BERLIN — German police are investigating Roger Waters after the Pink Floyd co-founder wore a Nazi-like uniform during his shows in Berlin earlier this month.
Waters, 79, wore a black trench coach with a red armband, according to witnesses and videos posted to social media during his May 17 and 18 shows at Berlin’s Mercedes-Benz Arena, The New York Times reported. He was flanked by men dressed in costumes that evoked memories of Nazi stormtroopers and shot a prop machine gun into the audience, according to the newspaper.
Waters was performing the 1979 Pink Floyd song “In the Flesh,” from the group’s album, “The Wall,” Billboard reported. The album’s protagonist imagines himself as a fascist dictator, according to the Times. Similar staging was used in the 1982 movie “Pink Floyd: The Wall,” which featured singer Bob Geldof.
The routine has been part of Waters’ solo shows for at least 30 years, including a live performance of the album in Berlin in 1990, CNN reported. He has worn similar costumes, which has “The Wall” album’s “marching hammers replacing swastikas, Rolling Stone reported. Waters has worn the costume at least 10 times in Germany with no previous issues, according to the magazine.
Waters said that the performance in question was “quite clearly” a statement against fascism, injustice and bigotry, according to Reuters.
“My recent performance in Berlin has attracted bad faith attacks from those who want to smear and silence me because they disagree with my political views and moral principles,” Waters wrote in a statement that he posted on Twitter. “The elements of my performance that have been questioned are quite clearly a statement in opposition to fascism, injustice, and bigotry in all its forms. Attempts to portray those elements as something else are disingenuous and politically motivated.”
Waters is a member of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, NBC News reported. The group targets Israel over its occupation of territories where Palestinians seek statehood, according to the news organization. Waters has successfully fought two previous attempts by German courts to block him from playing in the country, the Times reported.
“The State Security Department at the Berlin State Criminal Police Office has initiated a criminal investigation procedure regarding the suspicion of incitement of the people,” Berlin police chief inspector Martin Halweg said, according to Rolling Stone. “The context of the clothing worn is deemed capable of approving, glorifying or justifying the violent and arbitrary rule of the Nazi regime in a manner that violates the dignity of the victims and thereby disrupts public peace.”
Nicholas Potter, a researcher with the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin, a group that tracks neo-Nazism, right-wing extremism and antisemitism in Germany, told the Times in an email that “artistic freedom of expression is not a license to incite hatred.”
“Artistic freedom is often used as an argument to express anti-democratic or hateful views, including antisemitic ones, but that doesn’t always mean it’s applicable -- the context is crucial,” Potter wrote.
Potter attended the May 17 show in Berlin and wrote about it on the foundation’s news blog.
Nazi symbols, flags and uniforms are prohibited in Germany, according to Reuters.
Waters originally agreed to be interviewed by the Times but then rescinded the offer, according to the newspaper.
“We are reluctant to comment if the intention is to further sensationalize this fabricated news story,” a representative for the singer told the newspaper in an email.
“I have spent my entire life speaking out against authoritarianism and oppression wherever I see it,” Waters said in his statement posted to Twitter on Friday. “When I was a child after the war, the name of Anne Frank was often spoken in our house, she became a permanent reminder of what happens when fascism is left unchecked. My parents fought the Nazis in World War II, with my father paying the ultimate price.
“Regardless of the consequences of the attacks against me, I will continue to condemn injustice and all those who perpetrate it.”
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