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O say can you ski?

National anthem contest gets more than 100 entries

More than 100 songs have been handed in to organisers of a competition to find a new Swiss national anthem. A jury will now shortlist ten by autumn and a winner is expected to be presented to the cabinet at some point in the next two years. What they do with it then is up to them. 

The Zurich-based Swiss Society of Common Good (SSCG) will announce the official entry figure next week, but as of Friday 116 had arrived: 70 in German, 40 in French, four in Italian and one in Romansh. One effort in Portuguese was also sent in, although the rules demanded entries be in one of Switzerland's four national languages. 

Other requirements for the new anthem is that it should reflect the values – such as liberty, democracy, neutrality, “peace in a spirit of solidarity” – found in the Swiss constitution’s relatively new preamble, adopted in 1999. The tune should also bear some resemblance to the current melody. 

In addition, the song should be singable, “light on the ear” and easy to learn, according to SSCG Director Lukas Niederberger. 

‘Weather report’ 

In 2000, a survey in German- and French-speaking Switzerland found that only 3% of Swiss could sing all four verses. Fewer than a third could sing the first part. 

This ambivalence the Swiss have towards their national anthem is not new. In fact, the very need for a song of this kind was questioned from the start. The current anthem, the Swiss Psalm, didn’t become the official anthem until 1981. 

But many Swiss never warmed to the anthem, which an earlier contest organiser likened to a “Swiss weather report”, filled with references to sunsets, stars, and red morning skies. 

In 2004, Bern parliamentarian Margret Kiener Nellen submitted a motion asking that a new text be created for the hymn, which she felt was obsolete, prayer-like, and lacking equality between women and men. 

Her motion failed, but one year later, another motion – calling for the anthem to be played at the first meeting of each new parliamentary session – passed, on the condition that MPs were free to decide whether they wanted to sing along.

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