- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2005

PARIS — French politicians raised a chorus of protest over any plan to change the robust lyrics of the national anthem, saying France should be proud of its revolutionary heritage.

In a National Assembly debate Tuesday, only a few lone voices denounced the lyrics of “La Marseillaise,” which were written in a single night in 1792 and became the rallying call of the French Revolution.

It calls citizens to arms, urging them to let “impure blood flow in the fields” to ward off “ferocious soldiers” who are “coming into your midst to slit the throats of your sons and consorts.”

The proposal is hardly likely to succeed because altering “La Marseillaise,” which is written into French law, would raise a constitutional problem.

The debate was organized by socialist deputy Andre Vallini in a bid to explore the historic, legal, musical and emotional aspects of the stirring song composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle and originally known as the marching song of the Rhine Army.

It was renamed “La Marseillaise” after it was sung by revolutionary forces from the southern port of Marseilles as they marched into Paris and became the official national anthem in 1795.

Banned several times by Napoleon and Napoleon III because of its revolutionary overtones, the anthem was reinstated in 1879 and often has been the subject of debate.

A poll, however, has found that 72 percent of the French liked having “La Marseillaise” as their national anthem, saying it was patriotic, rousing and pleasant to hear. Two-thirds said they knew the words to the song.

In the National Assembly, several deputies described the moment when a band strikes up the song as “spine-chilling” and “always emotional.”

Fears were raised recently when the anthem was whistled during a France-Algeria football match in Paris, and the pollsters say the song finds less enthusiasm among those younger than 30, with only 56 percent saying they were attached to it.

Deputies argued that instead of changing the words, they should work for a better understanding of the anthem and make it more vibrant and relevant to everyday life.

“Just as history cannot be rewritten, so we cannot rewrite our anthem to suit current tastes,” said Jean-Louis Debre, speaker of the assembly.

“It would be meddling with our heritage,” said Maxime Gremetz from the French Communist Party.

Mr. Vallini said the song should be played more frequently and not just during championships and commemorations. He suggested that it should be played every Monday morning in schools and colleges so that it is not seen as a relic of the past.

Philippe Dacremont, a teacher who heads an association pleading for “A Marseillaise for Children,” said it was difficult to explain some of the anthem’s more colorful phrases to the young.

Genevieve de Fontenay, president of the Miss France beauty pageant, suggested that the words “let impure blood flow in the fields” be replaced with a verse “and let a pure air flow across the nation.”

Delegate Minister Brice Hortefeux says the anthem “is one of the most identifiable monuments of our history” and that even though he agreed it was “a bellicose song,” it had “become a unifier from generation to generation.”

“We have to preserve the words of ‘La Marseillaise,’ which is a song of communion, but perhaps we need to add a verse asserting the values of peace,” said Jacques Pelissard, deputy mayor of Lons-le-Saunier, the birthplace of the author of the anthem.

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