As one of Russia’s most established music ensembles came to perform on campus, roughly a dozen protesters gathered outside in protest.
The Mariinsky Chorus, led by Artistic and General director Valery Gergiev, staged a concert in Woolsey Hall on Friday night while a group of protesters — which included students and young children — held placards with messages such as “4,700 killed in Putin’s war against Ukraine” and “Russia, pull out your troops now.”
Azamat Kumykov GRD ’15, who was present at the protests, said he believes that the protests were targeted at the Chorus’s Artistic and General director, Valery Gergiev. Gergiev has voiced public support of Putin’s annexation of Crimea, he explained.
“The protest called for Gergiev to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the sad truth is that in today’s Russia, speaking one’s mind openly leads to dire consequences,” Kumykov said.
Prior to the concert, assistant professor of Music Rebekah Ahrendt had expressed concern over the performance being “potentially politically problematic,” partly due to Gergiev’s known ties to the Russian government. Dana Astmann, the manager of communications at the Yale School of Music, said that the school was aware of the political undertones the concert might be perceived to have had. She said that the school believes that Yale students are politically aware, and thus welcomes their responses — both positive and negative — to performances such as these.
Joseph Haberman ’17, a Russian major who also spent a year in Russia after high school, said he thinks the protest against the Mariinsky Chorus was an opportunity to express political grievances against the Russian government. But Haberman noted that targeting the director of the chorus for his political views as a private citizen “misses the point.” Haberman explained that he believes the performers were not engaging in any sort of political action through their performance but were only interested in sharing Russia’s cultural contribution to the world of music.
Haberman added that he thinks the protesters may have mistakenly associated the chorus’s performance with the will of Putin or the Russian government but also noted that he believes the protesters’ wishes are legitimate and should not be silenced.
Nadezhda Stryuk ’17, who lives in the Russian city of Voronezh, said that she was not surprised by the protests, as Gergiev and Putin had been friends even before Putin became president.
“People in the West should [that] show all people who are associated with the current Russian government and support the war in Ukraine are not welcome here,” Stryuk said. “That’s the price they need to pay for receiving numerous benefits from Putin.”
But Stryuk noted that she is not sure if Gergiev really supports Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, even if he has publicly voiced such support. She explained that Russian people involved in politics have to either express their support for Putin or risk being penalized by the Russian government.
Holly Robinson ’17, a Russian major, said she thinks that even if political issues in Russia cause controversy in United States and lead to protests on campus, it is important for arts groups such as the Mariinsky Chorus to continue to come to Yale.
“I don’t deny the right to protest against Putin, but perhaps the Russian cultural opportunities being brought to campus could be better used as a platform for understanding and appreciation,” Stryuk said. “A Cold War mentality towards all things Russian is not something I’d like the campus to adopt.”