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Switzerland offers 10,000 franc reward for English version of new 'national anthem'

The Local
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Switzerland offers 10,000 franc reward for English version of new 'national anthem'
Photo: AFP

A Swiss NGO is offering financial reward - and eternal recognition - to help write an English version of the country's unofficial new national anthem.


Fancy yourself as a bit of a wordsmith and know how to hold a tune? Then Switzerland wants you to help translate its national anthem into English. 

Recognising how commonly English is spoken in Switzerland, the Swiss Society for the Common Good (SSCG) wants an English version of White Cross on Red Ground - and is opening it up to the public to make submissions. 

The winning candidate will have their name published with the text, will be invited to an unveiling ceremony in the Rütli area of Lake Lucerne and will be offered CHF10,000.

Read more: Five Swiss traditions you have to experience

The song won a competition in 2015, is already sung across the country and is considered Switzerland’s unofficial new national anthem. French, German, Italian and Romansh versions of the song already exist. 

The new anthem was developed to reflect the Swiss Constitution and the multicultural nature of modern Switzerland. 

The organisation which organised the change - and which is seeking an English version - has said it was time to update the old ‘Swiss Psalm’, which is 170 years old. 

“The Swiss Psalm is essentially a prayer, written by Leonhard Widmer in 1840, and its religious nature means that many Swiss citizens can no longer identify with it.” 

“The SSCG and many Swiss citizens firmly believe that the national anthem should be a chance to anchor constitutional values in the popular consciousness.”

While the new author will be given some creative licence, the melody and text has to be as close as possible to the existing versions. 

A statue of Freddie Mercury on the shores of Lake Geneva. Unfortunately, the song needs to stay lyrically true to the existing versions. Image: Depositphotos

A new national anthem

While White Cross on Red Ground hasn’t officially replaced the existing anthem, it is sung regularly at sporting events and official gatherings across the country. 

READ: Swiss select new national anthem

Lukas Niederberger told The Local that the song has grown in popularity across the country. 

“In 2016, there were only a dozen of towns, in 2019 there were already about 50 towns,” he said. 

“And in 2019, about 200 mayors of towns have sung the new text on the Rütli (Swiss region on Lake Lucerne). We hope that they will sing it next year in their towns.”

A people’s anthem?

Switzerland’s tradition of direct democracy and people’s initiatives isn’t just for referenda, it flows into several aspects of Swiss society - including anthems. 

While the ‘new’ Swiss anthem may not be official just yet, in Switzerland, these things take time. The current official anthem - a prayer sung to the tune of God Save The Queen - was created in 1840 and sung regularly but did not officially become the Swiss anthem until 1981. 

Niederberger is confident that the anthem will be given official status in the not too distant future. 

“Many social, political and cultural changes in Switzerland have a bottom-up-origin, like the vote for women or the social insurance for elderly people,” he said. 

“Since 2015, the Swiss Government has repeated at several occasions that the initiative by the SSCG is a legitimate initiative of the Civil Society.”

Swiss National Day in Bern. Image: Depositphotos

What’s in it for me?

The winning entrant will have their name published next to the anthem whenever it is mentioned.

The entrant will also be invited to the official unveiling ceremony when the song will be sung on the banks of Lake Lucerne on August 1st, 2020. 

Niederberger told The Local that whether the author receives a cash reward will depend on their financial circumstances. 

“If the person is a free artist without a regular income, we will of course give a financial reward,” he said. 

“It really depends on the circumstances of the person. 

“The author of the original (German) text, Werner Widmer, got 10’000 Swiss francs from the SSCG and gave it directly to a social institution.”

Entrants can find out more from the SSCG

The Swiss Constitution 

The new anthem embeds the principles of the Swiss Constitution into the national song. 

The five core values of the Constitution are that Swiss people and the cantons are:

Mindful of their responsibility towards creation; 

Resolved to renew their alliance so as to strengthen liberty, democracy, independence and peace in a spirit of solidarity and openness towards the world; 

Are determined to live together with mutual consideration and respect for their diversity; 

Conscious of their common achievements and their responsibility towards future generations; and 

(Aware) that only those who use their freedom remain free, and that the strength of a people is measured by the well-being of its weakest members.

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