I call myself a humanist, a citizen of the world.
And my loyalty and respect belong to all people,
regardless of their origin, nationality or religion.
Roger Waters Questioned in Depth About Ukraine, Russia, Israel, U.S.
By Berliner Zeitung, World Beyond War
Editor’s Note: I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to see Roger’s First Farewell Tour in Minneapolis when he was here last year. The show is mainly visual on huge screens along with the music of course and is very cleverly put together. As a person who generally prefers the written word, this show was an experience for me. It is true that the many symbols used, often as satire but not always, need to be seen in the context of the full experience, and it is an Experience. The show tells a story with symbol and music—and without giving the story away, in part with symbolic literary allusions. The giant pig balloon floated above the audience referred to by Roger in this interview makes perfect sense in the context of the full story Waters is telling, a story that is in part satire. In truth, the most difficult part of the show for me was that it was too loud and hurt my ears. So I had to listen to most of it with my fingers in my ears which brought the sound down to level where I could listen to and appreciate the music.
The original at the link above is in German. This translation was provided to World BEYOND War by Roger Waters.
Roger Waters can rightly claim to be the mastermind behind Pink Floyd. He came up with the concept of and wrote all the lyrics for the masterpiece “The Dark Side of the Moon”. He wrote the albums “Animals”, “The Wall” and “The Final Cut” single-handedly. On his current tour “This Is Not A Drill”, which comes to Germany in May, he therefore wants to express that legacy to a large extent and play songs from Pink Floyd’s classic phase. The problem: Because of controversial statements he has made about the war in Ukraine and the politics of the state of Israel, one of his concerts in Poland has already been cancelled, and in Germany Jewish and Christian organizations are demanding the same. Time to talk to the 79-year-old musician: What does he mean by all this? Is he simply misunderstood – should his concerts be cancelled? Is it justifiable to exclude him from the conversation? Or does society have a problem banning dissenters like Waters from the conversation?
The musician receives his visitors in his residence in southern England, friendly, open, unpretentious, but determined – that’s how he will remain throughout the conversation. First, however, he wants to demonstrate something special: In the studio of his house, he plays three tracks from a brand new re-recording of “The Dark Side of the Moon”, which celebrates its 50th birthday in March. “The new concept is meant to reflect on the meaning of the work, to bring out the heart and soul of the album,” he says, “musically and spiritually. I’m the only one singing my songs on these new recordings, and there are no rock and roll guitar solos.”
The spoken words, superimposed on instrumental pieces like “On The Run” or “The Great Gig in the Sky” and over “Speak To Me”, “Brain Damage” “Any Colour You Like and Money” are meant to clarify his “mantra”, the message he considers central to all his work: “It’s about the voice of reason. And it says: what is important is not the power of our kings and leaders or their so-called connection with God. What is really important is the connection between us as human beings, the whole human community. We, human beings, are scattered all over the globe – but we are all related because we all come from Africa. We are all brothers and sisters, or at the very least distant cousins, but the way we treat each other is destroying our home, planet earth – faster than we can imagine.” For instance, right now, suddenly here we are in 2023 involved in a year old proxy war with Russia in Ukraine. Why? Ok, a bit of history, in 2004 Russian President Vladimir Putin extended his hand to the West in an attempt to build an architecture of peace in Europe. It’s all there in the record. He explained that western plans to invite the post Maidan coup Ukraine into NATO posed a completely unacceptable existential threat to The Russian Federation and would cross a final red line that could end in war, so could we all get round the table and negotiate a peaceful future. His advances were brushed off by the US and its NATO allies. From then on he consistently maintained his position and NATO consistently maintained theirs: “F… you”. And here we are.
Mr Waters, you speak of the voice of reason, of the deep connection of all people. But when it comes to the war in Ukraine, you talk a lot about the mistakes of the US and the West, not about Russia’s war and the Russian aggression. Why don’t you protest against the acts committed by Russia? I know that you supported Pussy Riot and other human rights organizations in Russia. Why don’t you attack Putin?
First of all, if you read my letter to Putin and my writings around the start of the war in February….
…you called him a “gangster”…
…exactly, I did. But I may have changed my mind a little bit in the last year. There is a podcast from Cyprus called “The Duran”. The hosts speak Russian and can read Putin’s speeches in the original. Their comments on it make sense to me. The most important reason for supplying arms to Ukraine is surely profit for the arms industry. And I wonder: is Putin a bigger gangster than Joe Biden and all those in charge of American politics since World War II? I am not so sure. Putin didn’t invade Vietnam or Iraq? Did he?
The most important reason for arms deliveries is the following: It is to support Ukraine, to win the war and to stop Russia’s aggression. You seem to see it differently.
