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Why Rod Stewart’s Ukraine comments hit a nerve in Leipzig

Rod Stewart dedicated 'Rhythm of My Heart' to Ukraine. Credit: Getty

June 18, 2024 - 7:00am

Rod Stewart is hard to dislike. But in Germany, one issue divides people so deeply that even the most outrageous leopard print can’t gloss over it: the war in Ukraine.

Stewart played a concert in the German city of Leipzig last week and showed his support for Ukraine by shouting “Fuck Putin” and dedicating his 1991 hit Rhythm of My Heart to the country’s struggle. As the song finished and a picture of President Zelensky appeared, there was loud booing from sections of the audience.

While the international press stressed that a “German crowd” had jeered at one of Britain’s most beloved stars, much of the domestic media pointed the finger specifically at the east of the country, where Leipzig is located. A Berlin newspaper stated that while “Leipzig booed, Berlin cheered” when Rod Stewart repeated the pro-Ukraine segment at a concert in the capital. Hamburg too is certain that at its gig on Thursday “this will definitely not happen to him”.

Many Germans like to think that waning support for Ukraine is a reserve of the formerly socialist East. Pro-Russian sentiments are seen as an unfortunate Cold War hangover along with voting for the Right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which just won the European Elections in the region and boycotted Zelensky’s visit to the German parliament.

This take is a half-truth, as unhelpful in explaining what happened at the concert as it is in stabilising support for Ukraine in the West. Eastern Germans have absolutely been more critical towards Ukraine than their Western compatriots. One recent survey suggested that nearly half of them thought too many weapons were being sent while only a third of Westerners believed this.

But it is also true that support for Ukraine is ebbing elsewhere, too. An EU report suggests that 60% of Italians disagree with weapon deliveries, nearly 80% of Austrians want to remain neutral, and even in France nearly 40% would favour a reduction or a stop of arms support. Many German leaders (almost all of whom are from the former West) have also notably changed their tune — not least Olaf Scholz himself who fought the EU election campaign as a peace chancellor.

Less reported upon in Leipzig was also the applause that competed with the jeering. Having spoken to a few locals since, I also got the sense that people paid over €100 for concert tickets to escape from day-to-day tensions for an evening. One comment underneath the YouTube clip of the scenes in Leipzig also asks artists to “stick to your art and don’t lecture us”. Public opinion in the East is a complex matter, fraught with tension.

If Rod Stewart had responded to the booing with moral condemnation of the East, he would only have deepened the sense of resentment felt by many there. Many former East Germans love the British icon. During the Cold War, even the state-owned record label Amiga produced his hits like Da’ Ya’ Think I’m Sexy. Alienating fans in the East would have done nothing to re-engage people, and therefore nothing to help Ukraine. His uncompromising but nonetheless conciliatory response points in the right direction. Vowing to continue to “support Zelensky and the people of Ukraine”, he also added that he was “having the time of my life playing for German audiences”.

Waning support for Ukraine is a serious issue, and it certainly varies in intensity and causes across the continent. But lazy and divisive reporting does nothing to alleviate the problems Zelensky faces at this critical juncture.


Katja Hoyer is a German-British historian and writer. She is the author, most recently, of Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990.

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago

Why did he have to bring politics into his performance anyway? He was there to sing and entertain – that’s what people paid for. Stick to the day-job, Rod.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

As the sage of Springfield once asked: ‘Gee, is there anything rock stars don’t know?’

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Who is the sage of Springfield?

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Hardly “politics”. “Politics” would have been him yelling “Vote for Olaf Scholz”.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

See Ricky Gervais’s amusing recent video.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

Ah yes, there he is, as always, up to the point.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago

Downvoted by a cryptoRickyGervais-ophobe, obviously

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
1 month ago

Cannot edit the previous comment, hence this new post.
The older votes disappeared again and now the only visible votes are those that were put after all previous votes got to zero.
I thought this bug was addressed, but it persists. Disappointing!

Andrew F
Andrew F
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

But artists supported various causes for decades.
So problem with Rod is that he supports “wrong” cause?
How many artists are now effectively supporting Hamas with their Gaza comments.
I find it surprising that people of former East Germany who were subjugated by Russia are against people who fight against Russia for their freedom.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew F

It’s because they’re stupid. Some Russians yearn for Stalin.

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

And some of,no many of my British countrymen yearn for Churchill,but Boris will do,and they are looking forward to recreating Dads Army in real life. War is so much cosy fun,eh.

