The Swiss people have just chosen, through a reality TV-style voting process, their new national anthem. Drawing on the same melody as the “Swiss Psalm,” the winner–written by healthcare director Werner Widmer–reportedly better embodies secular “Swiss values.”
The Swiss Society for the Common Good, a national organization that describes itself as working for peace and national unity, launched the contest 20 weeks ago. The group opened the floor to anyone who could submit a tune with lyrics, advising only that they take their inspiration from the Preamble of the Swiss Constitution. The open call for any song, no matter how unorthodox, yielded some bizarre entries, judged by a panel of 30 “experts” who included a slam poet, a professional yodeler, and a theology professor. (The first line of the Swiss Preamble is “In the name of Almighty God!”)
The panel selected six entries and put them up for a vote, telling the Swiss people, “Do you know by heart more than one stanza of the Swiss Psalm? No? Then you are part of the vast majority of the Swiss.” The head of the judges evaluating the entries described the Swiss Psalm as “outdated and awkward,” adding, “Nobody knows the words. Anyone who tells you they do is a liar. Or else we manage the first few and afterwards we go ‘La, la, la.’”
While some have complained that the lyrics’ obsession with snowy mountains made it sound more like a “weather report” than an anthem, others protested that it “does not reflect the political and cultural diversity of the country.” The Swiss Psalm, one member of the Swiss Society for the Common Good joked, worked as a Psalm, but not so much as an anthem.
Voters were encouraged to download the six songs and share them with friends and family to maximize the number of votes and yield a more democratic result from the voting. They were also encouraged to reach out to the local legislators and urge them to vote on an official process for replacing the national anthem, as none of the Swiss Society for the Common Good’s work will be official without the national government taking a vote.
While the winners were not broadcast on TV, but shared online, The Telegraph compares the process to the UK reality show The X Factor, as voters were required to text in their favorites. All six entries were translated into Switzerland’s four official languages: German, French, Romansh, and Italian. The winner was ultimately broadcast on the television show Potzmusig.
Agence France-Presse notes that not all in Switzerland hate their anthem so much as to change it, which may result in some political pushback for this project. “No country in the world has changed its national anthem,” argued a representative of Switzerland’s Psalm Association (which exists). “There was only one case, in the forties, when Australia broke away from the British Crown: the people were consulted on two hymns, the old and the new one. They chose the former.” This is not entirely true, as the fall of the Soviet Union prompted a number of nations to reconsider their anthems.
Switzerland is, indeed, one of few countries entertaining the possibility of changing their anthem. New Zealand, currently embroiled in a debate to change its national flag, has also birthed a movement to change the anthem, which national Labour leader Andrew Little described with lament as a “dirge.”
In the United States, Democratic Senator Tom Harkin once advocated for changing the anthem from “The Star-Spangled Banner” to “America the Beautiful,” and several petitions exist online to replace the national anthem with Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” or R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix).”