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Why Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters’ stance on Ukraine led to his concerts being cancelled in Poland

Waters is known to speak on foreign policy issues. In an interview with CNN, he had called US President Joe Biden a “war criminal” for “fueling the fire” in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Pink Floyd, the band that Waters exited in the 1980s, released a song called ‘Hey, Hey Rise Up’ featuring a Ukrainian singer, earlier this year. All proceeds from the song were donated to a Ukrainian charitable fund. (File)

British rock legend and Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters’ concerts have been cancelled in Poland amid outrage over his stance on the ongoing war in Ukraine. The controversy was sparked by an open letter Waters wrote to the Ukrainian first lady, Olena Zelenska.

Waters, who was set to perform in Krakow on April 21 and 22 as part of his solo international tour, claimed that he and its management were not responsible for calling off the shows. While the show’s official promoters, Live Nation Poland, confirmed that the concerts had been called off, it did not specify a reason, CNN reported.

Waters’ controversial letter has also enraged local lawmakers, with some initiating a proposal to declare the rock musician persona non grata.

Why were the concerts cancelled?

The concerts were called off because of an open letter Roger Waters had published on his official website earlier this month, addressed to Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska. In his letter, Waters, who is known to be virulently anti-war, wrote that some “extreme nationalists” in Ukraine had set the country “on the path to this disastrous war”.

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He went on to accuse her husband, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of failing to fulfil his election campaign promises to ensure peace in the contested Donbas region. He criticised the West, particularly the US, for supplying Ukraine with weapons. He also condemned NATO’s role in the war, claiming that it provoked Russia.

Zelenska responded to the letter on Twitter, where she wrote that it was Russia that had invaded Ukraine. “Roger Waters, you should ask for peace from the president of another country,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, Pink Floyd, the band that Waters exited in the 1980s, released a song called ‘Hey, Hey Rise Up’ featuring a Ukrainian singer, earlier this year. All proceeds from the song were donated to a Ukrainian charitable fund.

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How did Poland respond?

Following Waters’ open letter, the entertainment platform Live Nation Polska as well as the concert venue Tauron Arena Krakow announced in a one-line joint statement that they had called off the shows.

Krakow’s city councillor Lukasz Wantuch called on people to boycott the concerts. Several city councillors have jointly drafted a resolution to declare Waters persona non grata, due to be voted on at a session on September 28.

“Taking into account Russia’s criminal attack on Ukraine as well as the increasing number of war crimes committed by Russian soldiers that are coming to light, [the councillors] express outrage at the theses and statements made by Mr Roger Waters in connection with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” the resolution, obtained by The BBC, reads.

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Waters responded on Facebook, where he wrote a post titled “Hey Lukasz Wantuch, leave them kids alone” — a reference to the Pink Floyd song, ‘Another Brick in the Wall’. Waters accused Wantuch of a “draconian censoring of my work.”

“It is true that a town councilor in Krakow, a Mr Łukasz Wantuch has threatened to hold a meeting asking the council to declare me ‘Persona non grata’ because of my public efforts to encourage all involved in the disastrous war in Ukraine, especially the governments of the USA and Russia, to work towards a negotiated peace, rather than escalate matters towards a bitter end that could be nuclear war and the end of all life on this planet,” Waters wrote.

“Not withstanding that this chap Łukasz Wantuch seems to know nothing of my history of working, all my life, at some personal cost, in the service of human rights, he, in an article in a local newspaper urged the good people of Krakow not to buy tickets to my show.”

But why did authorities in Poland oppose his concerts?

Since Russia first launched an attack on Ukraine, the Polish government has firmly supported Ukrainian President Zelensky. Poland quickly became the primary conduit for weapons and aid between the West and Ukraine. The country, which shared borders with Ukraine, has also absorbed the highest number of Ukrainian refugees, at around 3.4 million people, according to Al Jazeera.

In the months that followed the attack, Poland’s role in NATO, too, has evolved. Poland was one of the first countries after the US, UK and the Baltic states to support sanctions against Moscow following the war on Ukraine.

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Poland also shares borders with Russia’s Kaliningrad region. It has long seen Russia as a major security threat.

No stranger to controversy

Waters is known to speak on foreign policy issues. In an interview with CNN, he called US President Joe Biden a “war criminal” for “fueling the fire” in Ukraine. During his previous tour, he included a picture of Biden in a montage of war criminals with the text: “Just getting started”, plastered over his face.

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In another interview with CNN, the musician sparked a storm when he said that Taiwan was part of China. “That has been absolutely accepted by the whole of international community since 1948. If you don’t know that you aren’t reading enough…. You are believing your side’s propaganda. You can’t have a conversation about human rights and Taiwan without actually doing the reading,” he said.

His statement was considered controversial as self-ruled Taiwan sees itself as no less than an independent nation. However, since its founding in 1949, the PRC has believed that Taiwan must be reunified with the mainland, while the RoC has held out as an “independent” country.

First published on: 28-09-2022 at 07:23:16 pm
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