Outrage mounts over Harvard’s life ban on Putin concert protestor

Outrage mounts over Harvard’s life ban on Putin concert protestor


norman lebrecht

October 13, 2014

In May this year, there was a small demonstration outside Sanders Theatre at Harvard before a concert by Vladimir Spivakov and the Moscow Virtuosi. One young man inside mounted the stage and expressed a view against the Putin regime and its musical allies.

That young man, Dr Roman Torgovitsky, was arrested by campus police and subsequently banned from Harvard. For life.



Two members of the Pussy Riot group, who spent months in Putin’s prisons for peaceful protest, have taken up his cause. If you believe in freedom of thought and civil justice, you should join their protest. Here’s what they write to the Harvard President, Drew Faust:

pussy riot



Dear President Faust,

On September 15, the Harvard Institute of Politics kindly provided us a forum to hold a discussion with students of your university. We spoke about human rights, feminism, freedom of speech, and the fine line that separates democratic regimes from authoritarian ones.

After our lecture, we invited several participants in the discussion to join us for dinner, including Harvard University alum Roman Torgovitsky, Ph.D. While we were leaving the Harvard campus, Dr. Torgovitsky was arrested by the Harvard Police, with no explanation given.

We proceeded with the students to the Harvard University Police Department, where we learned from Roman’s friends that Harvard had banned Roman from university grounds (by issuing him an oral no-trespass order) due to the fact that on May 11, 2014, after a concert by Russian musician Vladimir Spivakov, Dr. Torgovitsky approached Spivakov on stage. There, Roman expressed to Spivakov his concern that Spivakov had signed an open letter from cultural figures in the Russian Federation supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s position on the “Ukraine question” that openly supported annexation of Crimea and further violent aggression against Ukraine. As a result, Dr. Torgovitsky was arrested and without any due process banned from coming to Harvard University for life.

It is disconcerting that Harvard University has a policy of banning some of Harvard alums engaged in non violent civil disobedience and political protest on campus without any due process, consideration by the Harvard community or even possibility to appeal such a decision to a special committee.

We hope that the prosecution of Roman Torgovitsky for attending our lecture will be halted. We would like to respectfully ask Harvard administration to lift the no-trespass order imposed on Roman Torgovitsky for life for the non-violent, peaceful expression of his opinion.

Roman Torgovitsky has many excellent and constructive suggestions to offer Harvard administration. First and foremost, it would be a great benefit for the Harvard community to institute a due process for placing no trespass order prohibiting alums from coming to the University property and create an appeal process that involves Harvard community. Second, Roman and his colleague Julia Khodor Beloborodov are spearheading a project to provide urgently needed education to Ukrainian physicians to provide physical and psychological trauma rehabilitation for thousands of Ukrainians who have been injured and scared as a result of the President Putin war in Ukraine. Harvard University could provide invaluable educational assistance in this endeavor.

We call on the Harvard administration to enter into a dialog with civil-society activists, and in particular with Roman Torgovitsky. After all, they and Harvard are pursuing the same goals: respect for human rights, peace, and education without borders.

Masha Alekhina,
Nadya Tolokonnikova




  • Frank says:

    Earlier this year, she allowed a “black mass” to go ahead at Harvard. Here is what President Faust said about that: “Nevertheless, consistent with the University’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs. At the same time, we will vigorously protect the right of others to respond—and to address offensive expression with expression of their own.”

  • anon says:

    I fully respect the right of people to protest peacefully and express dissent, however, during a concert, the stage is the performers’ space and is inviolable, since the performers’ right to make music (and the right of all audience-members to hear it) undisturbed takes precedence over an audience-member’s right to voice his/her opinions. Trespassing on the stage, and refusing to leave when politely requested to do so, is a serious case of harassment and intimidation, even if no physical violence occurred. I therefore cannot agree with the letter’s description of his action as wholly “peaceful”.

    Torgovitsky’s proper course of action would have been to picket the event or to politely raise the matter with the performers at the stage door *after* the concert. Harvard’s response does seem rather heavy-handed, and there should be due process, but in many universities, alumni access on campus (where it exists) is a privilege, not a right.

    • Kathleen McCarthy says:

      Absolutely. When I go to a concert I pay money to hear the music, not to be held captive to someone’s political rant (whether I agree with it or not). Harvard is right about this. I hope we’re not seeing the start of a trend here.

  • Neil McGowan says:

    It does seem rather harsh that a small-minded little bigot like Mr Torgovitsky should be banned for life – merely for breaking all the rules, and going into a security-restricted area without permission.