Yes. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I am now more open to listen what Putin actually says. According to independent voices I listen to he governs carefully, making decisions on the grounds of a consensus in the Russian Federation government. There are also critical intellectuals in Russia, who have been arguing against American imperialism since the 1950s. And a central phrase has always been: Ukraine is a red line. It must remain a neutral buffer state. If it doesn’t remain so, we don’t know where it will lead. We still don’t know, but it could end in a Third World War.
In February last year, it was Putin who decided to attack.
He launched what he still calls a “special military operation”. He launched it on the basis of reasons that if I have understood them well are: 1. We want to stop the potential genocide of the Russian-speaking population of the Donbas. 2. We want to fight Nazism in Ukraine. There is a teenage Ukrainian girl, Alina, with whom I exchanged long letters: “I hear you. I understand your pain.” She answered me, thanked me, but stressed, I‘m sure you’re wrong about one thing though, “I am 200% certain there are no Nazis in Ukraine.” I replied again, “I’m sorry Alina, but you are wrong about that. How can you live in Ukraine and not know?”
There is no evidence that there has been genocide in Ukraine. At the same time, Putin has repeatedly emphasised that he wants to bring Ukraine back into his empire. Putin told former German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the saddest day in his life was in 1989, when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Isn’t the word origin of “Ukraine” the Russian word for “Borderland”? It was part of Russia and the Soviet Union for a long time. It’s a difficult history. During the Second World War, I believe there was a large part of the population of western Ukraine that decided to collaborate with the Nazis. They killed Jews, Roma, communists, and anyone else the Third Reich wanted dead. To this day there is the conflict between Western Ukraine (With or without Nazis Alina) and Eastern The Donbas) and Southern (Crimea) Ukraine and there are many Russian speaking Ukrainians because it was part of Russia for hundreds of years. How can you solve such a problem? It can’t be done by either the Kiev government or the Russians winning. Putin has always stressed that he has no interest in taking over western Ukraine – or invading Poland or any other country across the border. What he is saying is: he wants to protect the Russian-speaking populations in those parts of Ukraine where the Russian speaking populations feel under threat from the far right influenced post Maidan Coup Governments in Kiev. A coup that is widely accepted as having been orchestrated by the US.
We have spoken to many Ukrainians who can prove otherwise. The US may have helped support the 2014 protests. But overall, reputable sources and eyewitness accounts suggest that the protests arose from within – through the will of the Ukrainian people.
I wonder which Ukrainians you have spoken to? I can imagine that some claim that. On the other side of the coin a huge majority of Ukrainians in the Crimea and the Donbass have voted in referenda to rejoin The Russian Federation.
In February, you were surprised that Putin attacked Ukraine. How can you be so sure that he will not go further? Your trust in Russia does not seem to have been shattered, despite the bloody Russian war of aggression.
How can I be sure that the US will not risk starting a nuclear war with China? They are already provoking The Chinese by interfering in Taiwan. They would love to destroy Russia first. Anyone with an IQ above room temperature understands that, when they read the news, and the Americans admit it.
You irritate a lot of people because it always sounds like you are defending Putin.
Compared to Biden, I am. The US/NATO provocations before February 2022 were extreme and very damaging to the interests of all the ordinary people of Europe.
You would not boycott Russia?
I think it is counterproductive. You live in Europe: How much does the US charge for gas deliveries? Five times as much as its own citizens pay. In England, people are now saying “eat or heat” – because the poorer sections of the population can hardly afford to heat their homes. Western governments should realize that we are all brothers and sisters. In the Second World War they saw what happens when they try to wage war against Russia. They will unite and fight to the last ruble and the last square meter of ground to defend their motherland. Just like anyone would. I think if the US can convince its own citizens and you and many other people, that Russia is the real enemy, and that Putin is the new Hitler they will have an easier time stealing from the poor to give to the rich and also starting and promoting more wars, like this proxy war in Ukraine. Maybe that seems like an extreme political stance to you, but maybe the history I read and the news I garner is just different from you. You can’t believe everything you see on TV or read in the papers. All I am trying to achieve with my new recordings, my statements and performances is that our brothers and sisters in power stop the war – and that people understand that our brothers and sisters in Russia do not live under a repressive dictatorship, any more than you do in Germany or I do in the US. I mean would we choose to continue to slaughter young Ukrainians and Russians if we had the power to stop it?
We can do this interview, in Russia this would not be so easy… But back to Ukraine: What would be your political counter-proposal for a meaningful Ukraine policy of the West?
We need to get all our leaders around the table and force them to say: “No more war!”. That would be the point where dialogue can start.
Could you imagine living in Russia?
