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The Not-So-Neutral Economist Who Wrote Switzerland's New National Anthem

The Swedish soccer team during the 2010 World Cup.
The Swedish soccer team during the 2010 World Cup.

The Swiss recently voted for a new national anthem, during the final stage of a public competition organized by the "Société suisse d'utilité publique" ("Swiss Society for the Common Good") in the northern city of Aarau.

Among three final candidates, voters chose a version that kept the melody of the current anthem, the 170-year-old "Swiss Psalm," but with new words calling for "unity and peace," inspired by the Swiss Constitution. The lyrics were written by Werner Widmer, a 62-year-old economist, who also works as a healthcare director and university professor. His anthem is simply called "White Cross On A Red Background."

"I find it important to find a national anthem that reinforces the values of our country," Widmer, who also holds a diploma in teaching music theory from the Bern Conservatory, told the Swiss daily Le Temps. "Values such as solidarity and openness are disappearing. Including in politics."

Explaining that the Swiss Constitution starts with the words "in a spirit of openness to the world," he added that if his fellow citizens still had these values in mind, "there wouldn't have been these votes on minarets and mass immigration."

The economist, who was among 200 people who submitted propositions, replaced what he calls an "obsolete" psalm, that "almost no one knows to the end," with these words: "Hoisted up there in the wind, our red and white flag calls upon us for unity, for peace. Let's be strong and united, let freedom show us the way, open and independent for the sake of our children, before the old flag we renew our commitments."

His anthem only has one verse — because "otherwise, people don't remember it," according to Widmer — in the four official languages of Switzerland: German, French, Italian and Romansh.

Widmer describes himself as a patriot, but not a nationalist. "I love Switzerland and I'm grateful to live in this country," he said. "If we want to close our borders, exclude others, it's no longer patriotism, but nationalism. An extremely malicious point of view."

The "new" national anthem must still be approved by the Swiss parliament, and members of the right-wing Swiss People's Party have already protested against changing the current anthem. The words must also please all Swiss people, and the absence of the word "God" could prove to be a problem in a country that is 70% Christian. But for Widmer, who is a regular Protestant churchgoer, the values he mentions are also Christian values. "We don't need a new prayer," he added.

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Disney's new movie "Wish" is being touted as a new children's blockbuster to celebrate the company's 100th anniversary. But some Christians may see the portrayal of the villain as God-like and turning wishes into prayers as the ultimate denial of the true message of Christmas.

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