‘Freedom, independence, equality’: Switzerland chooses new English-language ‘national anthem’

‘Freedom, independence, equality’: Switzerland chooses new English-language ‘national anthem’
A Swiss flag on Lake Geneva. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP
Switzerland’s 500,000 native English-speaking residents will be able to celebrate Swiss National Day in their mother tongue after judges selected a new English version of the country’s national anthem.

More than 24,000 people cast their ballot online for their favourite version, in addition to a 30-strong jury panel. 

While more than 200 versions were submitted, both the online voters and the jury selected the same version. 

The process included a reward of 10,000 francs. The eventual winner, Swiss artist Werner Widmer, donated the prize money to a social organisation. 

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

Widmer’s entry, entitled ‘White Cross on a Shining Red’, was chosen as it was able to “focus the essential values of the constitutional preamble in a single song verse”. 

Although the anthem has not replaced the official Swiss anthem, Lukas Niederberger, the Director of the Swiss Society for the Common Good who conducted the competition, told The Local he hoped it would follow the path of the German version of the anthem – White Cross on a Red Ground. 

The song was also chosen via a competition and is now sung at sporting events and traditional gatherings across the country. 

The German version of the Swiss anthem, also chosen via a competition, has replaced the official anthem at sporting and other events. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Niederberger said the song’s resonance with modern Swiss values made it more appropriate than the current official anthem, a “prayer to a male patriarchal god” which was created in 1840 and has little relevance to modern Switzerland. 

Niederberger spoke to The Local Switzerland about the anthem project. 

How did you choose the anthem?

We have initiated an artist competition. The content of the new national anthem should be based on the central Swiss values, which are aptly formulated in the preamble of the Swiss Federal Constitution. As far as melody was concerned, we left a lot of freedom.

The result was that, of the 208 competition entries, a third did not change the melody of the current national anthem. One third of the artists changed the melody of the current hymn very slightly. And one third composed a new melody.

READ MORE: Smaller crowds, more fireworks: How Swiss National Day will be celebrated in corona times 

How difficult was it and what were the deciding factors? 

The selection was indeed not easy for the 30 members of the jury. There were many good entries. That's why the best six entries were translated into all four national languages, recorded on video with a choir and shown on the Internet. However, the online voting of 24,000 people chose the same entry as the jury.

The deciding factors were that the central values of our society appeared in the text and that the text fitted the rhythm of the melody. If someone composed a new melody, it had to radiate a solemnity. 

What stood out about the final version? 

The strength of Werner Widmer's text lies in the fact that he managed to focus the essential values of the constitutional preamble in a single song verse. His text is linguistically very appealing. And the text fits perfectly with the melody of the current national anthem. 

How does the anthem celebrate Swiss identity and Swiss values?

Every inhabitant of Switzerland and all Swiss around the world can easily identify with Werner Widmer's new hymn lyrics. This is not the case with the current national anthem. The current hymn is a prayer to a male patriarchal God. No one would still write such a text for a national anthem today.

The new text speaks of freedom, independence, peace, openness to the world, justice and the protection of the vulnerable. 

READ: Why Switzerland celebrates its national day on August 1st 

Why do you think it is important to have an English version of the anthem? Is this mainly important on the international stage, or also within Switzerland due to the high number of foreigners and linguistic diversity?  

You answer the question yourself. In addition, there is no English translation of the official text of the current National Anthem.

There are about 500,000 people who will now be able to sing the Swiss National Anthem in English on August 1, either in Switzerland or abroad.

Is there anything you would like to add?  

Yes of course. Learn the new text by heart and make sure that it is sung in your community, in your Swiss Club, in your consulate or in your embassy.

This is the text:

White cross on a shining red,

woven by a common thread:

freedom, independence, equality.

Open to the world in solidarity,

Switzerland is one in diversity.

Free are we who freely speak,

strong as we protect the weak.

White cross on a shining red,

sign of Switzerland, the path we tread.

If you do not know the melody, you can see the sheet music on the Anthem website

Or listen to the videos in German, French, Italian and Romansh. 

If you sing the national anthem in English and send the video to the Swiss Society for the Common Good, the video will be shown on the Swiss National Anthem website. 

Swiss National Day takes place on August 1st. 


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