Yes, of course, why not? It would be the same as with my neighbours here in the south of England. We could go to the pub and talk openly – as long as they don’t go to war and kill Americans or Ukrainians. All right? As long as we can trade with each other, sell each other gas, make sure we’re warm in the winter, we’re fine. Russians are no different from you and me: there are good people and there are idiots – like everywhere else.
Then why don’t you play shows in Russia?
Not for ideological reasons. It is simply not possible at the moment. I’m not boycotting Russia, that would be ridiculous. I play 38 shows in the USA. If I were to boycott any country for political reasons, it would be the US. They are the main aggressor.
If one looks at the conflict neutrally, one can see Putin as the aggressor. Do you think we are all brainwashed?
Yes, I do indeed, definitely. Brainwashed, you said it.
Because we consume western media?
Exactly. What everyone in the West is being told is the “unprovoked invasion” narrative. Huh? Anyone with half a brain can see that the conflict in Ukraine was provoked beyond all measure. It is probably the most provoked invasion ever.
When concerts in Poland were cancelled because of your statements on the war in Ukraine, did you just feel misunderstood?
Yes. This is a big step backwards. It is an expression of Russophobia. People in Poland are obviously just as susceptible to Western propaganda. I would want to say to them: You are brothers and sisters, get your leaders to stop the war so that we can stop for a moment and think: “What is this war about?”. It is about making the rich in the Western countries even richer and the poor everywhere even poorer. The opposite of Robin Hood. Jeff Bezos has a fortune of around 200 billion dollars, while thousands of people in Washington D.C. alone live in cardboard boxes on the street.
Ukrainians are standing up to defend their country. Most people in Germany see it that way, which is why your statements cause consternation, even anger. Your perspectives on Israel meet with similar criticism here. That is also why there is now a discussion about whether your concerts in Germany should be cancelled. How do you react to that?
Oh, you know, it’s Israeli Lobby activists like Malca Goldstein-Wolf who demand that. That’s idiotic. They already tried to cancel my concert in Cologne in 2017 and even got the local radio stations to join in.
Isn’t it a bit easy to label these people as idiots?
Of course, they are not all idiots. But they probably read the Bible and probably believe that anyone who speaks out against Israeli fascism in the Holy Land is an anti-Semite. That’s really not a smart position to take, because to do so you have to deny that people lived in Palestine before the Israelis settled there. You have to follow the legend that says, “A land without a people for a people without a land.” What nonsense. The history here is quite clear. To this day, the indigenous, Jewish population is a minority. The Jewish Israelis all immigrated from Eastern Europe or the United States.
You once compared the state of Israel to Nazi Germany. Do you still stand by this comparison?
Yes, of course. The Israelis are committing genocide. Just like Great Britain did during our colonial period, by the way. The British committed genocide against the indigenous people of North America, for example. So did the Dutch, the Spanish, the Portuguese even the Germans in their colonies. All were part of the injustice of the colonial era. And we, the British also murdered and pillaged in India, Southeast Asia, China…. We believed ourselves to be inherently superior to the indigenous people, just as the Israelis do in Palestine. Well, we weren’t and neither are the Israeli Jews.
As an English man, you have a very different perspective on the history of the State of Israel than we Germans do. In Germany, criticism of Israel is handled with caution for good reasons; Germany has a historical debt that the country must live up to.
I understand that very well and I have been trying to deal with it for 20 years. But for me, your debt, as you put it, your national sense of guilt for what the Nazis did between 1933 and 1945, shouldn’t require your whole society to walk around with blinkers on about Israel. Would it not be better if it rather spurred you to throw away all the blinkers and support equal human rights for all your brothers and sisters all over the world irrespective of ethnicity religion or nationality?
Are you questioning Israel’s right to exist?
In my opinion, Israel has a right to exist as long as it is a true democracy, as long as no group, religious or ethnic, enjoys more human rights than any other. But unfortunately that is exactly what is happening in Israel and Palestine. The government says that only Jewish people should enjoy certain rights. So it can’t be described as democratic. They are very open about it, it’s enshrined in Israeli law. There are now many people in Germany, and of course many Jewish people in Israel, who are open to a different narrative about Israel. Twenty years ago, we could not have had a conversation about the State of Israel in which the terms genocide and apartheid were mentioned. Now I would say you can’t have that conversation without using those terms, because they accurately describe the reality in the occupied territory. I see that more and more clearly since I’ve been part of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, ed.).
Do you think they would agree with you here in England?
I can’t say for sure because I’ve hardly lived here for the last 20 years. I would have to go down to the pub and talk to people. But I suspect more and more would agree with me every day. I have many Jewish friends – by the way – who whole heartedly agree with me, which is one reason why it’s so crazy to try to discredit me as a Jew-hater. I have one close friend in New York, who happens to be Jewish, who said to me the other day, “A few years ago, I thought you were crazy, I thought you had completely lost it. Now I see you were right in your position on the policies of the state of Israel – and we, the Jewish community in the US, were wrong.” My friend in NY was clearly distressed making this remark, he is a good man.
