How Bad Is It Getting in Switzerland? There’s a Push to Can the National Anthem

Some in Switzerland are campaigning to ditch their country’s national anthem — but not because they don’t like the melody of the present tune.

Those who want to do away with “Swiss Psalm” say its spiritually tinged lyrics no longer fit Switzerland’s growing secularism.

A Swiss flag flies at sunrise on June 26, 2013 in the city of Versoix near Geneva. (AFP/Getty Images/Fabrice Coffrini)

“We don’t take issue with the tune, which is quite beautiful,” Jean-Daniel Gerber told Agence France-Presse.

Gerber is chairman of the Swiss Society for Public Good, a 203-year-old organization that’s behind an unofficial competition launching Jan. 1 to dream up a new national anthem. The first prize is 10,000 Swiss francs ($11,000).

“The problem is the lyrics,” Gerber said. “The author had in mind a psalm, not a national anthem. As a psalm, you have to admit that it’s very good. We have no qualms with it as a psalm, just as an anthem.”

Here are the English lyrics to “Swiss Psalm”:

When the morning skies grow red And o’er their radiance shed, Thou, O Lord, appeareth in their light. When the Alps glow bright with splendour, Pray to God, to Him surrender, For you feel and understand, For you feel and understand, That he dwelleth in this land. That he dwelleth in this land.

In the sunset Thou art nigh And beyond the starry sky, Thou, O loving Father, ever near When to Heaven we are departing, Joy and bliss Thou’lt be imparting, For we feel and understand For we feel and understand That Thou dwellest in this land. That Thou dwellest in this land.

When dark clouds enshroud the hills And gray mist the valley fills, Yet Thou art not hidden from Thy sons. Pierce the gloom in which we cower With Thy sunshine’s cleansing power Then we’ll feel and understand Then we’ll feel and understand That God dwelleth in this land. That God dwelleth in this land.

Towards us in the wild storm coming, You yourself give us resistance and stronghold, You, almighty ruling, rescuing! During horror and nights of thunderstorms Let us childlike trust Him! Yes, we feel and understand; Yes, we feel and understand That God dwelleth in this land. That God dwelleth in this land.

“Nobody knows the words!” Perre Kohler, president of the jury that’s holding the competition, told AFP. “Anyone who tells you they do is a liar. Or else we manage the first few and afterwards we go ‘la, la, la.'”

“You’ve got rolling thunder, radiant mountains. It’s a mix between a weather report and a psalm. That might have been right for its century,” said fellow jury president Oscar Knapp.

“Swiss Psalm” was written by a priest in 1841. The Swiss government made it the nation’s provisional anthem in 1961, then bestowed official status upon it in 1981, AFP reported.

Historian Claude Bonard said changing the anthem is a bad idea.

“Our anthem may not be great. It’s of its time, and times have changed. But change for change’s sake?” Bonard said. “After all, in France, ‘impure blood’ no longer ‘waters the fields,’ but the ‘Marseillaise’ is still the ‘Marseillaise,'” he said, referring to the 18th-century French anthem that emerged during the French revolutionary wars.

According to AFP, entries must be submitted by June 30, and the current tune should be respected with room for artistic license and should draw on the preamble to Switzerland’s constitution, updated in 1999.

“It refers to values such as freedom, democracy, solidarity, openness to the world, responsibility towards future generations, that the community’s strength is measured by the well-being of its weakest members,” Lukas Niederberger, director of the Swiss Society for Public Good, told AFP. “It’s a wonderful text.”

And with a nod to those partial to the current anthem’s religious imagery, Nierderberger emphasized the Constitution’s preamble begins with “In the name of Almighty God.”

Here’s audio of the first stanza of “Swiss Psalm” (the last verse’s English translation differs somewhat from the version noted above):