Colonial anguish, personal grudges, loyalty to other countries…these are a few of the sentiments expressed in some countries’ national songs.
Never choose a national anthem while angry. While most leaders understand that a national song should include peaceful imagery, some just never got the memo.
How else to explain national anthems that spend their verses cursing enemies rather than extolling natives? Or, for that matter, lyrics that pledge allegiance to other political leaders, or to lovely women, or to woodland creatures?
Maybe the problem is that putting national pride into song is still a relatively new tradition. Until the 19th century, very few anthems existed; even Britain’s “God Save the Queen”—one of the oldest in the world—is barely 250 years old. It was actually the rise of international sporting competitions that sparked the popularity of bellowing out a patriotic tune; after all, who would want to stand on a winner’s podium surrounded by uncomfortable silence?
Yet some national anthems seem to be more successful at raising eyebrows than they are at stirring souls. Most songs around the world express pride and gratefulness for the mother country’s natural beauty and riches. But ruthlessly humiliating a former colonial power makes for far better entertainment. The anthem of Burkina Faso (a tiny landlocked country in western Africa), for example, jeers at the French and belittles them as “petty local servants;” Italy’s anthem accuses Austria of bloodthirstiness; and Vietnam’s anthem hates virtually everyone within missile reach of its shores.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are anthems so modest and mild that they seem better suited to a campfire sing-along than a victory march over a smoldering battlefield. The anthem of the remote Democratic Republic of Tuva—at the southern edge of Mongolia—for example, is so folksy and meek it’s almost giggle-worthy.
A well-composed national anthem can make the heart swell and the eyes mist over with national pride. The anthems on our list, however, are sure to provoke an entirely different response. Click through and listen.