Songs of Sovereignty and Censorship

Dmitri Prieto

Cuban flags. Photo: Caridad

I knew that Germany would end up in third place in the world soccer championships because that had been predicted by a famous octopus named Paul.  He’s of Anglo-Saxon background but lives in an aquarium in Teutonic lands.  It seems that Paul’s British origin had led him to correctly fathom that the German team would walk away with only the bronze.

Consequently, he let down the German fans of that pastime, people who are hated by our comrades of the German left for taking to the street singing the forbidden verses of the hymn: Deutschland über alles! [Germany above all others].

Many of our comrades of the German left even ended up hating soccer itself, especially the victories of the Bundesteam and specifically the ghost of xenophobic nationalist patriotism that was unchained by the more unscrupulous fans…  Thanks to those left comrades, I myself started learning that nationalism leads to nothing good.

The fact is that Germany’s national hymn has verses that are prohibited, censored, and that are best not sung.

Few know that in Cuba, the national anthem was trimmed back by our patriots when the Spanish colonizers left.  Back then, they eliminated certain words that labeled the Iberians “cowards” and even affirmed that Spain had “already died.”  In my opinion, the patriots did the right thing in censoring the original text of the hymn, simply because the war had ended… and the Spanish were no longer the enemy.

Back then (at the beginning of the 20th century) things even went so far that an article was published in the press titled “Arriba con el himno” (Long live the anthem), which defended the right of Cubans to refrain from standing at attention when their national anthem was playing; the essay even supported people dancing to its beat (a strange position, don’t you think?)

While it seemed that a part of the population thought there was no problem with dancing to the beat of the anthem, since the war had concluded, another attitude prevailed.  The position was imposed that people should stand still when this military hymn was intoned, in this way showing respect for the martyrs who gave their lives for what was sung.  These facts were made known to me thanks to the Cuban historian Marial Iglesias, who researched the topic.

Both positions have their grounds.  Those who died went to war precisely so that their descendants could one day dance…

The Mark of the State

I only want to highlight that national anthems carry the stamp of the State.  They are the songs of sovereignty – but also the objects of censorship.  Sovereignty is not exactly synonymous with freedom, and its practice is gradually being constrained by the censorship that this very sovereignty carries within it.

As the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben described, the life of the sovereign itself is “bare life,” legally vulnerable in the face of death.  It seems that this vital nakedness carries over to everything that sovereignty touches…or sings.   We know that (contrary to Luis XIV) the sovereignty of republics is within the people themselves.

With this in mind, I watch with interest how, before the beginning of any soccer game, the players sing or listen to their national anthems; some even appear not to know the words, others belt these out with passion. Yet the outcome of the game doesn’t depend on any of that.

A few years ago, a literature teacher came up with the idea of giving a workshop in the stands of Havana’s Latin American Stadium – just before a baseball game.  When the game was about to start, one of the workshop participants remained seating while the hymn was played.  He responded to the questions of the perplexed spectators saying that he respected the hymn a great deal, but that he too was a part of the Cuban people, and therefore free, not subject to rules made by others.