Driving to Rathmines for a meeting on Monday lunchtime, I listened to the gentle strains of Lyric FM but was suddenly disturbed from my reverie. A request was played for the Red Army Choir singing the Soviet National Anthem – even the presenter seemed slightly surprised.
In a country where we have a large Polish population, not to mention thousands of Lithuanians and Latvians, it seemed at the very least insensitive to play music evoking the years of Soviet occupation – how would people in Ireland who suffered at the hands of the Black and Tans have reacted to the playing of Rule Britannia on Radio Eireann?
But it is more than a question of insensitivity, it’s an ignoring of the history of the tens of millions who died under Soviet rule. Stalin was responsible for far more deaths than Hitler, but Stalin was on the winning side, so there was an overlooking of his crimes. In Dublin during the past year, I have seen young people wearing berets with hammer and sickle badges and have even seen sweatshirts bearing the ‘CCCP’ initials.
Would RTE have contemplated the playing of the Nazi anthem, the Horst Wessel song, the words and music of which remain banned in Germany until this day? Of course not, and rightly so, so why play a song that includes words in praise of the murderous Lenin?
Through tempests the sunrays of freedom have cheered us,
Along the new path where great Lenin did lead.
To a righteous cause he raised up the peoples,
Inspired them to labour and valourous deed.
I suspect the person behind the request just liked the tune, and a modicum of historical knowledge on the part of the programme producers could have allowed the playing of the tune without the Soviet words. Russia re-adopted the tune with revised lyrics as its anthem in 2001. All that was necessary was for the presenter to have said that we don’t have the Red Army Choir, but here is whoever with an unmistakable anthem.
My friend David Chillingworth, the Bishop of Saint Andrews, once referred to the ‘sectarianism of overlooking’; being so set in one’s own world view and attitudes that there is not the slightest awareness that offence might be caused to others. It’s a sin into which we all fall frequently and it’s a sin into which even Lyric slipped on Monday.