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Frankfurt must allow Roger Waters performance, court says

April 24, 2023

City and state had argued for the show to be cancelled, calling Waters "one of the world's most influential antisemites." The co-founder of the British rock band Pink Floyd said he's fighting for free speech.

A giant pig balloon emblazoned with the words "Don't Be Led to the Slaughter" flies above the crowd as Roger Waters performs at Coachella in 2008
Waters often uses giant pig balloons scrawled with dark messages to rile up crowds at his concertsImage: Chris Pizzello/AP/picture alliance

An administrative court in the German city of Frankfurt on Monday found that neither the city nor the state of Hesse had the right to cancel a Roger Waters concert at the Frankfurt Festhalle on May 29 as it had previously sought to do.

The court said that as the owners of concert organizer Messe Frankfurt, the state and city were obliged "to make it possible for Waters to stage the concert" as contractually agreed, despite concerns over the British musician's supposed antisemitic leanings.

Waters, a co-founder of the British rock band Pink Floyd, has run into similar trouble in other German cities due to his statements and past stage shows.

The court on Monday said that although Waters' show obviously borrows symbolism linked to National Socialism, it could not see that he was glorifying or qualifying Nazi deeds or identifying with Nazi racial ideology. Nor was there any indication that he would be using any type of Nazi propaganda during the concert.

The court said that to deny Waters access to the site would be to infringe upon his free speech rights as an artist.

Why did Frankfurt want to cancel Roger Waters concert?

On February 24, the city of Frankfurt and state of Hesse instructed Messe Frankfurt representatives to contact the owner of the Frankfurt Festhalle venue and cancel the upcoming May 29 show "immediately." They justified their approach by calling Waters one of the "world's most influential antisemites."

Waters has been branded an antisemite, among other things, for his vocal criticism of the Israeli government and his ties to the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement — which aims to affect Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories through economic pressure.

Waters' shows often feature giant inflatable pigs emblazoned with aggressive or brooding slogans. In the past, some of these had the Star of David painted on them. Despite the use of such crude tropes, Waters insists he's not an antisemite.

Musician Roger Waters cheering to a crowd, his arms outstretched, a guitar hanging from a strap around his neck
Waters says he's no antisemite despite having used crude antisemitic tropes at his concerts in the past Image: Gonzales Photo/IMAGO

The court agreed that it may be in "especially poor taste" to allow the 79-year-old Waters to perform at a site that bears witness to the memory of more than 3,000 Jews who were detained and abused there after the pogrom night of November 9, 1938, before being deported to concentration camps. But it said such a performance would "not be injurious to the human dignity of those people."

How are other cities dealing with upcoming Roger Waters concerts?

"Politicians don't have the right to intimidate artists and their fans by banning performances," said Waters before the case. "I am fighting for all of our human rights, including the right to free speech."

Waters' London manager called the accusations leveled by Frankfurt and Hesse "groundless," adding, "Roger Waters is looking forward to performing in Frankfurt."

Munich, Cologne and Hamburg have all faced the same dilemma with upcoming concerts for Waters,' "This is Not a Drill!" tour. Unlike Frankfurt, however, they have chosen not to sue, but rather to launch large public information campaigns and discussions about fighting antisemitism.

Observers say they expect the city and state to appeal Monday's decision.

js/jcg (AFP, dpa, KNA)

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