The secrets behind national anthems in 1,000 words…

…and a poor joke about Coldplay.

A piece I’ve done for the BBC went online today (above’s a picture of it on the front page).

I’ve somehow crammed 18 countries into it. Although apologies to anyone from Oman or Zimbabwe, who I seem to insult!

If you know of any secrets it doesn’t mention, please let me know.

Bosnia’s athletes take four national anthems to the Olympics

The Bosnian war, between the country’s Muslim, Croat and Serb populations, ended in 1995. That’s 17 years ago.

If you’ve ever visited the country, you’ll know just how much most people there want to forget that past and move on. Meet anyone under 30 and chances are all they’ll tell you about is their hope Bosnia can become a proud, united nation again.

Unfortunately, the country’s parliament has just shown its utter disdain for those hopes. It has rejected proposed lyrics for the country’s national anthem.

Bosnia has actually had an anthem since 1999: Dušan Šestić’s slow and nostalgic Intermecco.

And in 2009, a committee did choose words for it, again written by Šestić.

Those words are the most innocuous you could ever come across in an anthem. They start with the line, “You’re the light of the soul, eternal fire’s flame,” and finish with, “We go into the future together.”

They don’t mention Serbs, Croats or Muslims. They don’t mention any town or city. They don’t mention any historical events, any past heroes. And they definitely don’t mention the war.

But after three years of debate, and apparently spending €50,000 on the process, Bosnia’s politicians have decided they simply can’t stomach them.

A new committee will be set up shortly, they say, and that will somehow find the right lyrics.

The absurdity of the situation is shown in this quote from Slavko Jovicic, a Bosnian Serb politician and one of the people on the original anthem committee:

The truth is we could never find words that would suit everyone. If we sung about the grass, and how green it is, the Serbs would immediately object because green is a Muslim colour

What does this mean for any Bosnian athlete at the Olympics who miraculously happens to win gold? Well, they’ll just have to do what every other Bosnian does and make up their own words to the anthem.

If they’re a Bosnia Muslim, that means they’ll sing the country’s old anthem Jedna si Jedina over the top. If they’re a Bosnian Serb, they’ll sing Serbia’s, and if they’re a Bosnian Croat, they’ll sing Croatia’s.

Yes, it will sound like a mess, it will sound like they’re literally singing one song to the tune of another, but what else can they do?

Bosnia has four national anthems, and it’s unlikely to ever change until its politicians stop living in the past.

Kosovo’s national anthem banned from the Olympics

If you were a new country in need of an anthem – one that would fill people’s hearts with pride as they fixed the millions of potholes in your roads – you could do worse than follow Kosovo’s example.

Mendi Menqjiqi’s ‘Hymn of Kosovo’ is beautiful, a tune that soars from its first note without a hint of the country’s war-filled past in it. There’s no sadness, no aggression.

Unfortunately, you won’t be hearing it anytime soon. The International Olympic Committee recently ruled that Kosovo’s best athlete, 21-year-old judoka Majlinda Kelmendi, cannot compete for Kosovo in the Olympics, or even as an independent. She’ll have to compete for Albania instead. She is likely to win gold in her weight class.

Kosovo is not recognized by the United Nations, despite having had its own borders, stamps and even beer for the last 10 years. The IOC will only let athletes compete for countries that are.

The situation’s ludicrous, but it’s unlikely to change. Serbia, which has claims on the country, is unlikely to ever recognise it. And nor will Pakistan, India, China or Russia, fearing it would set a precedent for minorities within their own borders.

I met Majlinda in her hometown of Peja a while ago, and she was desperate to compete for Kosovo, to give kids in the country hope and pride. She also wanted to do it for her coach, Driton Kuka, a man who fought – literally – for Kosovo’s independence during the 90s and then gave all his money to run her dōjō.

She said Kosovo’s anthem was too quiet, and that it desperately needed words, but she wanted to hear nothing else at the Games.

Thanks to the IOC, she’ll have to listen to Albania’s anthem instead. A sorry state of affairs all round.

(By the way,  the picture at the top of this post is stolen from this brilliant profile of Majlinda which recently appeared in the Financial Times. Have a read.)

The quick way to annoy a country

Adem Ljajic, a Serbian soccer player, has been booted out of his national team for refusing to sing the Serbian national anthem, Bože Pravde.

He’s the first man in this clip. As you can see, no one else in the team sings the anthem with any gusto – most look like they’re miming – but Ljajic’s been punished anyway.

He says he had “personal reasons” for not singing, and, being an impulsive millionaire soccer player, that reason is probably he didn’t like being ordered to sing by his manager.

But it’s far more interesting to assume it’s a political stand. And there are reasonable grounds for doing so:

  • Ljajic is a Muslim from Novi Pazar in the south of Serbia, a city where it’s easier to find a mosque than a beer (I know; I once spent a good half-hour looking)
  • Serbia’s not had the greatest record with Muslim countries (see the Bosnian and Kosovan wars)
  • Last week, Serbia elected a new president, Tomislav Nikolic, a man who’s been accused of war crimes and made it quite clear he’d like to reoccupy Kosovo

Given all that, you can understand Ljajic might not feel comfortable right now singing  about the “god of justice…protecting Serbian lands and Serbian race”.

Although the incident does come only weeks after Ljajic was beaten up by his club manager for acting stupidly.

This is the second news story this year about someone refusing to sing their anthem. The first involved an Israeli judge and led to calls to change the Israeli anthem to make it more inclusive. Somehow, I can’t see Ljajic’s silence leading anyone in Serbia to call for Bože Pravde to be changed.