The hills are alive with the sound of sexist music

Lyrics to Austria’s ‘sexist’ national anthem should be changed, leftist parliamentarians say. But on this matter the centre may favour the far right, which has already dug its heels in.

To some, Austria’s national anthem is the perfect celebration of the Alpine country, paying tribute to the mountains and streams Julie Andrews extolled in the Sound of Music, while touching on the “feuds” and “fights” that marred its tumultuous past. All above a rousing melody that many believe was written by Mozart.

The only problem, according to a group of female Austrian MPs, is that it is horribly sexist.

Sixty-four years after its adoption, they have proposed a Bill, supported by a majority of MPs, to change the lyrics of Land of Mountains to acknowledge the 51.4% of Austrians who are not men.

The song’s first verse, written in 1947 by Paula von Preradovic, says Austria is home to “great sons”. The MPs want to tack “and daughters” on the end, ignoring those who complain it doesn’t fit the tune. The third stanza refers to a “choir of brothers” — this, say the protesters, should be changed to a “joyous choir”.

To promote their cause, the top Austro-Hungarian opera singer Ildikó Raimondi has made a special recording of the new version.

Not everyone is happy. Carmen Gartelgruber, the opposition Freedom Party of Austria, mocked the idea. “Next thing someone will suggest that the eagle on Austria’s coat of arms should be carrying a make-up bag instead of a sickle,” she said during a parliamentary debate earlier this year.

The Green party’s Judith Schwentner, one of the Bill’s initiators, said she had been surprised by the aggression towards the idea from Austria’s far-right parties. In a telephone interview on Monday she reported how Stefan Petzner, an MP from the Alliance of the Future of Austria (BZÖ), suggested during the Bill’s first reading that the lyrics might as well be changed so that the song refers not to a “land of cathedrals” but a “land of dominatrixes” — a gag that relies on the similarity for the German word for cathedral (dome) and dominatrixes (dominas). “Austrian politics is still a boys’ club,” sighed Schwentner. “Only 28% of MPs are women.”

Petzner is no stranger to controversy — the 30-year-old ruffled feathers three years ago when he suggested that he had been the gay lover of the former BZÖ leader, Jörg Haider, who died in a car crash in 2008.

Schwentner said she believed the lyric change would be “an important symbol for equality in Austria”. It wouldn’t solve the most pressing problems for women, she admitted — “it won’t close the gender pay gap, but it sends an important message that women are also part of this society”.

A preliminary decision on the lyric change is expected from the constitutional committee in the Austrian parliament on November 22. MPs will then vote on the measure in December, said Schwenter.

If it passes, the new version will be sung at all official events from the new year and will feature in all new editions of school textbooks.

Earlier this year Peruvians launched a campaign to change their national anthem because it was too “negative”. —

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