Writes: Aleksandar Krzhallovski
The reason I am writing this column is, of course, all the fuss that Tamara Todevska, our most popular singer (at least this year), has made when she incorrectly sang the lyrics of the Macedonian national anthem at the traditional 4thJuly Independence Day celebration that took place at the US Embassy.
I do not intend to add to all that, in my opinion, unnecessary and exaggerated fuss-making; I would only agree that the reaction (that was started by the United Macedonian Diaspora – UMD) was justified just like the singer and the Embassy’s apologies that followed were. And that’s where it all supposed to end.
Anyway, it was also good to remind ourselves how well we all know or don’t know the anthem. And for that matter, which one of its (at least) three different versions:
- The original version by Vlado Maleski, which was performed for the first time in Struga at the 1942 New Year’s Eve celebration at Sotir Shuta’s house, consisting of four verses (including the one that Tamara sang about “young, old, men and women who stood up for themselves”, as well as the one including (Nikola) Karev and (Dimitar) Vlahov, among our other heroes like Goce Delcev, Pitu Guli and (Jane) Sandanski);
- the “socialist” version, which was in official use (the one that our generations used to learn) after the “Information Bureau” case from 1949 till 1992, and from which Karev and Vlahov have been removed (for allegedly promoting the Bulgarian cause according to the opinions of the then authorities) while Dame Gruev has been added;
- the present version, adopted by the Parliament of the (independent) Republic of Macedonia on 11th August 1992, in which the second verse has been left out, so now it consists of three verses.
As I said before, I would not add up to the discussion regarding the present national anthem or its history (the son of its author, professor Denko Maleski is more competent on that matter); however, all this has reminded me of another (similarly heated) debate on whether and how many of our sportspeople (especially the footballers) do sing the national anthem when it is played before the start of the matches.
I do not recall what the reason for the discussion had been back then or whom it had been about, but that the case made me look into the histories of the most popular national anthems in the world as I was also impressed by the sight of French footballers, who, without any exception, sang “La Marseillaise” passionately and in full voices before the start of every match (I am referring to the last year’s World Cup in Russia, but that is generally the sight when it comes to the French).
I was a little bit surprised to see how loyal they are to the anthem, considering the fact that most of the players were black, so I would not say they were “genuine French”. I checked the facts and it turned out that out of the 23 members of the national team only two were not born in France (all the others were born there, therefore can be called natural born French, that is French citizen for the very fact they were born in that country). However, 14 out of those 23 originally come from other (mainly African) countries – their parents were NOT born in France and are immigrants who came to live there 20-30 years ago.
I found that loyalty even more peculiar when I read La Marseillaise’s verses. Namely, I was familiar with the fact that it was a military march (there is a line which calls for “taking the weapons and marching in order to, mind this, soak our trenches with the enemies blood”), but what I did not know was how brutal it was. Nevertheless, it does mention freedom and saving from the tyrants. By the way, the tyrants in that period were the Prussian and the Austro-Hungarian emperors against whom France entered into a war in 1792, and this song was then written to motivate the French soldiers. It was called “A military song for the Rein Army”. Another curious fact is that in those days in the region of Alsace, near Strasburg , most of the French soldiers could NOT speak French, so the song was translated in German, too!!!). It also mentions traitors, slaughtering, cutting throats, slaves, etc.
What I found really strange was that I imagined the French soldiers singing La Marseillaise while they were colonizing parts of Africa and killing the ancestors of today’s footballers who proudly sing the very same anthem. God does move in mysterious ways.
It is interesting to note that in 1992 there was an initiative to change the verses of this anthem (it came from the former president Francois Mitterrand’s wife, Danielle) in order to adjust it to the spirit of time and to remove the words that, in the present context, would not be found to be “politically correct”; another former president (Giscard d’Estaing) stated that if was foolish to sing verses about “soaking our trenches with Prussian blood when you have the German chancellor standing next to you in Paris! Anyway, those initiatives were not given the necessary amount of support, so the original verses are still officially in use. I presume those are the real identity issues – when something becomes so rooted in the spirit of the nation that it is impossible to change!
Let us take a quick insight into the German national anthem – the song of the Germans. The piece (the music) was written by Joseph Haydn in 1797 and was created in honor of the former Kaiser (Emperor) Franz II. The lyrics were created in 1841 and are seen as one of the symbols for uniting Germany. In the days of the Weimar Republic, in the year 1922 it was announced to be the official national anthem, and then again in 1952, but, mind this, only with its third verse (which proclaims unity, justice and freedom). If I hadn’t read that, I would have sworn that the lyrics began (I also thought that was the title) with “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”, that is “Germany above all. In fact, it is true that it is the first line of the original anthem (it was meant in those days that the lyrics would help overcome the local interests of the smaller dukedoms, principalities and other forms of the then authorities and achieve the ideals for a larger, national state for all Germans), but since the same anthem was officially in use in time of Nazi Germany – the lyrics received a different meaning, so after World War II there was a tendency to avoid them! Curiously, they have never been forbidden, nor removed from the full version of the anthem; however, when it is officially played, the first two verses are not performed, only the third one.
This situation sure leads to certain confusions and the misinterpretations are common, that is, the anthem starts with the abovementioned verse. There are several instances when this took place at official sporting events – it was mainly misinterpreted by English performers! There are more and more demands to return those lines in the official version of the anthem, and at school, the children are taught the full version of the anthem. The supporters of the conspiracy theories would say that it reflects the German urge to dominate and win over others. And, who knows – this is could probably be another identity issue and one of the key elements to the German success – to be first and better than the others.
There are interesting stories about other anthems, too. The Spanish “King’s March” is an example of the first official anthem of a country (1770) and it has remained unchanged till today – interestingly, it has no lyrics at all. Or, the simplicity of the British “God Save the Queen”. Most of them speak about the home country (or alternatively about the homeland, the native country or motherland), or about the national flag (for example the American or the Albanian anthem). The US anthem also celebrates a military victory over the British Navy in the Baltimore Bay in 1812, when the American flag was waved on Fort McHenry (in those days it had 15 stars and stripes), although this is not specifically stated in the text. New Zealand has two national anthems, and in South Africa, the anthem itself is written in five of the 11 official languages.
That’s all for today on national anthems, while waiting to see who will be part of the new Greek government led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, after his great victory last weekend, and more importantly their behavior concerning the Prespa Agreement!
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