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We Don’t Need No Context

Roger Waters sent a message during his concert in Bulgaria that led some to think that the revered musician was a little out of his depth in modern politics.

by Boyko Vassilev 21 May 2018

The anti-Russian propaganda in the Western press is unbelievable. Do you want to fight the Russians? I do not want to fight the Russians.”


Roger Waters said that and the public applauded, albeit not too enthusiastically. His 4 May concert was not his first one in Bulgaria. Here, the public already knew the British legend and co-founder of Pink Floyd, the iconic rock band – as well as his misgivings about war, the U.S., and Israel.


That’s why people were not surprised by Waters’ virulent rhetoric against U.S. President Donald Trump, his policies, or his notorious tweets, which were flashing on an enormous screen standing on the stage. The final line that appeared – “Trump is a pig,” written in Bulgarian in huge letters – came somehow logically at the end of Waters’ improvised speech.


Russia, however, was something new for the singer.


Diehard Floyd fans remember the band’s output during the Cold War. Then, Waters was politicizing just as much as nowadays, at least in his songs. The “Final Cut” album, which came out in 1983, includes harsh criticism of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Leonid Brezhnev, the former Soviet general secretary, calling them “colonial wasters of life and limb.”


You see? Soviet leader Brezhnev is next to Waters’ other villains. The famous lyrics “Brezhnev took Afghanistan; Begin took Beirut were of course forbidden in communist Bulgaria, but the boys and the girls of the 1980s knew it by heart.


But few of them understood the full context. Waters, who lost his father in World War II, is a typical leftist who has opposed any war – and was up in arms about Thatcher’s clash with the Argentinian generals over the Falkland Islands. Yet Bulgarian Pink Floyd devotees got the main message: communist propaganda is not right. And “our” wars (like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) are as bad as “theirs.”


And now? The West is the bad guy, and the Russians are the victims. The Facebook crowd immediately started asking questions. How come Waters says that “The anti-Russian propaganda in the Western press is unbelievable but fails to mention anything about anti-Western propaganda in Russia? And if he is right that “those fuckers” could lead us into war (his concert speech does not give a clear hint if he means Trump and his minions alone, or the U.S. and the West in general), what about Georgia, Crimea, and Donbas?


“I would like Roger Waters to learn,” wrote political scientist Ognyan Minchev, “the truth about the Russian presence in this country … about Russian propaganda here … to know that the Russian oligarchy controls Bulgarian energy and politics through the Bulgarian oligarchy… Today Waters tries to put things on an equal footing. Yet Putin is incomparable with the center-right opponents of Waters, he is not even comparable to Trump.”


Yes, there are people in Bulgaria who think “the anti-Russian propaganda in the Western press is unbelievable.” Some polls show that their number is substantial. The thing is that there are not so many like them among Waters’ fans.


Those Bulgarians who listened to Pink Floyd and similar bands in the old days were protesters like him. But they protested against the communist regime and thus, were pro-Westerners by default. After the 1989 changes most of them called themselves “right-wing” in opposition to the post-communist “left,” to the dismay of Western leftists like Waters. Today, you could find them mainly among urban, reform-minded Bulgarians.


They were the ones who bore the brunt of Waters’ concert speech. Their Russophile opponents eagerly ridiculed them: “Your hero told you the truth about Russia. He said that he had met Russian people – and they were ‘ordinary people like you and me.’ He mentioned the Russian suffering in World War II and smashed anti-Russian propaganda. That’s him, your hero Waters.”


Enter one more twist. Many Bulgarian Russophiles rejoiced when Trump was elected. They expected the new U.S. president to repair ties with Russia and to promote anti-liberal and anti-globalist forces all around the world, including in Bulgaria. By calling him a “pig” and accusing him of preparing a war on Iran in the same sentence that praised Russia, Waters shook their world as well. No black-and-white worldview was left intact.


To sum it up, the confusion was massive. It is always like that when you compare left and right in the east and in the west – or generally, when you judge things by taking them out of context.


Both Waters and many of his critics and admirers made this mistake.


Would he or they like to learn, like Minchev hopes? I doubt it. To quote another famous Pink Floyd line: “We don’t need no education” – because it could ruin some of our treasured prejudices. 
Boyko Vassilev 
is a moderator and producer of the weekly Panorama news talk show on Bulgarian National Television.
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