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National anthems – appalling, but fun


‘Arise, O compatriots
O Martyrs! Your clamours echo in the ears of time
Hear the noise of broken chains
We go into the future, together!’

These are parts of the four national anthems of Nigeria, Iran, Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you watch the games of group F of the World Cup today, you will have to listen to them all. As you might already have guessed by my choice of lines, most anthems are in a militaristic way patriotic, foolishly religious and from my point of view, all in all pretty much unnecessary.

Additionally, national anthems have a militarist origin and hence, often sound like awful cover versions of European music hits of the 19th century. The French anthem is famous for being one of the worst, evoking violence and cruelty (‘Let an impure blood water our furrows!’). Don’t get me wrong, I know that this terrible song is over 200 years old, but why not change the tune a bit, e.g. to ‘Let pure joy water our veins’ or something like that?

However, there are also examples of funny anthems which fail to serve their purpose of evoking patriotism, but instead fulfill the much greater task of making people laugh. One good example is the German anthem. It consist of three very different verses. The third, speaking about unity, justice and freedom, as most anthems do, is currently in use. The first verse was the Nazi’s favourite, claiming that the German nation stands above everything. Despite this, the second verse is actually quite funny, because it tries to proof the claim of the first verse by referring to German women and German wine (of course tragically omitting German sausages and the Oktoberfest).

‘German women, German loyalty,
German wine and German song
[…]  inspire us to noble deeds.’

Unluckily, Luxembourg and Lesotho both did not manage to qualify for the world cup. It would have been fun listening to the Luxembourgers singing their demands for sunshine while the players from Lesotho petition for rain. Also, Haiti and Latvia will unfortunately not play against each other. Their approach to the whole matter is pretty different. While the Haitians would be obliged  to sing

‘For our country to die is a fine thing!’,
the hippies from Latvia would respond:
‘Where Latvian daughters bloom,
Where Latvian sons sing,
Let us dance happily there’

Of course, there are also some anthems which, regarding today’s circumstances, sound tragically absurd. The first and the last line of the Syrian Ħumāt ad-Diyār certainly belong to this category:
‘Guardians of the homeland, upon you be peace
[…] so why wouldn’t we prosper and why wouldn’t we build?’
Similarly, the writer of the Zimbabwean anthem might not have expected the rule of the dictator Mugabe to continue for at least 20 when he asked for ‘exemplary leaders’ in 1994.

Yet, my favourite theme of national anthems is animals. Senegal is a big contender in this contest about the most weird reference to animals by wanting ‘to shelter the chicks from the falcons’.
Although Europe is technically not a country, this blog entry cannot end without lines of its official anthem, the Ode to Joy:
‘Even the worm can feel contentment,
And the cherub stands before God!’
The author, Friedrich Schiller, decades after writing correctly referred to this text as ‘nevertheless a bad poem’ [1], a judgement which could be applied to most other hymns as well.

PS: If, in this article, I happened to insult your country’s anthem, reader, let me tell you this:
‘Endure courageously, millions!
Endure for the better world!
There above the starry canopy
A great God will reward.’ [2]



[1] Schiller and Körner; Leonard Simpson (1849). Correspondence of Schiller with Körner. Richard Bentley, London. p. 221.
[2] Another part of Schiller’s poem [3].
[3] Seriously, this guy must have been drunk.

Image source:

Gunnar Take

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