What to do when locked out of a polling booth? Sing about murdering Castilians

Catalonia’s independence referendum hasn’t gone to plan, with people prevented from voting, riot police storming polling booths and injuries reported all over Catalunya.

I’ve written about the region’s “national anthem”, El Segadors – The Reapers, before. It’s a dark, sludge of a tune, all about murdering Castilians (it was written in the 1640s when Catalunya was fighting an uprising against the rest of Spain).

“Drive away these people who are so conceited and so contemptful,” it goes at one point. “Strike with your sickle!”

But it’s worth mentioning it again today, especially since it’s getting a lot of airings outside closed polling booths:

There are even bands playing it in full on the streets:

Given what’s happened – the contempt towards the vote – it’s unsurprising the anthems’s everywhere, although it really isn’t the most rousing song for a moment like this, is it?

Here’s the anthem in full with some English sub-titles for anyone who feels suitably stirred:

Has Kurdistan just given the world its newest national anthem?

Voters!

Kurdish voters! Why can’t we have that inky finger in the UK?

Kurdistan – at least the bit of it in Iraq – has voted for independence. Go them!

Which means one of two things: either the Middle East is about to have its most earth-shattering moment since the creation of Israel, or the US will tell the Kurds to shut up and it’ll have to stay awkwardly part of Iraq for a few more years (here’s a good analysis explaining both possibilities).

But one thing’s certain whatever the outcome: Kurds will keep singing Ey Reqib – Oh, Enemy! – as if they already have a national anthem.

“Oh, enemy! The Kurdish people live on / They have not been crushed by the weapons of any time,” goes the song, written by the poet Dildar while in an Iranian jail in 1938 (he was locked up for campaigning for independence).

“Let no one say Kurds are dead, they are living / They live and never shall we lower our flag.”

That clip’s a version by the singer Dashni Morad, which she posted on Facebook just before the vote with the note: “To all my Kurdish brothers and sisters, times may have changed, but our objective hasn’t. Do not lose sight of what is important here. Independence is within touching distance. Let us unite and make this happen, as those before us always dreamed.”

As an anthem, it certainly does the trick, which explains scenes like this after the vote – (weirdly filmed in Iran, I think):

When researching my book on anthems, I considered a chapter on Kurdistan – I liked the idea of looking at the power of national anthems in countries that didn’t exist – and did some initial research by visiting Bayan Rahman, the Kurdish government’s representative in the UK.

In our first meeting, just down the road from Buckingham Palace, she diplomatically told me Ey Reqib isn’t an independence song:

“It was written at a time when Kurds’ language wasn’t recognised, when people were trying to deny the existence of Kurds at all in Turkey.

“They were killing Kurds – genocides – but it was saying, ‘I’m the never-ending Kurd. You can try to kill me but we will get up again.’

“It was a song about survival. ‘I will exist.’ It’s really not about independence.”

A few months later I went to meet her a second time – ISIS were bearing down on Erbil and I was trying to get access to the Peshmerga’s front lines so I could see if they sang Ey Reqib in battle. And that time, for some reason, she was far more open about the role the song had played in both her life, and the wider independence movement.

Bayan’s father had been a senior member of the Peshmerga and went on to be a successful politician until he was killed by a suicide bomber in 2004.

Bayan smiled while telling me about him, and suddenly remembered a night in the ’70s when he woke her and her brother, dragged them outside where all the adults were partying, and made the two children sing, while recording it all on a tape player.

“You would think that at that age we would be singing nursery rhymes, like Humpty Dumpty or whatever. But we were singing Peshmerga songs.

“My father was a Peshmerga. We’d lived in the mountains and we had guns in the house and he’d come home with his Kalashnikov, and so we had grown up with all that, seeing them sing before they went off to battle. So he made us sing like them.

“He got my brother to sing one: ‘Mother dearest, don’t start crying. I’ve been killed, but I’m a martyr, I’m a hero, I’ll come back.’

“And then my brother and father were killed in 2004, and my mother used to play that tape [over and over].

“And, of course, all she did was cry.”

I asked Bayan if Ey Reqib meant more to her because of that loss:

“Yes, I definitely think of them and others who have been killed when I sing it, because they were killed because they believed in it.

