Na­tional an­thems fuel eth­nic, diplo­matic, po­lit­i­cal strife

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - By David R. Sands

Amer­ica’s na­tional an­them is not easy to sing. It’s hard-to-re­mem­ber lyrics in­clude some out­right an­tiBri­tish pro­pa­ganda in some of its lesser-known verses. And “The Star-Span­gled Ban­ner” is un­der con­stant at­tack from crit­ics who ar­gue that “Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful” or “God Bless Amer­ica” would be a more fit­ting na­tional song.

Other coun­tries should be so lucky.

Ev­ery na­tion has one, in­clud­ing groups seek­ing sovereignty, such as Iraq’s Kur­dish re­gion and the break­away South Os­se­tia re­gion of Ge­or­gia. But it seems at times that na­tional an­thems are more trou­ble than they are worth — pos­ing po­lit­i­cal, aes­thetic, eth­nic and pro­to­col prob­lems at ev­ery turn.

Just this month, Nepal for­mally adopted a new na­tional an­them to re­place the an­them that served the coun­try for more than a cen­tury. The first line of the old an­them — “May glory crown you, glo­ri­ous sov­er­eign!” — no longer seemed ap­pro­pri­ate af­ter mas­sive street protests last year forced King Gya­nen­dra to cede most of his pow­ers.

Pradeep Ku­mar Rai, who wrote the words to the new, non-roy­al­ist an­them, said the change sig­naled the “end of the cul­ture of prais­ing feu­dal­ism and an in­di­vid­ual.”

The an­them “now rec­og­nizes that the peo­ple are the real source of state power,” he told Reuters news agency.

Con­ceived as a sym­bol of na­tional unity, an­thems at times have a per­verse way of ac­cen­tu­at­ing so­cial fault lines.

Con­ser­va­tive Is­raeli politi­cians ear­lier this year sharply crit­i­cized Raleb Ma­jadele, who in March be­came the first Arab Is­raeli to serve in the Cabi­net, for re­fus­ing to sing the lyrics to the na­tional an­them — “Hatik­vah” — at pub­lic events. The an­them at one point speaks of the “Jewish soul” yearn­ing for Zion.

Mr. Ma­jadele said he would stand when the an­them was played but would not sing the lyrics.

“I fail to un­der­stand how an en­light­ened, sane Jew al­lows him­self to ask a Mus­lim per­son with a dif­fer­ent lan­guage and cul­ture to sing an an­them that was writ­ten for Jews only,” the min­is­ter told the Ye­diot Ahronot news­pa­per.

And con­ser­va­tives in Bo­livia were equally aghast when left­ist Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales ear­lier this month said Bo­li­vians should hold their left fist aloft while the an­them is play­ing, as a sign of “sol­i­dar­ity” with the coun­try’s “peas-

ant in­dige­nous move­ment.”

Na­tional di­vi­sions

Di­vided and dis­puted coun­tries can pose par­tic­u­lar prob­lems when it comes to na­tional an­thems.

Eth­nic Turks on the di­vided is­land of Cyprus refuse to rec­og­nize the “Ode to Free­dom,” Greece’s na­tional an­them that is also used by the Cypriot Greek ma­jor­ity. “ ‘Twas the Greeks of old whose dy­ing brought to birth our spirit free” is not a line likely to ap­peal to Turk­ish Cypriot par­ti­sans.

A U.N.-spon­sored re­uni­fi­ca­tion plan called for a whole new set of na­tional sym­bols, in­clud­ing a new an­them, but the Greek Cypri­ots re­jected the plan in a ref­er­en­dum in April 2004, leav­ing the “Ode to Free­dom” as the coun­try’s of­fi­cial song.

The na­tional an­them of Tai­wan, which has long waged a bit­ter bat­tle for in­ter­na­tional le­git­i­macy against the com­mu­nist Chi­nese main­land, has been an es­pe­cially acute prob­lem child for the pro­to­col­con­scious.

Some Tai­wanese ob­ject to the an­them, whose lyrics are taken from a speech by Sun Yat-sen, mod­ern China’s first pres­i­dent, be­cause the song is also the party an­them for the Kuom­intang, one of the Repub­lic of China’s two main po­lit­i­cal par­ties. The an­them is banned on the main­land, and China de­manded a sub­sti­tute song

be played at in­ter­na­tional sum­mits and sport­ing events, such as the Olympics where Tai­wan is rep­re­sented.

