Olympic anthem of the day #3: Kosovo!

This is what winning means

This is what winning means

Last night, Kosovo – at its first ever Olympics – won its first ever gold when the amazing judoaka, Majlinda Kelmendi, beat a young Italian, Odette Giuffrida, by a single point.

Majlinda’s victory also meant that, about ten minutes later, the world got to hear Kosovo’s national anthem for the first time: a soaring instrumental bizarrely called Europe, by the composer Mendi Mengjiqi.

My book about national anthems – buy it now! – starts with a prologue all about that song, in which I largely go drunk-driving around the beautiful Kosovan countryside with Mendi. At one point, a friend of his told me Mendi was “the most important man in Kosovo”, to which I drunkenly replied, “But no one likes his song.”

I was being honest. No one I had met, including Majlinda, did like it. They hated its name (“Our country’s Kosovo. Why’s our anthem called Europe?”). They hated the fact it had no words. They hated the fact it wasn’t Albania’s (most Kosovans are ethnically Albanian).

But Mendi’s friend was unfazed. “They will,” he said.

I hope Majlinda’s victory is the moment he’s proved right.

You can read my book’s opening on Kosovo here.

Olympic anthem of the day #2: Team Refugee!

Popole Misenga, one of the Team Refugee's judoka. He's originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where, due to the war, his mother was murdered and he had to flee to the rainforest alone

Popole Misenga, one of Team Refugee’s judokas. Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his mother was murdered when he was just six and he had to flee to the rainforest alone

There are, brilliantly, ten refugees competing at the Olympics: five South Sudanese, two Syrians, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of Congo and an Ethiopian marathon runner.

What anthem will they hear in the miraculous event they win gold? Not their own. And that’s a huge shame as it’d be great if the Syrians, especially, could stand on the podium and sing theirs as if saying, “I represent this country – not the war.”

Instead, any who do win will get the Olympic anthem, which is an even bigger shame as it’s appalling – an overblown hymn that relies on being high-pitched to stir emotion.

I should give it some slack, though. It was written in 1896 and its lyrics, at least, are suitable for the Olympics, calling at one point for God to “shine in the momentum of noble contests…running, wrestling, throwing.”

It’s a shame those words are in Greek, mind. I’m not sure how many Congolese refugees are au fait with the language.

If you’d like to know more about the refugees’ own anthems, here’s a blog about the bizarre fact all sides of the Syrian conflict sing the same tune; here’s an interview with Mido Samuel, the inspiring composer of South Sudan’s, once a refugee himself; and here’s a blog about Ethiopia’s appalling anthem.

I’ve surprisingly not written about the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s beautiful anthem, Debout Congolaise (Arise, Congolese), before, but here it is for you. It’s the only national anthem with a call-and-response section, so listen out for that towards the end.