Minister Arrindell said she was accused of not liking the St. Maarten song "Oh Sweet St. Maarten Land" but no one ever asked her for her personal opinion of the song. The Minister later acknowledged that she has issues with the song but the selection of the anthem will not depend on her personal opinion since she cannot be judge and jury at the same time. She said that was the reason she decided to establish a committee and felt it was necessary for a competition to he held. She said the late Dr. Claude Wathey held a competition when he wanted to select the St. Maarten flag. She made clear that having a National Anthem is not a "Rhoda" idea but it is something that is required based on the country's constitution.
The Culture Minister also said that the song "Oh Sweet St. Maarten Land" was written by the late Father Kemp who also copyrighted his song. When asked by SMN News if there is money in her budget for the competition the Minister said the monies for the National Anthem is available. When SMN News asked her what it would take for her or the committee to put forward the St. Maarten song for the National Anthem the Minister said anyone who wants the St. Maarten song is free to submit the song to the committee when it is established.
In the meantime, the Prime Minister of St. Maarten Sarah Wescot Williams shared her own personal view on the selection of a National Anthem when asked by SMN News for her opinion on the matter. The Prime Minister said she believes that the National Anthem should be established by National ordinance. Wescot Williams said that government needs to hear the people's opinion on the matter on an issue such as the National Anthem. "I think it is important for the people to express their opinion on this matter and if you are asking my personal opinion I will tell you the St. Maarten song represents something. The people have heard that song sung in schools and they have heard it over and over. Whatever song government accepts it should be known by the people and the song should also be promoted." The Prime Minister further explained that she liked a good beat to the same St. Maarten song and she had that done in the past which is still available on CD. Wescot Williams said the song was done with a higher beat by the Philipsburg brass band. The Prime Minister said the words are fitting in the song and it definitely has a place in the annals of the history of St. Maarten.
Below is the text of Minister Dr. Rhoda Arrindell statement on the National Anthem debate.
By Minister of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs,
Dr. Rhoda Arrindell, at the Council of Ministers'
Nothing has stirred so much public controversy and debate in recent times as the issue of a National Anthem for St. Martin. I understand the reasons for the uneasiness because, as Deputy Prime Minister and my party leader, the Honorable Theo Heyliger said, it strikes at the soul of our people. In other words, it is an issue that concerns our identity as a people. Identity works at a subliminal level, hence much of the emotional response to the issue. Let me, therefore, address the matter the only way I know how to, with candour and with facts.
On October 1st, 2011, I travelled to New York with a group of 12 high school students to enable them experience the College for a Week program of Monroe College. We returned a week later on October 8th. Before the trip, the process had already started to prepare for the first anniversary of our autonomous constitution – dubbed "Constitution Day" on 10-10-11 – and mark this milestone in a solemn and dignified way. Since that same Constitution requires that St. Martin should have a National Anthem passed by Parliament, I thought it fitting to announce on that day, the launch of a National Anthem Committee, which would be charged with organizing a competition to select a National Anthem.
This is because, contrary to what many may believe, St. Martin does not have a National Anthem at present. Before the break-up of the Netherlands Antilles on October 10, 2010, the National Anthem of St. Martin was the National Anthem of the Netherlands Antilles. This anthem was chosen via a national competition in 1997, which Ms. Zahira Hilliman, a St. Martiner, won. The "Antillean" anthem, ceased to exist with the demise of the Netherlands Antilles, although it can be safely argued that it NEVER really existed in the consciousness of the people of St. Martin. I don't know how many people can hum the melody or sing one verse of that anthem today.
But let me return to the process I started explaining concerning the National Anthem Committee that was to be put in place. This process has not been finalized even today as I speak. Some people have been nominated to serve on the Committee, however, not all have been contacted to secure their consent.
While I was away in New York, the Head of the Department of Culture sent out an "advice"/or proposal that was meant for me to the Department of Communication for a press release to be written based on its contents. This advice was at the time still being fine-tuned, given several questions I had raised about it. It was an advice to organize activities for Constitution Day in which was also included the establishment of a National Anthem Committee, since I was supposed to announce this on that occasion.
The main job of the National Anthem Committee, according to the advice itself, is to set criteria for the competition, organize this competition and select the winner(s). However, the advice also contained proposed criteria for participation in the competition, which have now been published in the media. This is unfortunate because setting criteria a priori would logically make the work of the National Anthem Committee redundant, at least in that vital aspect.
