The American rock band has apologized after wading into deep geopolitical waters during a concert in the country on Tuesday, when they invited a Russian fan on stage and were booed by the audience.
Videos circulating on social media show the band’s lead singer, Brandon Flowers, asking the audience if they could bring a fan drummer, who is Russian, on to the stage. In the videos, it appears the singer interprets the initial hum of the crowd as an agreement, but the audience then starts to boo and whistle loudly.
Some videos also show a group of people shouting, “F--- Russia,” while some fans walked out.
In some videos, Flowers can also be heard saying that he sees his fans as his “brothers and sisters,” which was also not taken well by the crowd.
In a Facebook post following the performance in the Black Sea town of Ozurgeti, the band said it was never its intention to offend anyone.
“We have a longstanding tradition of inviting people to play drums and it seemed from the stage that the initial response from the crowd indicated that they were okay with tonight’s audience participation member coming onstage with us,” the band said. “We recognize that a comment, meant to suggest that all of The Killers’ audience and fans are ‘brothers and sisters,’ could be misconstrued. We did not mean to upset anyone and we apologize. We stand with you and hope to return soon.”
In comments under the statement, people accused the band of not “reading the room” and some noted to Flowers that “true brothers honor your land’s sovereignty.” But others came to the band’s defense, urging against discrimination against all Russians for the Kremlin’s actions.
Georgia’s current government has been accused of pro-Russian leanings, but the dominating public opinion in the country is pro-Ukrainian.
“I think large parts of the Georgian public believe that Georgia is sort of indirectly at war with Russia,” Ghia Nodia, a political science professor at Georgia’s Ilia State University, said on the phone from Tbilisi. “Of course the war is in Ukraine, but many Georgians consider that this is also kind of Georgia’s war, that Ukrainians are fighting Georgia’s war. And so that explains, I think, the general attitudes,” he told NBC News.
The war in Ukraine and the subsequent influx of Russians into Georgia have led to a peak of anti-Russian sentiment, Nodia said, not even seen after the 2008 war between the two countries.
But Nodia said that, to him, the audience was not hostile to the Russian fan per se, but rather to Flowers’ comment that all fans are brothers and that it doesn’t matter who is Russian and who is Georgian. “For Georgians, it matters a lot because Georgians consider Russia a hostile nation,” Nodia said.
Marketing specialist Keti Karseladze went to the concert with a group of friends and said the incident left her shocked and disappointed.
A self-described “huge fan,” Karseladze said she was excited to see the band, but said Flowers’ comments came across as “really aggressive,” especially the one about “brothers and sisters,” which, Karseladze said, was out of geopolitical context.
“I was thinking that there must be some misunderstanding,” Karseladze, 30, said, adding that some of her friends walked out of the concert in protest.
The band’s apology after the incident was “not enough,” she added. The crowd’s anger, she explained, was heightened by the fact that the 2008 conflict is still an “open wound.”
Georgia achieved independence from Moscow in 1991, and has a long history of tensions with the Kremlin since the Soviet Union’s collapse. That culminated in a brief military confrontation in 2008 over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which Tbilisi and much of the world considers part of Georgia, but Moscow sees as independent.
Earlier this year protests rocked the Black Sea country of 3.7 million after the government tried to introduce a bill that fueled fears of Kremlin influence.
Georgia’s pro-democracy civil “Shame movement” said in a statement published on X, formerly Twitter, that the incident exposes the band’s “profound ignorance” and called for all artists to “acquaint themselves intimately” with places where they are performing.
“This mindfulness becomes crucial to avert their actions from glorifying a state their audience perceives as a symbol of terror,” the statement said.
A Tbilisi radio station also said on the Telegram messaging app that it will not be playing The Killers’ songs in protest.
The episode may also be seen as giving more ammunition to the Kremlin, which frequently accuses the West and Russia’s neighbors of what it calls rampant Russophobia and the cancellation of Russian culture.
NBC News has reached out to the Georgian embassy in London for comment.
“I think most Georgians are not happy about the fact that so many Russians are here,” Nodia said. “But it does not mean that they are aggressive against individual Russians.”