About Alex Marshall

Hi, I'm a freelance journalist who's just written Republic or Death! Travels in Search of National Anthems - the world's first book on these songs and their meaning today. It's "part travelogue, part social history" as the BBC have aptly described it. It's also officially "entertaining", after it got reviewed in the Times, but I'll leave you to make up your own mind! Feel free to contact me at asmarshall at gmail dot com or, if you're a journalist, you can contact Jess Gulliver instead (jgulliver at penguinrandomhouse.co.uk). Thanks for visiting! Alex

Sing the Philippines’ anthem with fervour or get fined!

“A little bit of Monica in my liffffeeeeee…”

Where China goes, the Philippines follows! Just days after Chinese politicians started discussing a bill to jail anyone who “abuses” their national anthem, Filipino politicians have started discussing one that’s mightily similar.

“Singing [of the anthem] shall be mandatory and must be done with fervour,” the bill says, according to the BBC. Punishment will include a fine of up to 100,000 pesos, which is apparently £1,560/$5,590. Ok, that’s better than the two-weeks in prison that China’s planning, but still: ouch!

Offenders will also be publicly “named and shamed.”

It all seems a bit harsh, especially as the country’s anthem – Chosen Land – is hardly something that can be sung with fervour, since it sounds like a fairground ride being wound into action.

“Chosen land, you are the cradle of the brave,” it goes. “To the conquerors, you shall never win.”

The bill’s still got to be passed by the country’s Senate, so it might not happen, but given the nationalist fervour in the country under new president – and self-confessed murderer – Rodrigo Duterte, I assume it’ll pass. That’s him singing the anthem at the top of the page, by the way. He clearly won’t be fined.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: never trust a country that forces singing of a national anthem!

One violinist, one anthem and a wall of riot police

Wuilly Arteaga playing Venezuela’s national anthem at a protest in Caracas in May. I’ve stolen this from Luis Robayo and Agence France-Presse/Getty Images. It’s too shocking not to

There was a brilliant story in The New York Times recently about Venezuela’s ongoing anti-government protests and how they’ve embroiled the country’s classical musicians. It was focused on the death of a viola player, Armando Cañizales, who walked alone towards a line of soldiers:

“He said nothing as he advanced, arms outstretched, palms facing up.

“Then the fatal shots rang out.”

Why’s this tragedy relevant to a blog on national anthems? Because Venezuela’s anthem – Glory to the Brave People – is regularly sung and played by protesters at home and abroad, trying to show they really represent the country. Iit’s been played especially since Armando’s death. Here’s one example from that New York Times story:

“On a recent afternoon, [Armando’s friend] Wuilly Arteaga, 23, stood in the centre of a crowd of demonstrators, his violin on his shoulder. His case was strapped to his back, his helmet painted with the colours of the Venezuelan flag. He played the national anthem.

“Explosions of tear gas canisters erupted between the notes he played. Finally, other protesters grabbed him by a shoulder and dragged him back from the security forces.

“‘I remembered my friend Armando,’ Mr. Arteaga said afterward. ‘I have spent ages now playing and living on the streets, and I see that so many talented Venezuelans have had to eat from the trash.'”

Read the whole article now. It’s a great piece of journalism. It’s a shame it’s such sad reading.

Canada’s never going to change its anthem to include women, is it?

“We may not be in our anthem, but we will still paint the Maple Leaf all over us!”

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that for almost four years, I’ve been writing about Canadian politicians’ attempts to change just two words of their national anthem so it includes women. A line about “in all our sons” was going to become “in all of us.”

Here’s a story from 2013 about it. And here’s one from 2016. And here’s one from earlier this year if you haven’t had enough! I’ve written God knows how many newspaper articles about the row too.

The change was meant to finally be agreed in time for Canada’s 150th anniversary this month. But has it happened? Has it f**k!

According to this great article in The National Post: “Senators who disagree with the [bill to change the anthem] are not only moving amendments that have no hope of being approved, but are also moving sub-amendments and calling adjournment votes to delay proceedings.

“Last week, Conservative Senator Tobias Enverga moved an amendment to instead change the words in question to ‘in all of our command,’ on the dubious basis that this wording was grammatically superior to [the proposal], and that the word ‘us’ is divisive.

“Any amendments brought forward could essentially kill the legislation.”

Bloody hell!

This whole charade really is the perfect example of how much anthems stir up nationalist feelings, and how some people will never let traditions be changed – even by two words. It really does show both anthems’ importance and their absurdity.

Don’t expect the proposal to disappear, though. This is the tenth time Canadian politicians have tried to make the change since 1980. Another attempt will be along soon enough.

The easiest way to get locked up in China!

China will soon become the latest country to ban mocking of its national anthem. Well, that’s not entirely true. You will still be free to change the lyrics to make a satirical point, and you’ll also still be free to boo it – you’ll just have to deal with 15 days in prison afterwards!

The country’s politicians are discussing draft legislation to control performances of March of the Volunteers, which includes banning it at funerals. Two years ago, they banned it from weddings. Who on earth would want to play their national anthem at their funeral?

Apparently one lawmaker even wants to ban people putting their hand on their heart when the anthem’s played, as it looks too American.

Is this just a silly news story for everyone to laugh at for a couple of days, then quickly forget? Unfortunately not, as it will have an immediate impact, especially in Hong Kong where football fans have regularly booed the anthem at international matches. Would they dare do that now if they face 15 days in prison?

Changing anthem lyrics is also one of the easiest ways to make a political point – read my book, and you’ll find examples of it done everywhere from South Africa to Uruguay – and I guess that outlet will now disappear in the country. Sometimes a silly news story is actually a lot more important.

March of the Volunteers is, though, still a cracking anthem:

That amazing feeling when someone loves your book and draws you a new cover for it!

 

I hope I can steal the idea if it ever gets reprinted. Thanks so much, Shan!

 

Jehovah Witnesses – your last hope against nationalism?

 

Some Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses – as bad as ISIS! Photo stolen from James Hill of the New York Times

I was reading an article recently about Russia potentially limiting Jehovah’s Witness activities this week. Apparently being a member is equivalent to being a member of ISIS, unless I’ve got this wrong.

One of the apparent reasons they’re disliked is they’re pacifists. Another is they refuse to take part in patriotic festivals. But there’s something else many Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to do that isn’t mentioned in the piece: sing national anthems.

Everywhere from Tanzania to India, Jehovah’s Witnesses have had to go to court to defend their right not to sing anthems. They see singing as worshipping a country, when you’re only meant to worship God. In 1940s America, members were literally lynched, tarred and feathered, and thrown out of schools, for their opposition to the anthem, flag and pledge of allegiance.

But that opposition has achieved one surprising thing: the passing of laws protecting freedom of speech and thought worldwide.

At this time of growing nationalism, do we actually need Jehovah’s Witnesses more than ever to prevent any pernicious anthem laws being passed? If so, that’s a weird thing to say given that group’s own scandals, which suggest it’s not too keen about freedom of speech in its own organisation. Its lawsuits are also entirely self-interested. They don’t care about anyone else’s right to sing an anthem or not.

We really are in interesting times.

When will Canada change its national anthem to include women?

I wrote this for The Guardian almost a month ago, and it still hasn’t happened. Get a move on, guys!