The global reaction to the Russian attack on Ukraine has played out in a variety of different ways. Governments have placed sanctions. Companies—including giants like Apple and Alphabet—have stopped conducting business in Russia, and some are trying to restrict access to state-owned media. And others around the world are . . . renaming White Russians.
Or at least, that’s what a bar in Washington, D.C., is doing, forgoing the cocktail’s classic name in favor of “White Ukranian” and renaming its Moscow Mules with “Kyiv Mules.” The governors of Ohio, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Utah have halted the sale of Russian vodka in state-run liquor stores. Canadian liquor stores have done the same. In England, a town is trying to stop performances of a ballet company with “Russian” in the name.
These are meant to be symbolic shows of support, although they have little actual ramifications for Russian companies—if the companies are actually Russian at all, which in many cases they are not. The website homepage of Stoli vodka, which is made in Latvia, includes a statement in support of Ukraine. And Smirnoff’s website includes a reminder of the alcohol’s American-made status. (Neither company produces alcohol in Russia.)
These symbolic changes, like renaming beverages, are part of a long tradition of virtuous rebranding during moments of political turmoil. In the early 2000s, French fries in food courts on Capital Hill were dubbed Freedom Fries in the wake of France’s refusal to endorse the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At the height of McCarthyism, the Cincinnati Reds renamed themselves the Redlegs to avoid an associations with the Red Scare; and during World War I, there were attempts to rename sauerkraut “liberty cabbage.” These hokey patriotic nicknames clearly haven’t stuck, fading into obscurity when nationalist fervor cooled. When things seem unstable on a large scale, people’s instinct may be to look for a way to do something helpful—or at least feel like they’re doing something.