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew F

The ones to fight are the CIA enabling the conflict on behalf of USA corporate capitalist hegemony. It’s an imperialist colonial takeover by subterfuge of the whole Russian landmass.
By greedy American bastards.
The ENEMY is AMERICA. But so far as only Ukrainians are dying it’s ok. No one gives a flying fig about THEM.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew F

Exactly.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
1 month ago

If Rod wants to support the Washington meat-grinder then he should go over to the east of Europe and observe the carnage himself. This proxy war is comparable to the few miles that were fought over during the Great War of 1914-18.

El Uro
El Uro
1 month ago

He slightly overestimates his own greatness

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  El Uro

He’s not sexy any more.

George Stone
George Stone
1 month ago
Reply to  jane baker

He’s 80 odd.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  El Uro

Who does?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

Old man makes a fool of himself!

Jim McDonnell
Jim McDonnell
1 month ago

Strange. I can understand the easterners being discontented about lots of things, but pro-Putin? For that matter, pro-Russian? I guess not enough of them remember the Red Army’s 1945 rapefest followed by four years of military rule and another 40 by a Soviet puppet regime whose biggest employer was the Stasi. And Leipzig? Wasn’t Leipzig the wellspring of the 1989 bloodless revolution that led to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall?

Mike Dearing
Mike Dearing
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim McDonnell

Right on all counts!

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim McDonnell

Is it a THING,this 5 minute memory,and total ignorance of history. All those food additives have done their job. I am awed at the level of ignorance and stupidity among the general population. Just repeat what you are told to say. Is everyone five years old now.
I hope you’re going to volunteer for the front line when they draw up the draft registration and not send your grandson or daughter instead

David Clancy
David Clancy
1 month ago
Reply to  jane baker

Brian Cox tweeted, admiring engineering which enables Voyager to be fixed remotely. Cue some dumb responses. He replied:
“Honestly – a few of the replies to this little tribute to engineering excellence exhibit a level of stupidity that suggests to me that it won’t be long before our spacecraft are the only thing that remains of our increasingly dim-witted civilisation. Until recently my guess has been that the answer to the Fermi Paradox might be found in biology – complex biological systems are rare. I’m increasingly of the view that the reason for The Great Silence is that civilisations are inevitably crushed by the weight of nobheads shortly after inventing the internet.”

David Clancy
David Clancy
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim McDonnell

It is strange isn’t it? Are they all just mental? I guess they must be. Stupid, uneducated, propaganda-infused (though from where I’m uncertain) sheeple, none of whom bothered to try to understand the complexities of a complex conflict because of course if they did they’d naturally come to the same conclusions we have about the conflict.
Sorry, I mean Putin’s full-scale, illegal, unjustified genocide of Ukraine. There. I think I’ve hit every mandatory descriptive: NATO, BBC, EU, Washington, Ukraine.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago

But lazy and divisive reporting does nothing to alleviate the problems Zelensky faces at this critical juncture.
Lazy and divisive reporting got us this far. It has been a font of propaganda from the start, from telling us how Ukraine is always winning despite losing territory to erasing anything that happened before Feb 2022, But your shorts are in a knot because people who went to a concert did not expect a political rally?

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

There are too many Zelenskys about the globe at this moment in history and wherever they are trouble,war and strife is.

Paul
Paul
1 month ago
Reply to  jane baker

But not too many Putins?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul

Exactly, and if America gets it wrong in the next election there will be one more.

David Gardner
David Gardner
1 month ago
Reply to  jane baker

Are you Moscow Jane?

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
1 month ago
Reply to  David Gardner

Hanoi Jane too , see her comments above

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
1 month ago

To quote Ann Coulter, “Shut up and sing.”

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

To quote everyone else “Ann Coulter shut up”

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

Is Ann Coulter really a man? With the Adam’s apple and male identification she could well be.

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago

Rod Stewart is like a lot of nice,simple,kind people. He thinks that Ukranian people are simple peasants,at one with nature,and free from the consumer materialism we are all drowning under. And of course we all feel about “plucky little Ukraine” the way our great grandparents felt about “plucky little Belgium”.
It’s 1914 again,or is it 1939 now. I can’t keep up with all this time travel. Or maybe it’s soon going to be 1965 and it’ll be “plucky little Vietnam time” can’t have those Dominos falling can we. Do they think we are stupid. Do they think we haven’t heard it all before? Do they think we dont know any history. Sadly the answer to all the above is YES.

George Stone
George Stone
1 month ago
Reply to  jane baker

History is bunk.