Billed as “A Concert for Unity,” the November 13 performance at the Washington National Cathedral of the Mariinsky Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev, with pianist Denis Matsuev, drew peaceful protesters who carried placards and distributed leaflets pointing out that Messrs. Gergiev and Matsuev were among the Russian cultural activists who in 2014 signed a public letter in support of President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Crimea and Russian annexation of that Ukrainian territory.
Among the protesters was Alexa Chopivsky, executive director of The American Center for a European Ukraine. Security guards asked Ms. Chopivsky to leave the cathedral grounds, but she insisted she had a right to be there as a member of the National Cathedral community (she had attended a private all-girls’ school affiliated with the cathedral).
Security then summoned police, who arrested Ms. Chopivsky, handcuffing her and taking her to the police station. She was later released but faces charges of trespassing on private property, which she said she will appeal.
Other demonstrators, meanwhile, took their protest off the cathedral property and onto the sidewalk.
As noted in advertisements for the concert, it was held “in cooperation with the Embassy of the Russian Federation, in concert with Washington National Cathedral Choir, Organ, Carillon and Peal Bells, and in unity with The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington Performing Arts, Mariinsky Foundation of America, Appeal of Conscience Foundation, The Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, Sustained Dialogue Institute, American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation, and the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History.”
The Washington Post’s music critic, Anne Midgette wrote the next day: “It was an unusual event from the outset: a privately funded reception and concert of music by Russian and American composers, all based on an ambiguous premise. What, exactly, does ‘unity’ mean? Guests were invited to light candles ‘for unity, healing, and peace in the world,’ and a symposium before the event brought together religious and cultural leaders, including the head of the Orthodox parishes in the United States and the Kennedy Center’s president, Deborah Rutter, to talk about cultural and religious bridges across political divides. The whole thing was planned and funded by Susan Lehrman, a Washington socialite and philanthropist who has for some years devoted herself to promoting cultural understanding with Russia – and who, last November, received Russia’s Order of Friendship from Vladimir Putin himself.”
The Embassy of Ukraine in the United States commented in a Ukrainian-language post on Facebook: “We consider it improper to connect the personalities V. Gergiev and D. Matsuev, who signed a statement in support of the Kremlin’s policy on the occupation of Crimea, with the ideals of unity, especially in view of the Russian Federation’s continuing aggression against Ukraine. It is regretful that Western support from serious American non-governmental structures provides a venue for Russian propaganda and manipulations of public opinion in the U.S.A.”
The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America issued a statement in reaction to the arrest, noting: “Ukrainian Americans being arrested for protesting Russian imperialism is certainly not a new development. Nevertheless, we are at a loss when asked to cite a similar instance of an arrest for respectfully distributing flyers outside of a concert in the 26 years of Ukraine’s independence. UCCA applauds Ms. Chopivsky’s tenacity and dedication in leading her local community against Russian attempts to win over public favor. Moreover, we ask on behalf of our nationwide community that the Washington National Cathedral withdraw its pressing of charges and work with us to help prevent such mistakes going forward.”
(Sources: Voice of America, The Wilson Center, The Washington Post, Embassy of Ukraine in the U.S., UCCA)