‘Light’ version of anthem should be outlawed

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.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

18 thoughts on “‘Light’ version of anthem should be outlawed

  1. Considering how long you Latvians (I am not Latvian) were unable to sing your national anthem, I am surprized that someone would want to shorten it!

  2. The national anthem should remain in its origional version as composed by Karlis Baumanis.
    Politicians have no right to dishonor our beloved ”Dievs Sveti Latviju”.

  3. The latvian national anthem must remain as composed by Karlis Baumanis and not altered in any way.
    Please do not dishonor our belowed ” Dievs Sveti Latviju”.

  4. There is already enough disrespect in singing of the USA national anthem, with different lyrics and melodies, with “whooping and hollering” at sports functions, before the end. As Latvians, who are proud of our heritage and who sang our hearts out each time the hymn was sung, when we were still under the “Iron Curtain”, we must continue the honor and dignity that was so intended and continue to sing “Dievs Sveti Latviju” in its full version and length.

  5. Latvia’s hymn Dievs,
    sveti Latviju! Is a
    prayer and never in
    any way should be altered.Alteration
    speaks of disrespect.
    Whoever thought of
    alteration,is not a
    real Latvian

  6. Why do politicians always believe they have some kind of right to alter what is history and basis for a country? “Dievs, Sveti Latviju” should not be modified. Where will it stop?
    Ugis Grinbergs

  7. I can not understand why the latvian national anthem should be
    changed in to a shorter version. If Karlis Baumanis (composer of
    music and text ) wanted to use the prayer “Dievs, sveti Latviju” twice,
    it should stay that way!
    Politicions have no right to change it!

  8. Shortning the national anthem is not appropriate. The anthem is the anthem and does not require a shortened version. Let is stand as is. It deserves respect and respect for the entire anthem, not a less lengthy version of it.

  9. Dear politicians:
    Why not think big? Start first by changing the worlds “big guys” first. My suggestion is, start with Mozart, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Schubert and Handel. This will not only gain you experience , which you definately need, but above all, you will then be ridiculed by the whole world, not just the Latvian people. so again. THINK BIG .

  10. Ours is a prayer for blessing and protection of Latvia and Latvians. Some of us get choked up trying to sing it, but usually we regain our composure. It is followed by absolute silence, like other prayers, not by howling, whistling and applause, as is an American custom. They also hire someone to sing it for them, sometimes competing for “top 10”. Most of them cannot sing it. It does require rather wide tonal range

    I believe this prayer should be voiced only on serious occasions celebrating our freedom and its defense. Not for ball games (US) of movies (GB). I am glad I have not seen our colors as a patch on jeans.

  11. I was born in a refugee camp in Europe to parents who had to flee the scourge of the nazis and communists during WW2.
    The most sacred thing to me is the national anthem that i learned in its present form. Do not let the bastards tamper with it .

  12. Dievs, sveti Latviju! Our National Anthem is sacred to all Latvians. Politicians should not interfere with our anthem, it is fundamentally wrong. If Baumanis meant it to be that long it should remain that long.

  13. A national anthem is a sacred symbol of sovreignty. It should remain as the composer intended and forever performed in the manner when it was designated to be a musical representation. While playing in a US military band in the 1970’s it was suggested that the Star Spangled Banner have an abrupt key change half way through to accomodate the vocal range. We recorded the version as requested. It was terrible. We sent it back to whomever in Congress passed it on to us. Obviously there was some discussion regarding the ‘adaptation’. The ‘right’ people saw the lack of value in making a change. Hopefully level heads in the Saeima will prevail over this issue. Yes we Americans don’t treat the Star Spangled as properly and respectfully as we should. Look what happened to the Lord’s Prayer as some versions made it gender neutral. Change is a fact of life. But some things are better left alone.

  14. What does this party represent? It is obvous that they have nothing important to legislate than to shorten the national anthem.

  15. Dievs, (ludzu) Sveti Latviju! is definitely our nation’s prayer for blessings and protection always. It was sung for over 50 years in far flung reaches of the world, wherever Latvians had fled to to find freedom. Many of us, myself included, from an early age could not sing this hymn without crying for the Latvian souls who were suffering tremendous pain and anguish. It was not until I was well into my fifties that I was able to control the welling of tears in my eyes. I owe the love of my fatherland to my parents who taught me well Latvia’s poignant and painful history. I seemed to experience it all quite vicariously. Do not, under any circumstances, tolerate any changes to this hymn. The repetition of the two verses only seeks to further imprint the words in our hearts.

  16. The generations of Latvians that fled into exile, many never to see their homeland again, sang those repeating stanzas with tears of joy–and wiht sadness over their loss–and with hope for the future. Any party that has nothing better to do take a scalpel to an anthem that kept hope alive both in exile and at home defiles those hopes and insults those that never lived to see Latvia free again.

    Perhaps we need to repeat the first stanza three times–in some quarters, twice is obviously not enough to sink in to have any effect.

  17. Maybe I am the only one that thinks so, but I aprove of a short version of “Dievs Sveti Latviju.” for certain ocasions.
    I love our himn and almost cry, everytime we sing it. But, like someone said it is a prayer. It should be sung only at the right time and right place, like patriotic holidays and “Dziesmu Svetki”, like patriotic organization aniveseries.
    In sports competitions were latvians win over some other nationalities, it would be apropriate but not at every game. Amerikans do that and it is silly. If our government insist then there could be a short version or a recording.

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