And o'er their radiance shed,
Thou, O Lord, appeareth in their light.
When the Alps glow bright with splendour,
Pray, free Swiss, Pray,
For you feel and understand,
That he dwelleth in this land.
That's the English translation of the first stanza of the Swiss Psalm, the official national anthem of Switzerland since 1981 - which many Swiss people today consider "too religious" and no longer very appropriate. People here like to joke that the anthem even reminds them of the weather forecast a little bit: after the Alpine dawn, the next lines speak of "the starry sky", "dark clouds enshrouding the hills"; then the pious Swiss would go through the "wild storm coming" and "horror and nights of thunderstorms" - hopefully in an effort to fortify their faith in God Almighty...
In other words, way too many natural phenomena, too much religion, plus some language that's hardly compatible with the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the time. Most Swiss people barely reach anywhere beyond the end of the first stanza - just because they can't be bothered to know the rest. Which is why a couple of years ago a large Swiss foundation launched a campaign for a new national anthem that'd better reflect the core values and identity of modern Switzerland.
The jury, which includes theologians, dialectologists, musicians, journalists, politicians, representatives of the business, book-publishing industry and even sports, has selected 6 out of 200+ entries. These final nominees were recorded in the four official languages (French, German, Italian and Romansh). The final decision will be submitted to the government for approval. But the question that remains is, what are these "core values" that everyone keeps blabbering about?
See, a national anthem represents a country to the world. It's played at official ceremonies, it's sung at stadiums. At times of political crisis, protesters often use the anthem to voice their resistance to the government - just like it's happening in Brazil as we speak. In Switzerland though, the political dimensions of the anthem are not that important. Because there are four communities cohabiting in the same country, with their four respective languages, the anthem is expected to signify some sort of common identity (much like the anthem of the Rainbow Nation with its 11 official languages) - and also to demonstrate adherence to the Christian values and openness to the world. All of this emerges from the Constitution of Switzerland, whose preamble begins with the words, "In the name of God Almighty", and then includes references to such values like liberty, solidarity, openness, diversity, and unity.
So the "plan" might not be that easy to fulfill, after all. This becomes evident from the six selected nominees. One sings of "protecting the fatherland and the Swiss lands". Another stuns with its clumsy style, saying something like, "Our nature radiates beauty, out nation is famed for its multi-faced cultures". On the other hand, that line will definitely be loved by the tour operators, the patriotic clubs and the school choruses. Same about another nugget of pure poetry: "High mountains, pretty towns, and lakes: we love Swiss beauty!"
The popular Swiss musician Flavian Graber believes the idea of choosing a new national anthem is ridiculous, and that the national anthems in general no longer fit into the spirit of our epoch. He argues that in a world that's been operating beyond national borders for a while now, such a romantic notion of the Fatherland is outdated and in poor taste. One of the selected texts for example says, "For the good of our land, for the good of our beautiful Fatherland. Oh, Switzerland, for your prosperity we pray!" Graber criticizes the attitude that these lines betray, because they carry the erroneous implication that "we in Switzerland have earned this good and prosperity with blood, sweat and tears", and we have a right to it by definition.
You might've guessed by now that it ain't that easy to put your finger on the so called Swiss identity. The famous writer Friedrich Duerrenmatt parodied the Swiss Psalm as early as the 50s. "You can no longer solely trust in your bank secrets. What happened to you, oh land of mine?" On the other hand, Karl Schaeubler, one of the members of the jury for the new anthem, has a very simple concept on the issue: "There are four languages on the Swiss currency. Same with the anthem: it should be singable in all four languages".
So, the Swiss will be able to vote via text message for a new anthem, come September 12. Every owner of a Swiss mobile number will be able to participate. Ya know, direct democracy, à la Suisse. As long as you've got a mobile subscription, that is. The winning song will be sent to the government, which in turn will announce a nationwide referendum, where even people without mobile phones will be able to participate. So yeah, more direct democracy. The newspapers will spill tons of ink about it. There'll be hours upon hours of talks on the radio and television.
And what happens if nothing comes out of it in the end? What prevents us from re-packaging the old anthem into a new shiny wrapping? Hey, personally I'm liking the epic version of the Swiss Psalm that Suma Covjek Orkestar made a couple of years ago! Can I haz some Balkan ethno rhythms please?