Leading Article: Should God save the national anthem?

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The Independent Online
THE Commonwealth Games, which ended yesterday, offered reminders of how even cynics can be moved by national anthems. Yet it was not only official anthems that brought tears to the cheeks of victorious athletes, but also songs of more informal status like 'Danny Boy' and 'Scotland the Brave'. When so many new countries are being created, it is worth asking what makes a good national song.

In the past, most anthems were hymns of praise to hereditary kings, queens, princes, emperors and tsars, often combined with imprecations to the heavens to harm their enemies. The French and American revolutions gave rise to another sort: a celebration of freedom, often from the tyranny of those very same rulers.

Inevitably, many political sentiments look outdated after a century or two. No Briton would wish the Queen anything other than a long life and, to judge by a poll in the Independent on Sunday, most also wish her a long reign. Not many, however, are comfortable with the assumption that she is surrounded by enemies intent upon 'knavish tricks'. The notorious 'Marseillaise', which calls for 'impure blood' to irrigate French fields, looks odd inside the European Union; President Mitterrand's wife, Danielle, is one of many who considers it too violent.

Modern anthems date even faster. Mozambique's musical self- description as 'the tomb of capitalism and exploitation' is ripe for dumping. Libya's national cry of 'Sing with me: woe to the imperialists' makes uncomfortable listening. The Germans had to drop the first two verses of 'Deutschland uber Alles' after the Second World War because they were doubly politically incorrect in sounding both sexist and expansionist. For 10 years after the fall of Stalin, the Soviet Union decided not to order new words for its anthem. Instead, its citizens were told just to hum.

Sometimes the pendulum swings back. After decades without an official song at all, the Japanese government has recently reinstated the old 'Kimigayo' anthem, with its celebration of 8,000 generations of divine emperors. But for countries that cannot afford to wait there are only two options: either choose something bland like an opera aria or follow the government of Singapore and buy from an advertising agency a jingle with accompanying television advertisement.