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Roger Waters investigated by German police for Nazi imagery at concerts

Roger Waters performs at Barclays Arena in Hamburg, Germany, on Sunday to kick off his "This Is Not A Drill" tour. 7 May 2023
Roger Waters performs at Barclays Arena in Hamburg, Germany, on Sunday to kick off his "This Is Not A Drill" tour. 7 May 2023 Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Una Hajdari
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Controversy and accusations of antisemitism have dogged the ageing rocker's tour since the beginning.

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Two soldiers flank a man in a long, black leather overcoat with a red armband, dark glasses, and a machine gun.

Even the mere description would raise eyebrows for anyone aware of the Nazi German era, but Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters chose to wear that attire during a Berlin performance.

In response to floods of videos uploaded on social media and outrage from human rights organisations, German police announced on Friday they will investigate his performances in the country. 

"We are investigating on suspicion of incitement to public hatred because the clothing worn on stage could be used to used to glorify or justify Nazi rule, thereby disturbing the public peace," police spokesman Martin Halweg told AFP.

"The clothing resembles the clothing of an SS officer." 

It could be claimed Waters's outfit was a homage to Pink Floyd's film 'The Wall, not a reflection of his personal views. 

In the 1982 musical drama, a character dressed as an authoritarian fascist addresses a fervent crowd, a scene reminiscent of the Nuremberg rallies held during the Nazi era. Black, LGBT and Jewish figures in the film are physically attacked after the fictional character's speech. 

The German leg of Water's tour was marred by controversy from the onset, with local authorities in Frankfurt and Munich trying to cancel his concerts over antisemitism accusations.

Waters has responded to claims his messaging contains antisemitic undertones in an op-ed published in the Berliner Zeitung newspaper in Germany last February. 

In it, he says the “Israeli lobby” is leading “a despicable smear campaign against him.”

These amount to attempts to silence his “seventy five year old fight for equal human rights for all my brothers and sisters in Palestine/Israel, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or nationality,” he wrote. 

Waters is a prominent member of the global pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement. Known as BDS, it aims to force Israel to withdraw from occupied territories by isolating it economically, culturally and diplomatically on the world stage. 

Concerts and speaking engagements across Europe and the United States have been called off because of his views. 

His statements and performances are a particularly sensitive issue in Germany, as any public references making light of the Nazi regime are widely condemned.

Waters announced he would challenge the bans in court. In the end, the concerts were permitted, and Waters appeared smug in Hamburg earlier in May.

“Just so everyone knows: A court in Frankfurt has determined that I am not an antisemite. Splendid,” he said in an address to the crowd.

His performances currently include an interlude where the names of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian woman whose death triggered mass anti-government protests, and Holocaust victim Anne Frank are projected on a screen. 

Later in the performance, a large inflated pig is hoisted above the crowd, emblazoned with the logo of the Shell Oil company but also a Star of David – ostensibly representing the Israeli state.

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Waters has repeatedly claimed he is not antisemitic, however human rights groups have said he conflates legitimate criticism of Israel with thinly-veiled antisemitism.

Nationwide protests were organised against the British musician's concert series in Germany, such as in Munich last Sunday, which were also attended by Jewish groups.

“The hate speech against Jews clearly has a place in this country. The place is now the new Olympia Hall [in Munich],” said Charlotte Knobloch, the President of the Jewish Community in Munich and Upper Bavaria at the entrance of the building where the concert was set to take place.

Older generations remember him for the band's status as the ultimate protest band of the 1970s, with many of their songs being synonymous with left-wing political movements of the day.

Waters is famous for his seemingly idiosyncratic views – he once complained that he was "uncomfortable" with Off The Wall's commercial success, as well as the film that went along with it. The Wall was an industry record-setter at the time.

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