Hands off our Marseillaise, say French politicians

6th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 5 (AFP) - French politicians raised a chorus of protest on Tuesday at any plan to change the somewhat bloodthirsty lyrics of the country's national anthem, saying France should be proud of its revolutionary heritage.

PARIS, July 5 (AFP) - French politicians raised a chorus of protest on Tuesday at any plan to change the somewhat bloodthirsty lyrics of the country's national anthem, saying France should be proud of its revolutionary heritage.

In a national assembly debate only a few lone voices dared denounce the bellicose lyrics of 'La Marseillaise' written in a single night in 1792, which became the rallying call of the French Revolution.

It calls citizens to arms, urging them to let "impure blood flow in the fields" to ward off "ferocious soldiers" who are "coming into your midst to slit the throats of your sons and wives."

The debate was organised by socialist deputy Andre Vallini in a bid to explore the historic, legal, musical and emotional aspects of the stirring song composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle and originally known as the marching song of the Rhine Army.

It was renamed 'La Marseillaise' after it was sung by revolutionary forces from the southern port of Marseilles as they marched into Paris, and became the official national anthem in 1795.

Banned several times by Napoleon and Napoleon III because of its revolutionary overtones, the anthem was finally reinstated in 1879, but has often been the subject of debate.

A recent poll however found 72 percent of the French liked having 'La Marseillaise' as their national anthem, saying it was patriotic, rousing and pleasant to listen to. Two out of three said they knew the words to the song.

And in the national assembly, several deputies described the moment when a band strikes up the song as "spine-chilling" and "always emotional."

But fears of the anthem's racist overtones have been raised recently when it was whistled during a France-Algeria football match in Paris, and according to the pollsters the song finds less resonance among the under-30s with only 56 percent saying they were attached to it.

Deputies argued that instead of changing the words, they should work for a better understanding of the anthem and make it more vibrant and relevant to everyday life.

"Just as history cannot be rewritten, so we cannot rewrite our anthem to suit current tastes," speaker of the assembly Jean-Louis Debre said in a written message.

"It would be meddling with our heritage," argued Maxime Gremetz from the Communist Party.

Vallini said the song should be played more frequently and not just during championships and commemorations. He even suggested to AFP that it should be played every Monday morning in schools and colleges, so that it is not just seen as a relic of the past.

But teacher Philippe Dacremont, who heads an association pleading for 'A Marseillaise for Children' said it was difficult to explain some of the anthem's more colourful phrases to the young.

Genevieve de Fontenay, president of the Miss France beauty pageant, suggested that the words "let impure blood flow in the fields" be replaced with a verse "and let a pure air flow across the nation".

However, altering 'La Marseillaise' would raise a constitutional problem since it is written into France's basic law.

For delegate minister Brice Hortefeux the anthem "is one of the most identifiable monuments of our history" and even though he agreed it was "a bellicose song" it had "become a unifier from generation to generation."

"We have to preserve the words of 'La Marseillaise', which is a song of communion. But perhaps we need to add a verse asserting the values of peace," added Jacques Pelissard, deputy mayor of Lons-le-Saunier, the birthplace of Rouget de Lisle.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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