I guess out of haste to publicize the event organized for civil servants on Constitution Day, the matter of the National Anthem, which was on the same document, was mixed up with it and prematurely issued for publication. I was not privy to this situation nor did I authorize the release of any such information. As at this moment, no National Anthem Committee has yet been set up, and no criteria have been agreed to by me.
I was shocked when I read the news on Monday, October 10, and I immediately called for explanations. From these it became clear that the Department of Culture had put the cart before the horse in this case.
However, we can also look at the bright side and say a public discussion, which is necessary anyway on matters like the National Anthem, has ensued, albeit without the clarity that is needed.
Let me, therefore, speak to some critical issues I have taken note of from the ongoing public debate.
To start with, there is NO, I repeat, NO National Anthem of St. Martin at present. At the dawn of our new constitutional status on October 10, 2010, we lowered the Antillean flag, and hoisted the St. Martin Flag. The Antillean Anthem went the way of the Netherlands Antilles, but there was no St. Martin Anthem to replace it. Technically, therefore, it could even be argued that, as has been the case with other matters we took over from the defunct Netherlands Antilles, the Antillean anthem would have remained the official anthem of the new St. Martin. However, that song was withdrawn.
We need to understand that an anthem is an official, patriotic hymn that is sung at public events. What makes it official? Or how can it become official? Our Constitution answers that question in Article 1, subsection 3 where it states: "The flag, the coat of arms, and the national anthem of Sint Maarten shall be established by national ordinance." In other words, by an Act of Parliament.
It is curious that those who proclaim that they are law-abiding citizens and love St. Martin so much are sometimes not too keen about upholding the Constitution. I swore to uphold our Constitution, and I have consistently endeavored to do so and will continue to do so.
What, then, is the whole issue regarding the song, "O, Sweet St. Martin Land" by Fr. G. Kemp, which is obviously very popular among a large cross-section of our society? Well, it has NEVER been proclaimed the National Anthem of St. Martin. That is to say, it was NEVER made official.
In fact, history reveals that prior to 1958, when it was composed and even many years after, it was not the song preferred by most St. Martiners. A generation of St. Martiners grew up singing at least two other songs at public events and at school. These songs were "A quiet sea" and "Island in the West". Circumstances surrounding the character and morals of the author of the second song, a teacher at the Oranje School, turned the population against it.
Furthermore, from all available data, Fr. Kemp's song was copyrighted by him. Fr. Kemp has since passed on. This means simply that nobody, except the copyright holder(s), whoever they may be, can authorize the use of the song as St. Martin's National Anthem. It also means no changes can be made to the song without prior permission from the copyright holders.
It is common practice for nations to hold a competition to choose certain national symbols like the flag, a national anthem, etc. Dr. Claude Wathey of immortal memory, one of the founding fathers of modern-day St. Martin, understood the need and the power of national symbols. Under his administration, a competition was held to choose the St. Martin flag. Rosy Richardson won that competition. This Flag was made official by Island Council Resolution of June 19, 1985. All Island Council Resolutions have since passed on to be part of our current laws in our new constitutional status. Therefore, there is no need for Parliament to approve a new flag for St. Martin. The one we have today is our official flag.
As I indicated earlier, in 1997, a competition was held to choose a National Anthem for the Netherlands Antilles. That competition was won by Zahira Hilliman, who wrote the lyrics and music, while the arrangement was done by Anastacia Larmonie and Patrick Hilliman. The whole island was proud of Ms. Hilliman's achievement.
All we have been trying to do is follow a similar procedure, which we believe is more democratic, to establish a National Anthem for St. Martin. This is why, in my address to the special session of Parliament on Constitution Day, I signaled my intention to present a proposal to Parliament for a National Anthem. I stated then, "If we do not ask this Parliament to approve a National Anthem for St. Martin, as we intend to do shortly, in accordance with the stipulations of the Constitution we are celebrating today, we would not be laying a sound foundation for that new nation we are called to build."
