Spaniards never have to worry about forgetting the words to their national anthem. It has none.
Now, however, the country has embarked on trying to come up with lyrics — a task that some see as leading to a perilous fight.
The wordless anthem has often caused consternation among onlookers from other nations at international events such as soccer matches and Olympics because all Spaniards can do is hum along to its tune.
“It gives me a very odd feeling that people should sing ‘La, la, la,’ or ‘Chunda, chunda, chunda,”’ said Alejandro Blanco, president of Spain’s Olympic Committee. “Spain is a country with cheerful people who sing at any opportunity, so why shouldn’t they be able to sing the words of a national anthem?”
Staunchly Catholic Spain has for centuries intoned religious rites such as the “Angelus devotion” instead of rallying around an anthem, although one existed mainly for use at military occasions.
Paradoxically, during the 1939-75 military dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, the national anthem was rarely heard and it has only re-emerged with a return to democracy in 1977.
Franco’s iron grip on government and the destructive civil war that preceded it have left a nation that is divided not just along traditional regional lines — based on the ancient kingdoms that united centuries ago to form modern Spain — but also politically.
“I doubt very much anyone will be able to come up with words that everyone will be happy with,” said Jose Guzman, a 42-year-old businessman.
Rising above politics?
Although the idea of setting words to the national anthem was first voiced by the Association of Victims of Terrorism, a group linked to the conservative opposition Popular Party, Blanco said the current initiative is free of politics.
“The politically independent Spanish Olympic Committee put forward the idea,” said Blanco, who added that many sectors of society have responded with enthusiasm.
Some observers think trying to find words most people will have no qualms about intoning at public functions is going to be a near-impossible task.
“Look, Spain has so many languages, what are they going to do, set each stanza in a different tongue?” said Juan Suarez, presenter of musical radio show “La Ciudad Invisible” — “The Invisible City” — on national station Radio 3.
Spaniards speak at least five regional languages — not including dialects — and share the distinction of having no words to their anthem with a handful of countries, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose anthem was written in 1985, and tiny San Marino, whose tune was penned in 1894.
Aiming to unite country
The competition to write words to the anthem is open to anyone, said Blanco, who expected the first 300 suggested lyrics from sports daily Marca on Wednesday.
Blanco said his committee expected more than 5,000 suggested lyrics to the anthem by September, when the candidates are to be assessed by parliament.
“The final choice will be left to lawmakers in government,” said Blanco, who said he was convinced the outcome would unite rather than divide the country.