Most counties have an official or unofficial national anthem. However, there are also many examples of anthems of constituent nations and regions within states. Then at the other extreme, there are anthems that have been adopted by pan national and international organisations. So when the Brexit MEPs object to ‘Ode to Joy’, they are demonstrating total ignorance of the role played by anthems worldwide. No doubt they’d be happier singing along to a verse and chorus of ‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’.
Perhaps the best known national anthem is the French ‘Marseillaise’. Many of you, like me, will have learned it at school. It has taken on particular significance during times of crisis like the German occupation in World War 2 and after the Paris bombing attacks of 2015. Other iconic national anthems include ‘God save the Queen’ and ‘the Star Spangled Banner’. There are also many that have been shared by more than one country. South Africa’s ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica’ has in its time been shared by no less than five African counties. The tune of ‘God Save the Queen’ has been used for several anthems; and other tunes have been shared by Estonia and Finland; Serbia, Montenegro and Poland; and Romania and Moldova.
When it comes to constituent parts of states, fourteen of the fifteen former soviet republics had their own anthems; as do the German Länder and the autonomous regions of Spain. So do Wallonia and Flanders in Belgium, and all the states of the USA (with the exception of New Jersey for some reason). When we turn to the constituent parts of the UK we tread on a veritable anthem minefield. They all jealously retain their own national anthems but aren’t always quite sure what they are. England rather lazily gets by with ‘God save the Queen’ unless sometimes ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Land of Hope and Glory’; Wales raises the roof with ‘Land of my Fathers’ or ‘Bread of Heaven’; Northern Ireland sometimes uses ‘Londonderry Air’ or sticks with ‘God save the Queen’; and then there is Scotland. When I was young, ‘Scotland the Brave’ (with words by Glasgow journalist Cliff Hanley) was considered the unofficial anthem; the nationalists were desperately keen to replace it with the gory ‘Scots Wha Hae’ until that too was overtaken by ‘Flower of Scotland’, now recognised as the official sporting anthem. Billy Connolly once suggested the flag carrying ceremony at the olympics should ditch the dirge of ‘God Save the Queen’ in favour of the theme from the Archers. Perhaps we should all go home ‘tae think again’.
Returning to the reason for the Brexit Party’s protest in Brussels, there are also well established 'international anthems'. UNICEF have one, as does the African Union and the Olympic Movement; socialists and communists used to proudly raise a clenched fist to the strains of the ‘Internationale’; and the European Union and Council of Europe share Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’.
I remember Joan Baez opening her concerts with a rendition of an old hymn set to Sibelius’s ‘Finlandia’ (Finland’s unofficial anthem originally composed to tell Russia to keep their hands off)
“This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.”
As I said at the beginning, I am not a great fan of anthems but in times of crisis needs must. I recently changed my ringtone to ‘Ode to Joy’. It’s the first time I have ever had anything other than a simple ringtone so the first time it went off I just listened and never thought of answering. But after the recent performance in Strasbourg I will now be looking around to see if anyone has turned their back on me.