Saeima moves on protection of national anthem

The Latvian parliament, the Saeima, on October 5 gave preliminary approval to a law that would outlaw sarcastic, satirical or potentially even criminally tuneless renditions of the Latvian national anthem, Dievs, svētī Latviju.

The first reading of amendments to the "Law on the national anthem" was approved by 77 votes to zero.

The amendments propose heavy fines for any "display of gross disdain for the national anthem of the State of Latvia or its representation," whether in written or musical form. 

"It is necessary to supplement the Law "On the State Hymn of Latvia" with the norms which stipulate the administrative responsibility for displaying outright disrespect to the national anthem," the amendments say, adding:

"The national anthem of the Republic of Latvia is one of the symbols of the Republic of Latvia, and everyone has the duty to treat it with dignity, so that the values ​​that underlie the Latvian state are given proper importance''.

The law, which must still go through subsequent readings, would extend not only to full-on renditions of the anthem but even extracts or snatches of its music and text on paper or written electronically. 

"In order to prevent cases when a person shows disrespect not only to the national anthem of the Latvian state itself, but also against its representation, it is necessary to foresee administrative responsibility also for showing disrespect to the reputation of the national anthem of Latvia. In this way, the national anthem of Latvia will be ensured as an appropriate symbol of the Latvian state,'' explanatory notes say.

Persons singing, mumbling or writing the national anthem in a manner not in line with the approved norms could find themselves slapped with a 700 euro fine.

However, foreign visitors fearful of being fined lest their vocal skills are found lacking need not be worried. The law will apply to ''all citizens of the country who have a duty to respect the national symbol''.

The law is the work of the Ministry of Justice.

If the law does come into force, it will be interesting to see where the police draws the line between acceptable and unacceptable renditions of the anthem. Had similar laws existed at Woodstock in 1969 we might never have had Jimi Hendrix's memorable Star Spangled Banner.


Another example of less than reverential treatment of a national anthem that nevertheless had artistic justification would be Serge Gainsbourg's reggae Marseillese, which provoked a storm of protest and violent confrontations upon its release but is now regarded as a classic. In the video below, Gainsbourg answers allegations that his version is a provocation, arguing that a revolutionary song deserves revolutionary treatment.


Arguably the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen might also have fallen foul of the anthem protection law. Though not a direct interpretation of the British national anthem, its title is similar and might therefore be regarded as using an extract of the text.


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