As national anthems go, the Latvian hymn “Dievs, svētī Latviju!” is a rather short one. So why bother even having a short version?
Because some politicians apparently think it’s necessary. The conservative Latvian party Tēvzemei un brīvībai / LNNK (For Fatherland and Freedom / LNNK) wants to define what counts as the short version of the national anthem.
The party on Nov. 16 introduced an amendment to Latvia’s law on the national anthem that fixes the short version of the song as one that does not repeat the first stanza. In other words, the short version would call for singing “Dievs, svētī Latviju, Mūs’ dārgo tēviju, Svētī jel Latviju, Ak, svētī jel to!” just once, then, as usual, twice singing “Kur latvju meitas zied, Kur latvju dēli dzied, Laid mums tur laimē diet, Mūs’ Latvijā!”
That would shave a whopping 30 seconds from the song composed by Kārlis Baumanis and first performed in 1873. The version of the song available on the Saeima’s Web site clocks in at 2 minutes and 15 seconds. Snipping the repeated first stanza reduces it to 1 minute and 45 seconds.
The Saeima, Latvia’s parliament, may take up the amendment later this week.
According to the bill, the amendment is necessary because a Cabinet of Ministers decree approved earlier this year allows for performance of a short version, but doesn’t say what the short version should be. Given the growing number of occasions when the national anthem must be played, according to the bill, “this allows unfettered interpretations, which during various events (especially sports) and official ceremonies increasingly debase not only the point and essence of our nation’s symbol, but also degrade the overall artistic quality of the hymn.”
During some sporting events “Dievs, svētī Latviju” is cut to no more than 55 seconds, according to the Cabinet of Ministers.
The cabinet in 1999 first adopted rules for the publication of notes and recordings of the anthem. Based on recommendations from the National Anthem Commission, those rules were replaced this June with clearer standards. Unfortunately, the only standards for the short version are that it use the same arrangement as that for symphonic and brass orchestras and that it be in B flat major.
The tēvzemieši are right to be concerned about different interpretations. But rather than etching in stone what the short version of the anthem should be, why not just disallow a short version? It won’t kill anyone to stand at attention for 30 seconds longer. Some things in life deserve more than the radio edit.
If we are to have an official “light” version of the national anthem (now with 22 percent less lyrics and music!), why not take on waste in other Latvian national symbols, too? Let’s make the maroon proportion of the flag smaller, because so many folks anyway forget there’s a 2:1:2 ratio to the colors in the sarkanbaltsarkans, not to mention that it’s supposed to be twice as long as it is wide. And, even though there are three approved versions of the coat of arms, why have three stars in it? Won’t one do?
No, it’s a bad idea. National symbols should set a standard. To even acknowledge that a short version of the national anthem is acceptable is the wrong course of action. The tēvzemieši should instead insist that the only acceptable version of Latvia’s national anthem is the long one.
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