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Friday, 1 December, 2000, 23:35 GMT
Anthems out of tune with people

Faced with the prospect of a long hard winter, Russians might be thought to have more serious problems to worry about.

But one of the main issues occupying the country's leadership at the moment is what to do about the national anthem.

This long-running debate was re-ignited during the summer, when the top Russian football team, Spartak Moscow, complained at the lack of a suitable hymn to belt out before matches.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russia ditched the old Soviet anthem - with its references to the glorious deeds of Lenin and Stalin - and replaced it with a Patriotic Song by the 19th-century Russian composer Mikhail Glinka.

Heated debate

Glinka had the virtue of being an ideologically neutral choice, but the lack of any words to his song meant it did not exactly lend itself to a morale-boosting singalong - hence the footballers' frustration.

Many people have come forward with suggestions for new lyrics - including one offering from the Spartak Moscow coach - and over the last few months the anthem has become the subject of a heated national debate.

Recent opinion polls show that many people still hanker after the tune of the old Soviet anthem - a much jauntier affair than the Glinka - but would stop short of reinstating the old words.

Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to favour bringing back the Soviet hymn and replacing its original lyrics with a new text by the same author, the 87-year-old Sergey Mikhalkov.

Not everyone is happy with this proposal: the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, is reported to be against the idea of using music he believes many people still associate with repression and state-imposed atheism.


However, experience elsewhere shows that it is nearly always the words of national anthems rather than the tunes which become the subject of controversy.

In June the spotlight fell once more on the German national anthem, when a row was caused by a conservative politician's singing of the long-disused first verse of Deutschland uber alles (Germany above everything).

Since the 1950s, only the more politically neutral third verse - which begins with the words "Unity and justice and freedom for the German fatherland" - has been heard in public.

So when it emerged that a leading Christian Democrat politician, Guenther Oettinger, had sung the deeply discredited first verse at a dinner at his old university, it provoked a nationwide debate.

"Shameful words"

Let impure blood drench our fields

Line from the Marseillaise
In July 1999, there was a call for the text of the French national anthem to be adapted to make it more acceptable to a multicultural society.

Two of the country's most distinguished human rights activists sent an open letter to French President Jacques Chirac saying it was "scandalous" that the chorus of the Marseillaise still contained the line "Let impure blood drench our fields."

The letter, which was sent in the run-up to the Bastille Day celebrations on 14 July, complained that the anthem as it stood was racist and urged that "the shameful words be replaced with words of peace".

National symbol

And only a few weeks later, a storm was caused in Japan when the country's parliament passed a controversial bill recognising the national anthem, the Kimigayo, as an official national symbol.

Those opposed to this step were concerned that the text of the anthem - which praises the emperor and expresses the hope that his reign will last forever - glorified Japan's militaristic past.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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