“They believed in what that song says.”

That quote tells you everything about the strength of feeling in Kurdistan and the power of anthems.

Whether Kurdistan becomes independent or it has to stay part of Iraq, neither the anthem nor the desire is going anywhere.

 

“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now”

Was anything surprising about Trump calling American footballers who protest the country’s anthem ‘sons of bitches’?

Nope, of course not. It served its purpose – kickstarting a “USA! USA!” chant at his latest rally.

It’s also not surprising he had a completely different opinion last year either.

As it won’t be if he changes his view again next week.

It’s times like this, when I’d really like an American book publisher to get in touch and ask me to update my book for them!

Where are my royalties, Tim?

After I wrote my book on national anthems, many, many, many people told me to do a follow-up on flags and – for some reason – I decided to give it a miss.

About a year later, Tim Marshall, the author of the great Prisoners of Geography, and no relation to me, did it so removing my dilemma. You can get his Worth Dying For: The Power and Politics of Flags here.

Last night, I finally saw a copy and it was very nice to find my book being called “invaluable” in his bibliography. Amazing to be cited anywhere, to be honest. Although I’m assuming that means he owes me several million pounds in royalties. I look forward to the cheque, Tim!

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!

 

The world’s most terrifying national anthem is under threat!

“Be a helper for Godddddd…” Darth sings Mauritania’s national anthem

This is Mauritania’s national anthem. Yes, it makes Mauritania sound terrifying – the sort of country that if you ever visited, you wouldn’t escape. It’s more suitable for the Death Star than an African country.

Which is why it’s fantastic and why it’s worrying to hear it might be changed.

The country’s president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, is in the middle of altering Mauritania’s constitution, I assume so he can rule FOREVER. As part of this, he also wants to change Mauritania’s national symbols, primarily adding two red stripes to its green flag for some reason (maybe he likes colour contrasts).

But according to this piece (in French), he also wants to overhaul its anthem. The article doesn’t explain how he’ll do that and no one seems to know. Today, I called Mauritanian’s embassy here in the UK and the ambassador said it was, “Only talking now. No ideas!”

So there we go: Mauritania could soon go from having one of the world’s best national anthems, to one of the worst. It could go from having an anthem that calls on all Mauritanians to “walk the path of God and die on it” to one that simply praises their president. Or, er, it could stay as it is. I hope it’s the final option. I may set up a petition!

A warning to anyone visiting India: stand for their anthem!

People standing for the anthem in a New Delhi cinema. This photo's stolen from Chandan Khanna of Agence France-Presse. Sorry, Chandan!

People standing for the anthem in a New Delhi cinema. This photo’s stolen from Chandan Khanna of Agence France-Presse. Sorry, Chandan!

What the hell’s going on in India? A quick timeline of recent events:

  • 2002: Shyam Narayan Chouksey, a retired engineer, goes to his local cinema in Bhopal to watch some Bollywood. During the film, India’s national anthem is played during a scene at a school fete so Shyam stands up to respect it. No one else does – most shout at Shyam to sit down as he’s obscuring their view – so Shyam stages a protest, then starts filing court orders to try and get people to respect the anthem. Everyone assumes Shyam will soon be forgotten by history (Shyam’s full story is here)
  • 30 November 2016: India’s Supreme Court – responding to one of Shyam’s many complaints – rules that all cinemas must play the anthem before screenings and keep doors shut so no one can interrupt it. Everyone inside must stand
  • 10 December 2016: India’s Supreme Court realises it’s gone slightly too far and allows disabled people to remain seated during the anthem. It also clarifies that it didn’t mean for cinemas to lock people inside during the anthem. That is a fire risk, after all
  • 13 December 2016: Indian police arrest 12 people for not standing for the anthem!!! Most of the arrests are at a film festival and the attendees stayed sitting so as not to lose their seats, although others were actually people protesting the new law

India, if I can address you for a moment:

This

Is

Insane!

You don’t force people to be patriotic. Your country should be inspiring enough that people want to stand for your anthem without needing a law to tell them to. How many other countries have such laws? None! Well, maybe North Korea, but you get my point; this isn’t a sensible thing to have done.

Have some self-confidence, and get this ruling overturned. And when Shyam files his next petition, try to ignore it!