his generation lived through horrible years, the symbol really is offensive,” he said.

“It’s offensive to Ukrainians, it’s offensive to people who fled Ukraine to save their lives.”

Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) Alberta chapter president Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz explained in an interview with Postmedia that having the hammer and sickle on a bottle of vodka is like “having a swastika on a bottle of cognac.”

The UCC first brought the issue to the attention of the liquor and gaming commission six months ago, after a bishop flew in from B.C. and saw the bottle on an Alberta airport liquor store shelf.

“It took six months … but the fact the government is stepping up to the plate, I’m very happy,” said Luciw-Andryjowycz.

The hammer and sickle and other communist symbols are banned in modern-day Ukraine, as well as several other countries that have experienced communism.

The Black Book of Communism estimates that communist regimes have been responsible for the deaths of between 85 and 100 million people.