RTL Today – Symbol of resistance: ‘Bella Ciao’, the protest anthem that the world loves to sing
From Ukraine to Chile, protesters around the world have long rallied to the moving Italian anthem “Bella Ciao”, now sung by protesters in solidarity with women in Iran.
The song, which is about dying for freedom, was sung in Italy during World War II and became a symbol of resistance against fascists.
It has since become a global rallying call, including in support of Iranians protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the feared vice squad.
At the start of the protests, a video went viral of a singer – her head uncovered in defiance of the compulsory hijab – performing a version in Persian.
Since then, “Bella Ciao” – which means “Goodbye my beautiful” – has been sung by supporters of the protests, including Kurdish women in Turkey and expatriate Iranians in Paris.
Although it has long been associated with Italian partisan fighters, there is no evidence that it was ever sung by them, according to Carlo Pestelli, author of the book “Bella Ciao: The Song of Freedom”.
The song certainly became popular during the war, he said.
But its history goes further back to a 19th-century musical tradition from northern Italy characterized by passionate themes, particularly unfulfilled love.
“It’s hard to say exactly what his origins are,” Pestelli told AFP.
His ambiguous lyrics have led to his adoption for many causes, he said.
“It was not a communist song but a manifesto for freedom…it represents non-political values that everyone can understand and share,” Pestelli added.
It’s also “an easy-to-sing song,” with a catchy chorus that even non-Italian speakers can pick up on.
The song’s global reach has been fueled by popular renditions, including by French star Yves Montand, and most recently, its inclusion in the Netflix hit ‘Money Heist’.
And it can be heard wherever there are crowds gathering, from the streets of New York to Hong Kong and Athens.
– Cry against oppression –
This year Ukrainians have sung it in defiance of the invading Russian forces, it has been the soundtrack to dancing protesters in Tripoli, a chant for English football fans and a call to action for climate activists in Sydney in Brussels.
In Rome and Paris, it was emotionally sung from balconies during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown.
For many, the story of the song matters less than its global impact.
“This song is very famous in Iran and around the world because it is a symbol against oppression,” said Masah, a 29-year-old Iranian expat who attended a solidarity rally for the Mahsa Amini protests in Rome this week.
While the lyrics are often translated, the chorus is normally sung in Italian, although it has been adapted.
In Jerusalem last year, protesters against then-Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu sang “Bibi Ciao” at the prospect of his departure.
In 2019, anti-regime protesters in Iraq rallied to their own version, “Blaya Chara,” which means “no way out” in Iraqi dialect.
“When we sing it, we feel more united with the whole world,” added Masah’s sister Shiva, 33, at the protest in Rome, Iran.
“Music is a form of expression that allows you to communicate even without knowing other languages.”