Sunday, December 7, 2008

Poland, Ukraine Not Dead Yet

Growing up in post-USSR Moldova and frequently visiting my grandparents in the Odessa region of Ukraine, I heard many times a joke exploiting a particular feature of the first line of the Ukrainian national anthem. "Ukraine isn't dead yet, and nor its glory, its will", it goes, but simply by changing the intonation of the first part as you can do in Ukrainian or Russian, you get a meaning of "So, isn't Ukraine dead yet?". True, times were tough, and, I remember, at one time there was an ad running on a TV channel called 1+1 saying "There are 52 millions of us!". That was true from around 1991 to 1994, but today the figure is down to 46 million, due to migration and a demographic crisis with the fourth greatest population decrease rate in the world.

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to write about: just recently, in my ignorance, I have learnt that Ukrainian national anthem isn't unique in eagerly lending itself to mockery. Polish national anthem starts with the words, "Poland has not perished yet / So long as we live".  In fact, Polish and Ukrainian anthems are remarkably similar in meaning, which isn't surprising, given the long and tumultuous history of both nations' struggle for independence and unification:


Ще не вмерла Україна, ні слава, ні воля,
Ще нам, браття-українці, усміхнеться доля.
Згинуть наші вороженьки, як роса на сонці,
Запануєм і ми, браття, у своїй сторонці.

Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу
І покажем, що ми, браття, козацького роду.

Станем браття, в бій кривавий, від Сяну до Дону
В ріднім краю панувати не дамо ні кому.
Чорне море ще всміхнеця, дід Дніпро зрадіє,
Ще на нашій Україні доленька наспіє.

А завзятта праця щира свого ще докаже,
Ще ся волі в Україні піснь гучна розляже.
За Карпати відіб'ється, згомонить степами,
України слава стане поміж народами.


Ukraine has not perished, neither her glory, nor freedom,
Upon us, fellow--Ukrainians, fate shall smile once more.
Our enemies will vanish, like dew in the morning sun,
And we too shall rule, brothers, in a free land of our own.

We'll lay down our souls and bodies to attain our freedom,
And we'll show that we, brothers, are of the Cossack nation.

We'll stand together for freedom, from the Syan to the Don,
We will not allow others to rule in our motherland.
The Black Sea will smile and grandfather Dnipro will rejoice,
For in our own Ukraine fortune shall flourish again.

Our persistence and our sincere toils will be rewarded,
And freedom's song will resound throughout all of Ukraine.
Echoing off the Carpathians, and rumbling across the steppes,
Ukraine's fame and glory will be known among all nations.


Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła,
Kiedy my żyjemy.
Co nam obca przemoc wzięła,
Szablą odbierzemy.

Marsz, marsz, Dąbrowski,
Z ziemi włoskiej do Polski.
Za twoim przewodem
Złączym się z narodem.

Przejdziem Wisłę, przejdziem Wartę,
Będziem Polakami.
Dał nam przykład Bonaparte,
Jak zwyciężać mamy.

Jak Czarniecki do Poznania
Po szwedzkim zaborze,
Dla ojczyzny ratowania
Wrócim się przez morze.

Już tam ojciec do swej Basi
Mówi zapłakany
Słuchaj jeno, pono nasi
Biją w tarabany.


Poland has not perished yet
So long as we still live
That which alien force has seized
We at sabrepoint shall retrieve

March, march, Dąbrowski
From Italy to Poland
Let us now rejoin the nation
Under thy command

Cross the Vistula and Warta
And Poles we shall be
We've been shown by Bonaparte
Ways to victory

Like Czarniecki Poznań regains
Fighting with the Swede,
To free our fatherland from chains
We shall return by sea

Father, in tears
Says to his Basia
Just listen, it seems that our people
Are beating the drums

Isn't it remarkable how semantically similar these two anthems are?

Just recently, in 2003, Ukraine has made a neat change to their anthem, making it shorter, changing the first line to say "Neither Ukraine's glory nor its will is dead yet (Ще не вмерла України і слава, і воля)", and taking out all of the text saying how, supposedly, in the future, all of the land "from Syan to Don" will be United Ukraine because, of course, now all of that land is in independent Ukraine. The new anthem, in my opinion, is much stronger.

Polish anthem, in comparison, contains names and details that are no longer relevant for a modern Pole -- and the mention of Bonaparte is a dead giveaway of its origins as a military song written in 1797, the high point of the Napoleonic era. And that's even after (rather diplomatic) omission of two more verses mentioning Germans and Muscovites.

That, however is nothing out of ordinary in the anthem tradition around the world: I always get a kick out of thinking about how French primary schoolchildren get to sing about how "the tainted blood / will drench our furrows" and how "against us / the tyranny's bloody banner is raised". If they went on to sing all of La Marseillaise, of course, there are lots of little gems there that I dare say wouldn't be rated PG-13. Here's a part that says that Frenchmen are magnanimous warriors and spare their enemy's life, except for...

Mais ces despotes sanguinaires,But not these blood-thirsty despots,
Mais ces complices de Bouillé,These accomplices of Bouillé,
Tous ces tigres qui, sans pitié,All these tigers who mercilessly
Déchirent le sein de leur mère !Ripped out their mother's breast!

And so on. So I guess we can forgive the Poles a little nostalgic reference to Swedes, Italy and Czarniecki here and there. And if you don't like the lyrics, you can just conveniently sing the pan-slavic anthem "Hey, Slavs" to the same music. Groovy!
For more information, Wikipedia has a lot of material on Polish and Ukrainian anthems.

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