Posted on May 19, 2006

Move to Translate National Anthem Stirs Controversy

Aftenposten (Oslo), May 16, 2006

During a week that brings out huge displays of patriotism in Norway, because of Constitution Day celebrations on the 17th of May, debate is brewing over a move to write an Urdu version of the Norwegian national anthem.

The debate comes just weeks after a proposal to translate the American national anthem into Spanish stirred controversy as well.

The editor of a newspaper for minorities in Norway, Utrop, floated the anthem translation proposal in the national newspaper Vårt Land this week. The idea is that an Urdu version of the anthem would allow many immigrants from Pakistan, for example, to more easily express their love for Norway.

The title of Norway’s national anthem is, after all, “Ja vi elsker,” which in English translates to “Yes we love (this country).”

Norway’s most conservative party, the Progress Party, was quick to slam the proposal.

“This is integration in reverse,” claimed Per-Willy Amundsen, the Progress Party spokesman on issues dealing with immigration.

The “best gift” immigrants can give to “their new homeland,” argued Amundsen, is to learn Norwegian. He has no sympathy for immigrants who have problems singing the national anthem in Norwegian.

“It just takes practice to learn it,” he claimed. “Those who are new to the country can hum along while we others sing.”

Progress Party staff may need to tune up their own knowledge of the anthem, however. In a press release issued by the party on the issue, the anthem’s title was misspelled as “Ja vil elsker,” which some might take to mean “I want to love,” instead of “Ja vi elsker.”

A German politician has triggered a debate by calling for an official Turkish translation of the German national anthem to symbolize how multicultural Germany has become. But conservatives worry it would send the wrong signal about integration.

Somehow it’s hard to imagine many of Germany’s 2.6 million Turks, even the 840,000 of them with German passports, singing ‘Unity, Justice and Freedom for the German Fatherland’ during the World Cup this summer, even if they get the lyrics in Turkish.

But a politician has stoked a debate by calling for an official Turkish translation of the third verse of the song — the only verse sung on official occasions because the others, including the first one starting ‘Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles’ and the second one ending ‘German Women, German Loyalty, German Wine and German Song’, are deemed outdated, subject to misinterpretation, and a bit too fervent.

A Turkish version, he said, could demonstrate how multicultural German society has become. ‘I would see it as a sign of integration if citizens of Turkish descent could sing the third verse in Turkish,’ Hans-Christian Ströbele, a member of parliament for the opposition Greens party, told B.Z. newspaper. ‘It would symbolize the wide array of languages spoken in Germany.’

Sibylle Laurischk, integration affairs spokeswoman for the opposition liberal Free Democrats agreed, saying: ‘It would be an interesting opportunity for people of different origins and speaking different languages to understand our German culture.’

Spanish Star-Spangled Banner

The idea echos last week’s controversial debut of a Spanish version of the US national anthem, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ on some US radio stations in support of millions of illegal immigrants protesting for legal rights.

The move was criticized by President George W. Bush who said: ‘I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English and I think people who want to be citizens of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English.’

A leading member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, deputy parliamentary floor leader Wolfgang Bosbach, dismissed the idea of a Turkish version of the ‘Deutschlandlied’ (‘Germany Song’). ‘The German national anthem in Turkish would be the opposite of integration,’ he told B.Z. ‘Learning to speak and write the German language is the key qualification. So if we were to offer the German hymn in Turkish, it would give the wrong signal for all immigrants living here.’

Integration has been a hot topic in Germany in recent weeks following reports of falling education standards at schools with high proportions of immigrant children.

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