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Swiss minister of justice Christoph Blocher (R) and National Councillor Toni Brunner sing the Swiss National anthem during the Swiss People's Party congress in Liestal June 30, 2007.
Reuters/ Ruben Sprich
Keeping their tune.

A yodelling expert and a slam poet have helped the Swiss choose a new national anthem

By Olivia Goldhill

Switzerland’s national anthem is not the most popular tune. The Swiss Psalm was first written in 1841, has been described as a cross between a hymn and a weather forecast, and has religious lyrics seen as far too pious for the increasingly secular country. (“When the Alps glow bright with splendor / pray to God, to Him surrender,” for instance.)

Last year, the Swiss Society for the Common Good (SSCG, an association designed to promote “societal participation”) decided to take action, and organized a competition to find a new anthem. More than 200 entries were submitted to a team of 30 judges, including a yodelling expert, a theology professor, and a slam poet.

They selected six songs as semi-finalists. Next, each of the entries had to be translated so there would be a version in all four of Switzerland’s official languages—German, French, Romansh, and Italian. That was “the most difficult job in my professional life”, translator Odile Nerfin told swissinfo. “It was not only a text; it was also a melody. And I had to imagine how difficult it would be for people to sing this anthem together. It was really a hard job.”

In March, the Swiss public took to the internet to vote for their favourite submissions, and whittled the options down to three finalists. And after a second round of voting over the summer, the winner was finally announced on Saturday (Sept. 12).

The Swiss voted for slight change rather than radical transformation, and have chosen an anthem (link to the four versions) with the same melody but different lyrics. “Hoisted up there in the wind, our red and white flag calls us to unity,” is one line from the winning entry.

But after all that, Switzerland still doesn’t officially have a new national anthem. Only the Swiss government can make a formal decision, and may choose to hold a parliamentary vote. Jean-Daniel Gerber, chairman of SSCG, is happy to wait. “It will take time,” he told AFP (link in French).