Sun, 06 Mar 2005

French kids to learn national anthem

Kim Willsher, Guardian News Service, Paris

As a call to arms, few national hymns are as bloody as La Marseillaise. Originally entitled the War Song of the Army of the Rhine, it exhorts citizens of France to take up arms: Form in battalions/March, march! Let impure blood water our furrows!

Now, after a 10-year battle, French schoolchildren are to be made to learn the words after a vote by French ministers.

The idea is to "transmit to each and every pupil the history of a people united around the values of liberty, equality and fraternity -- the history of a people who have never stopped fighting for freedom", according to the politician behind the proposal.

Jerome Riviere, from the ruling right-of-center UMP party, said he wanted to build on a decision two years ago which made insulting the national hymn an offense punishable by a fine of 7,500 euros.

The new measure was passed by the French National Assembly as an amendment to education reforms which have brought mass student demonstrations across France.

It has taken 10 years for admirers of La Marseillaise to succeed in having it included in the national curriculum.

In 1985, the socialist minister of education, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, failed to gain support for the move, which he said would underline the importance of "republican symbols". At the time, critics said the anthem was "a war song" and "xenophobic".

In 2002, a proposal by a right-wing parliamentary minister, Pierre Albertini, to make schoolchildren learn the anthem was defeated in a parliamentary vote. Albertini and his supporters had been horrified when a football crowd had whistled during the national anthem at a match between France and Algeria.

But some political commentators were less convinced at the merits of the latest vote. "I'm not sure what forcing pupils to sing about 'impure blood' is going to solve in schools, colleges and lycees," one told the French radio station RTL.

La Marseillaise was composed in 1792 by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, a captain of the Engineers in the Rhine army. France had just declared war on Austria and Prussia and its army was preparing to march on Paris.

It became so popular with volunteer army units from Marseilles that it was named after them.





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