BDS positions are sanctioned by the German Bundestag. A success of the BDS movement could ultimately mean an end to the state of Israel. Do you see it differently?
Yes, Israel could change its laws. They could say: We have changed our mind, people are allowed to have rights even if they are not Jewish. That would be it, then we wouldn’t need BDS any more.
Have you lost friends because you are active for BDS?
It’s interesting that you ask that. I don’t know exactly, but I very much doubt it. A friendship is a powerful thing. I would say I’ve had about ten real friends in my life. I couldn’t lose a friend because of my political views, because friends love each other – and friendship begets talk, and talk begets understanding. If a friend were to say, “Roger, I saw you flew an inflatable pig with a Star of David on it during your Wall concerts!”, I explain to them the context and that there was nothing anti-Semitic either intended or expressed.
What is the context then?
That was during the song “Goodbye Blue Sky” in “The Wall” show. And to explain the context, you see B-52 bombers, on a circular screen behind the band, but they don’t drop bombs, they drop symbols: Dollar signs, Crucifixes, Hammer and Sickles, Star and Crescents, the McDonalds sign – and Star of Davids. This is theatrical satire, an expression of my belief that unleashing these ideologies, or products onto the people on the ground, is an act of aggression, the opposite of humane, the opposite of creating love and peace among us brothers and sisters. I’m saying in the wrong hands all the ideologies these symbols represent can be evil.
What is your ideology? Are you an anarchist – against any kind of power that people exercise over each other?
I call myself a humanist, a citizen of the world. And my loyalty and respect belong to all people, regardless of their origin, nationality or religion.
Would you still perform in Israel today if they let you?
No, of course not. That would be crossing the picket line. I have for years written letters to colleagues in the music industry to try to convince them not to perform in Israel. Sometimes they disagree, they say, “But this is a way to make peace, we should go there and try to convince them to make peace” Well we are all entitled to our opinion, but in 2005 the whole of Palestinian Civil Society asked me to observe a cultural boycott, and who am I to tell a whole society living under a brutal occupation that I know better than they.
It is very provocative to say that you would play in Moscow but not in Israel.
Interesting that you say that given that Moscow does not run an apartheid state based on the genocide of the indigenous inhabitants.
In Russia, ethnic minorities are heavily discriminated against. Among other things, more ethnic non-Russians are sent to war than ethnic Russians.
You seem to be asking me to see Russia from the current Russo phobic perspective. I choose to see it differently, though as I have said I don’t speak Russian or live in Russia so I’m on foreign ground.
How do you like the fact that Pink Floyd have recorded a new piece for the first time in 30 years – with the Ukrainian musician Andrij Chlywnjuk?
I have seen the video and I am not surprised, but I find it really, really sad. It’s so alien to me, this action is so lacking in humanity. It encourages the continuation of the war. Pink Floyd is a name I used to be associated with. That was a huge time in my life, a very big deal. To associate that name now with something like this… proxy war makes me sad. I mean, they haven’t made the point of demanding, “Stop the war, stop the slaughter, bring our leaders together to talk!” It’s just this content-less waving of the blue and yellow flag. I wrote in one of my letters to the Ukrainian teenager Alina: I will not raise a flag in this conflict, not a Ukrainian flag, not a Russian flag, not a US flag.
After the fall of the Wall, you performed “The Wall” in reunified Berlin, certainly with optimistic expectations for the future. Did you think you could also contribute to this future with your own art, make a difference?
Of course, I believe that to this day. If you have political principles and are an artist, then the two areas are inextricably intertwined. That’s one reason why I left Pink Floyd, by the way: I had those principles, the others either did not or had different ones.
Do you now see yourself as equal parts musician and political activist?
Yes, sometimes I lean towards one, sometimes the other.
Will your current tour really be your last tour?
(Chuckles) I have no idea. The tour is subtitled “The First Farewell Tour” and that’s an obvious joke because old rock stars routinely use Farewell Tour as a selling tool. Then they sometimes retire and sometimes go on another Final Farewell Tour, it’s all good.
You want to keep sending something out to the world, make a difference?
I love good music, I love good literature – especially English and Russian, also German. That’s why I like the idea of people noticing and understanding what I do.
Then why don’t you hold back with political statements?
Because I am who I am. If I wasn’t this person who has strong political convictions, I wouldn’t have written “The Dark Side of the Moon”, “The Wall”, “Wish You Were Here”, “Amused to Death” and all the other stuff.
Thank you very much for the interview.
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