Confederate Flag flies over Europe’s “Sauerkraut Cowboy” Wild West/Country Scene

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At the Country Rendez-vous festival, Craponne, France, 2008. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

I’ve been following the “Sauerkraut Cowboys” country music and wild west scene in Europe for more than a decade, visiting Wild West theme parks, country music festivals, concerts, swinging door saloons, ranches in many countries and hanging out with a variety of European wild west and country music performers and fans.

One of the most striking of all the striking visual images in the multi-faceted scene is the frequent display of the Confederate (Rebel) flag, the Stars and Bars or Southern Cross. It is used on its own or in tandem with the American flag, the Stars and Stripes. It’s found as decoration, on T-shirts, pins, jewelry, backdrops, logos, you name it.

At the annual Trucker-country music festival, Geiselwind, Germany Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

At the annual Trucker-country music festival, Geiselwind, Germany Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

For most country music fans I’ve met in the scene, the flag seems to represent pure “rebel-hood” or the anti-Establishment, rather than to have a direct link with the Civil War, Confederacy, or slavery, i.e. the strong connotations that it evokes in the United States — and which have been at the heart of debates and discussion this past week since the AME church massacre in Charleston.

Indeed, I have been lectured to by various Confederate flag-sporting Europeans about how slavery had “nothing to do with” the Civil War. Etc Etc.

“They don’t know much about the history of the southern cross and for them it’s not important, it’s a link to freedom and rebellion against the establishment and their normal life,” one German member of the European wild west scene, a former employee of one of the Pullman City wild west theme parks and a close observer of hobbyist and other behavior, told me a few years back. Rockabilly fans also use it as a symbol of their favorite American music — album covers often feature the image.

Equiblues Rodeo & Country Music festival, St. Agreve, France, 2004 Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Equiblues Rodeo & Country Music festival, St. Agreve, France, 2004 Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

In France, Alain Sanders used the Rebel Flag as the logo of his country music fanzine, “Country Music Attitude.” Country music “feeling,” he told me when we met in 2004, is a kind of attitude toward life.  “It’s rebel attitude,” he said. “Don’t believe  everything because it’s printed. We don’t like the kind of world where you have the good and the bad. It’s grey, like the uniform of the confederate soldiers. And we explain to people also that when you are country, when you have a country attitude, it’s not once a month or once a year when you come to a festival. It’s every day. You think country, you sing and you think country — that’s what we try to explain.”

Nonetheless, outside the country scene per se, some skinhead and neo-Nazi groups in Europe also use the flag — in their case as a symbol of racism, to link them to the Ku Klux Klan and other extremists.

The photos presented in this gallery here show the Rebel flag in its country/wild west scene incarnation in various countries — Germany, France, Switzerland, Poland, Czech Republic, Italy.

(See my other photo galleries from the western scene: Fox Tails and Sauerkraut Cowboys – General Views)

All photos (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber.

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