Ear­lier this month, the Chi­nese for­eign min­istry lodged a for­mal protest when Ja­panese or­ga­niz­ers played the Tai­wanese an­them by mis­take at the Asia men’s bas­ket­ball cham­pi­onships in Tokushima.

“China ex­presses strong protest and de­mands the Ja­panese side im­me­di­ately take ef­fec­tive mea­sures to re­move the vile in­flu­ence and avoid sim­i­lar events from hap­pen­ing again,” the Chi­nese state­ment said. The Ja­panese or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee and the Asian Bas­ket­ball Fed­er­a­tion both apol­o­gized for the mis­take.

Even the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion tripped over the sen­si­tive topic of an­them pol­i­tics dur­ing the visit of Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao to Wash­ing­ton last year. At a White House wel­com­ing cer­e­mony for Mr. Hu, they mis­tak­enly an­nounced the band would play the an­them of “the Repub­lic of China” — the of­fi­cial name of Tai­wan.

Lost in trans­la­tion

Na­tional an­thems tend to get caught up in even the most up-to­date po­lit­i­cal dis­putes.

A Ger­man Green Party of­fi­cial sparked a sharp na­tional de­bate last year when he pro­posed that the words to the na­tional an­them be trans­lated into Turk­ish, in recog­ni­tion of the coun­try’s huge Turk­ish mi­nor­ity. Cen­ter-right politi­cians close to Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel de­nounced the idea, say­ing it would send a mes­sage that the Turk­ish im­mi­grants did not need to learn Ger­man.

A sim­i­lar pro­posal to trans­late the Nor­we­gian an­them into Urdu, a nod to the coun­try’s size­able Pak­istani mi­nor­ity, met a sim­i­lar hos­tile re­cep­tion from the coun­try’s right-wing par­ties.

“This is in­te­gra­tion in re­verse,” said Per-Willy Amund­sen of the pop­ulist Progress Party.

Even Pres­i­dent Bush was drawn into the lin­guis­tic de­bate when a Span­ish-lan­guage ver­sion of “The Star-Span­gled Ban­ner,” ti­tled “Nue­stro Himno,” was played on many U.S. His­panic ra­dio sta­tions last year.

“I think the na­tional an­them ought to be sung in English, and I think peo­ple who want to be cit­i­zens of this coun­try [. . . ] ought to learn to sing the na­tional an­them in English,” Mr. Bush told re­porters.

An­thems can unite as well as di­vide.

U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials con­sid­ered it a small break­through when a Kur­dish mil­i­tary band played the Iraqi na­tional an­them at a cer­e­mony in Ir­bil that marked the hand-over of se­cu­rity du­ties from the U.S.-led mil­i­tary coali­tion to lo­cal forces. Iraq’s Kurds aim to re­tain strong au­ton­omy from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad and na­tional sym­bols like the Iraqi flag are al­most never seen in the Kur­dish north.

On July 14, France’s am­bas­sador to Al­ge­ria, Bernard Ba­jo­let, or­dered Al­ge­ria’s na­tional an­them to be played at cer­e­monies mark­ing Bastille Day, France’s na­tional hol­i­day. It was the first time the an­them was played at the cer­e­mony since the vi­cious war that led to in­de­pen­dence for Al­ge­ria in 1962.

Know your own

In what­ever lan­guage, it is not smart pol­i­tics to be unfamiliar with your own na­tional an­them.

In what may be the big­gest an­them-re­lated gaffe of mod­ern times, Bel­gian Prime Min­is­ter­des­ig­nate Yves Leterme was asked last month to sing a few bars of the Bel­gian na­tional an­them, “La Bra­ban­conne,” to mark the coun­try’s na­tional day.

Mr. Leterme, whose po­lit­i­cal base is in Flan­ders, stunned his au­di­ence and be­came an overnight YouTube star by pro­ceed­ing to sing the first line of “La Mar­seil­laise,” France’s na­tional an­them, in­stead. He later apol­o­gized, ex­plain­ing that he knew the Bel­gian an­them in Dutch, “but I was asked to sing it in French and the cir­cum­stances were not ideal.”

Getty Images

The Iraq soc­cer team played Saudi Ara­bia in the Asian Cup fi­nal on July 29 in Jakarta, In­done­sia. Iraq’s 1-0 vic­tory was tainted by a post-tour­na­ment cel­e­bra­tion hosted by the United Arab Emi­rates, at which the old na­tional an­them dat­ing to Sad­dam Hus­sein’s rule was mis­tak­enly played. Sev­eral play­ers walked out in protest.

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