Hidden Russian roots of France's Resistance anthem revealed - GulfToday

Hidden Russian roots of France's Resistance anthem revealed


A combination picture of Russian singer Anna Marly.

It is a song close to French hearts, the building power of its defiant march swelling chests and bringing a tear to the eye.

But the "Song of the Partisans" -- the hymn of the French Resistance which moves most French people more than their bellicose national anthem "La Marseillaise" -- was in fact written over a pot of tea in London by a group of Russians.

For years the authorities were content to quietly perpetuate the myth that the song had sprung from the brave hearts of fighters who had taken to the "maquis" and the mountains to resist the German occupiers during World War II.

Indeed the Free French forces of General Charles de Gaulle ordered that the names of its true authors be hushed up, a new exhibition on the song in Paris shows.

Russian musician Anna Marly, who composed the music of "Le Chant des Partisans" is seen.

"If people realised that it had been written in London over tea and sandwiches it wouldn't quite have had the same ring nor credibility," said curator Lionel Dardenne.

In fact, the music was written by a young White Russian aristocrat named Anna Betoulinsky who worked in the Free French canteen in the British capital.

She later became Anna Marly after plucking her stage name from a telephone directory.

BBC hit

It was only after her "Guerrilla Song" had aired on the BBC that Marly -- who grew up on the French Riviera after fleeing Saint Petersburg when her father was murdered by the Bolsheviks -- was persuaded to adapt it for her adopted homeland.

In one of the many historical ironies that surround the stirring ballad, she actually wrote the original version in Russian to celebrate the sacrifice of Soviet partisans who had slowed Hitler's advance on Moscow.

The myth was that "the song of the partisans" was born in the maquis.

But it was the French version that was later included in the repertoire of the Red Army Choir. 

Blurred origins

Even though it is a central part of many official French commemoration ceremonies, "most people don't really know where it comes from", he added.

Such is its power and malleability that it exists simultaneously as an official anthem and a protest song, with the French "yellow vest" protest movement reclaiming it and changing the lyrics to urge President Emmanuel Macron to listen to the people.

Dardenne said it was the Resistance leader Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie who, after rewriting parts of song himself, insisted on its real authorship being blurred.

Neither Marly nor Kessel -- who believed that "a people without songs is a people who cannot fight" -- objected given there was a war to be won, the curator added.

Agence France-Presse