[EuromaidanPR note: The following story is reprinted from the Facebook page of Roman Torgovitsky, Moscow-born and raised graduate of Harvard University and anti-Putin activist, who was arrested last Sunday, May 11, for his protest during the concert of famous Russian conductor and violinist, Vladimir Spivakov, at Harvard University. Mr. Torgovitsky was charged with “disorderly conduct” (this was later dismissed by the court), as well as given a verbal “no trespass” order by the Harvard University police, which prohibits him from entering the University property and does not have any time limitations on it.]
Let’s play a game of “what if.” It’s 1942, Germany is occupying half of Europe and exterminating ethnic minorities, and your childhood hero – a famous Austrian conductor Herbert Von Karajan, now allegedly a member of Nazi party, is coming to Harvard to give a concert.
Do you make an attempt to protest? Do you try to reach out to Harvard to understand why they are offering their concert hall to a member of Nazi party?
Or do you go to the concert and enjoy the marvelous music because music and politics should not be mixed? Should we appreciate art irrespective of the ethical misconduct of the artist, even if it results in deaths of hundreds of people?
History has already rendered her verdict on Von Karajan, but this is not a theoretical question. While the parallel is somewhat exaggerated, it is much closer to reality than many would want to believe.
Last Sunday famous Russian violinist and conductor, Vladimir Spivakov, came to Harvard’s Sanders theatre with a concert celebrating 35th anniversary of Mr. Spivakov’s “Moscow Virtuosos” ensemble.
While Spivakov is well known not only for his musicianship, but also for his charity projects, he managed to stay away from actively participating in politics for most of his life. He kept his silence while Russian opposition leaders were jailed for political reasons, he kept his silence while Putin was closing down independent newspapers, he kept his silence while Russia’s TV was spewing complete lies about protests in Ukraine on Maidan square, calling the protesters fascists.
Yet, Mr. Spivakov finally broke his silence by signing a letter supporting President Putin’s policy against Ukraine. Together with other cultural icons who signed the letter, Mr. Spivakov thus gave Mr. Putin backing of Russia’s “intelligencia” to occupy and later annex Crimea. Moreover, by signing the letter Mr.Spivakov supported media terror that President Putin and Russian government-controlled media unleashed first against Ukraine’s Maidan anti-corruption protesters and subsequently to the collapse of Yanukovich’s government and his escape to Russia, against Ukraine as a state.
President Putin’s pursuit of these policies, with Mr. Spivakov’s support, resulted in a number of deaths and has the unfortunate potential to lead to even more violence. This is because according to recent opinion polls, majority of Russian population, brainwashed as they are by the government-controlled media into believing that Ukraine is now controlled by fascists, are ready to fight and kill Ukranians.
I felt the horror of Russian media terror during my visits to Maidan in early February of this year. On my second visit, I landed in Kiev early morning of February 21, just hours after almost hundred Maidan protesters were killed by sniper fire. As I was walking on Maidan, my feet were sticking to the ground saturated with the blood spilled mere hours before…
I interviewed physicians and nurses in whose hands mortally wounded Maidan protesters perished while whispering “let me go, let me go back to Maidan, my friends need me there…”.
I talked to many Russian journalists, who were in disbelief of what had happened within the previous 3 days and felt powerless because reports they were sending to their newspaper editors in Russia were edited to such a degree that the entire meaning was flipped….
I saw the consequences of the media war waged by Russia with my own eyes and felt it in my own heart…
So what do you do when a musician who you deeply respect, and who is indirectly responsible for deaths of so many people is coming to your backyard – to Harvard University?
I was aware that several people and organizations in US have tried to reach out to Spivakov to initiate a discussion. They reached out to Spivakov, they reached out to the Maestro artists management company – the organizer of the tour, they reached out to Harvard University president. Nobody seemed interested in talking. Even Harvard’s President ignored the efforts, including a letter from five faculty members addressed directly to her.
As a Harvard alumni, I felt embarrassed by Harvard’s attitude and realized that the only way to reach out to Mr.Spivakov is to walk onto the stage at the end of the concert, thank him for his contribution to music, express dissatisfaction with the letter he signed and offer to set up a meeting to discuss the differences and hopefully come to a resolution.
I bought a ticket to the concert as well as two modest gifts – big bouquet of flowers and a Harvard hat. My hope was that presenting Maestro with flowers would emphasize the fact that my intention was not to insult him, but rather to open up a dialogue, which he has been avoiding.
On Sunday night I came to the concert. At the entrance to Sanders theatre, Harvard police was instructing people to surrender flower bouquets. I tried to inquire about the reason for such an unusual order, but when the police officer noticed a lone yellow flower– among other flowers of many colors– in my bouquet, he became even more persistent. As a Harvard alumni, I found this incident completely surreal – I could never have imagined that police would be stopping me from bringing flowers, of any color, to a concert hall. This would have been completely a matter of course in Russia, but in United States at Harvard?
Having surrendered my bouquet, I proceeded to the concert hall and for the next hour and a half listened to the concert. My plan had been to come up the stage at the end of the concert with others who would bring flowers so as to avoid interrupting the concert. However, now that nobody was allowed to bring flowers into the concert hall, it was not clear at all when the last piece had been played.
Finally, the concert hall went through two rounds of ovations with Spivakov going to the back of the stage and then coming back and I decided that this was the time to come up on stage.
I went up there with a Harvard University hat as a modest gift to the Maestro. I bowed to Maestro, asked the audience for an opportunity to speak, presented him with the Harvard hat and thanked him for his contribution to music and his philanthropic work.
I then proceeded to say that I thank him for making a clear civic statement and signing the letter supporting President Putin action of annexation and occupation of Crimea. Some of the musicians and many in the audience did not catch a note of sarcasm. Musicians waved their hands in support, many in the audience clapped, while others booed.
At that moment I realized that due to the noise, the audience will no longer be able to hear me – so I addressed Mr. Spivakov directly and continued to say how unfortunate it was that he had been silent while President Putin oppressed and jailed opposition leaders, infringed on freedom of speech, started the media war of lies against Ukranian anti-corruption uprising on Maidan.
Unexpectedly, Mr.Spivakov approached me aggressively and put his face and nose literally one millimeter away from mine while trying to push me, angrily whispered: “I did not sign anything, I did not sign anything!”
(Video courtesy of Gennadiy Berezutskiy)
To avoid provoking Mr. Spivakov, I placed my hands behind my back. I was trying to calm down Mr. Spivakov verbally and interrupt his angry outburst to propose to set up a meeting to discuss our difference and come to a resolution. Unfortunately, I never managed to get the whole sentence out, as two seconds later, Harvard University police officer approached me from the back and without any warning, put me in pain-wristlock, lifted me off the ground and removed me from the stage.
While my action did not proceed as planned, it did result in an unexpected and potentially positive outcome. Mr. Spivakov claimed that he never signed the letter. If this is indeed true, I respectfully ask Mr. Spivakov to publicly retract his signature from the letter and bring his apology to the people of Ukraine for failing to do this earlier.