I take note that in certain quarters, the suggestion is being made to propose 'O, Sweet St. Maarten Land" as our National Anthem. This is not a new idea. In 2003, the Commissioner of Culture proposed to the Executive Council of the Island territory to play the "anthem of St. Maarten, instead of holding the customary moment of silence, prior to the commencement of Island Council meetings." The Commissioner was referring to "O, Sweet St. Maarten Land"
The Executive Council agreed in principle to this proposal, but it added: "however, the anthem is not officially/legally recognized as the national anthem." "This process," it stressed "must be completed first."
The matter continued to receive much attention throughout 2004, resulting in an advice to the Executive Council, signed by the Head of the Section of Culture and the Director of the Department of Education and Culture. The advice contained among others, a recommendation for Exco to approve that "a competition be held for a new anthem" for St. Martin. Two signatures were missing on that advice, those of the Head of Legal Affairs Department and of the Director of Support Services. No further action was taken on it. The process that the Executive Council said "must be completed first" in 2003 has up till today not advanced any further than where it was then.
By establishing a National Anthem Committee, I wanted to take that process to its logical conclusion as demanded by the Constitution. In addition, I wanted to extricate myself from the selection process. I recognize that in matters like this, one cannot be judge and jury at the same time.
Is this a priority for me? Quite frankly it is and should be for all of us, because if it was not, we would not be having this discussion today. If it is not a priority, why continue to play any song at public events and have our people stand up in reverence? It is my view that if this whole issue were not important to our people, there would not be so much concern and talk about it. In fact, it is so important that it is more talked about than the fact that we had no postal service in the last week or so!
A National Anthem is not a Rhoda idea. It has never been and is certainly NOT about me. A National Anthem is for Parliament to approve, not for me or anyone else to impose. I will bow to the wisdom and authority of Parliament, as I have always done, in making this choice. However, I am duty bound to initiate the process and present a proposal to Parliament.
So, why not simply table Fr. Kemp's "O, Sweet St. Maarten Land"? My response to that is, which version: the English or the French version? Isn't it curious that nobody ever speaks of the French version of Fr. Kemp's song? I wonder why.
With regards to the English version, I acknowledge that "O, Sweet St. Maarten Land" by Fr. Kemp is very popular. The media has helped popularize it over the years. But there are also other popular songs, such as Lino's "St. Martin is my Home"; King Lion's "St. Martin is number 1" and Dow's "St. Martin" to name a few. Do I have any objections to these songs? No!
Let me state here that it is not unusual for popular songs to be adopted as National Anthems.
I make these points in the hope that it would contribute to the current public debate.
I want to stress, however, that a competition would be a much more democratic way to choose an anthem as is common practice all over the globe. I do not know of any country in the world that has chosen its national anthem via a referendum.
In looking back, I think this whole affair offers us a learning moment. It shows why education is really very important to our development as a people. I am amazed that the media, which shares that responsibility of educating the public, has chosen to fan the embers of emotional responses rather than use the opportunity to teach the facts. Confusion continues to reign supreme on this matter whereas it is a simple fact that a National Anthem and a national song can be two different things altogether.
The United States of America, for example, has its National Anthem, "The Star-spangled Banner", sung at official and other public events. However, it has other songs that are just as popular or even more popular, such as "America the Beautiful" or "God Bless America" sung also with patriotic fervor. These songs co-exist side by side, but only one, the "Star Spangled Banner" is the National Anthem of the US.
There are several other countries that have a National Anthem as well as a national song or songs. Nobody has ever suggested that, on St. Martin, this cannot be the case.
I welcome the current debate and would personally like to see it center on the best way to choose the best anthem that would accurately reflect the history, culture, and the loftiest ideals and aspirations of our people, especially in view of our efforts at building a new nation.
Do we need a National Anthem? Yes, certainly. Our Constitution demands it, and our people deserve one: the best we can give them.
On a different note, at present, we have two representatives from ROC Amsterdam visiting our island at the invitation of the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs. These experts have been tasked with conducting research regarding SBO-level programs for St. Martin. They have met with the Head of the Education Department, and Head of Study Financing, and they have visited the SBO at Milton Peters College.
Yesterday they had a meeting with our local SBO service center representatives. They also plan to hold fact-finding discussions with the University of St. Martin, the Chamber of Commerce and the Labor Office. On Friday morning, the delegation plans to close off when they meet the Minister to give an update on their findings.
I am prepared to answer any questions you might have for me.
I thank you.