    But of course, preventing a classical music concert from taking place is justifiable cause – for him, at least.

    Maybe Mr Torg-v-viski needs to look what his own government is doing at Guantanamo Bay?? But no, a preppy little student at Harvard would never criticise people having olive oil poured directly into their lungs – that’s just “apple pie” for people like him and his supporters.

    • Jame Smace says:

      Comparing the USand Gitmo to Russia plumbs new depths of Mother Goose Marxist Relativism.

      The Nazis were rightly prosecuted for starting WWII and committing crimes against humanity

      When do we do the same with Russia, Hitler’s ally in Sept 1939 when they both invaded Poland. Russia went on to also invade Lithuanian, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland with millions killed in an ethnic cleansing (thus all the Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine).

      Here is rare footage of the Nazi/Russian celebration at the start of WWII.


      • Neil McGowan says:

        When I last looked, Harvard University was in the United States of America – the country where Mr Torgovitsky pays taxes.

        But your extraordinary screed is such a fine example of Godwin’s Law that it deserves to win some kind of prize!


        • Gonout Backson says:

          You’re absolutely right, Neil. No one should ever disturb a music performance, whatever the reasons. It’s art, right? And what’s more important than art, right? I remember a concert interrupted by a guy having a heart attack. How rude is that? The pianist had to stop in the middle of the slow movement of the Hammerklavier, car you imagine?!

          First, when you’re sick, you stay at home. And then, you should tiptoe outside without disturbing your neighbours, and quietly die in the lobby.

          No respect, I tell you. Ugh.

  • Milka says:

    Would like to remind the apologist
    travel agent for mother Russia that
    had this incident happened in Russia
    you could be sure Dr.Torgovitsky
    would be rotting away in some KGB
    cell if not already beaten to a pulp.
    It was brave and foolish at the same
    time for Dr. Torgovitsky to challenge
    Putin’s lap dog violinist .”Preppy
    little student ” represented a moral
    stance that one can believe is long gone from the Harvard . Most academics are moral cowards at heart Dr. Torgovitsky was foolish not to realize this and pays a severe penalty
    in Putin style by being banished .
    Is this a “warning ” Faust is setting
    for future protesters ?
    Faust’s comments on the black mass
    is game playing ..the event bothered no one so on it went , Dr.Torgovitsky
    did bother so it must be suppressed as it would be in China or Russia;there was recently the active protest at
    St. Louis symphony hall , the protesters had their say and all went on, no one was banished . One
    wonders if Dr. Torgovitsky were
    “black ” would Faust have reacted differently ,or is it at this stage of the
    Harvard’s international dealings
    Ukrainians are expendable .

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    “… who spent months in Putin’s prisons for peaceful protest,”
    Yeah right! Next time they’ll jump on the Torah against Bibi in Belz synagogue and we’ll see how they are received. Just like Femen, the group bankrolled by Ukrainian oligarch Rabinovitch, who protests everywhere but…

  • Jame Smace says:

    What part of “Russia’s unpunished genocide toll is over 100 million” do some people not understand?

    The audience that did not disrupt the apologist-performer are the ones that should be jailed.


  • thelastword says:

    Surely Dr. Torgovitsky’s confrontation with Vladimir Spivakov had as much to do with the fact that Harvard was presenting a 3rd rate violinist & 5th rate conductor — as it did with the fact that Spivakov is a shameless Putin-lackey. It’s SPIVAKOV who should be banned from Harvard, from America, and from prime concert halls worldwide.

  • Hot Under Collar says:

    Four alums were banned from Harvard earlier this year for standing in protest at Sanders Theatre with a banner, advocating for fossil-fuel divestment. Two are members of clergy, and none deserve that.

  • Milka says:

    The big mistake is to think the place
    other than a factory much like a beehive all serving the queen bee.If
    you get out of line the punishment
    can be severe . It has a motto “Veritas’
    there is also some nonsense about
    the pursuit of enduring truth .
    Dr. Torgovitsky had a lesson on
    where that pursuit gets you . See-
    “Cambridge Day” by Marc Levy.
    under Spivakov.
    It is a sad letter and should not have
    been sent -in doing so he lowers
    himself to her level. Instead of sending flowers stinging nettles would have
    been more appropriate.

  • Roger says:

    Nadya is my hero! Brilliant woman.

  • Milka says:

    A stupid woman in my books .

  • M2N2K says:

    Comparing her statements with your comments gives one very good idea about the intellectual value of your “books”.