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Former women's minister insults folk singer

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Former women's minister insults folk singer
Andreas Gabalier at the Formula One Grand Prix in Spielberg. APA/ERWIN SCHERIAU
12:09 CEST+02:00
A row about a popular Austrian folk singer's performance of the national anthem at the Austrian F1 Grand Prix in Spielberg has been ramped up a notch after a former minister insulted the singer on television.

Andreas Gabalier sang an old version of the anthem - with the line “Thou art home to great sons” - which in 2012 was updated to the gender neutral “Home to great daughters and sons”.

Gabalier defended himself, saying that he sung the version of the anthem he had learned at school. "If you look at the reaction from the past few days - on the Internet, on radio stations, newspapers, and television channels - you can see that almost 99 percent of people prefer the old version, because they say it’s a piece of history and tradition and shouldn’t be changed," he said.

However former Women’s Minister Maria Rauch-Kallat (ÖVP), who previously fought for the lyrics to be changed, didn’t hold back as she argued with him on the ORF programme ZIB 24.

"To say this is the version you’ve been singing since you were eight - I'm assuming that like other children you were using diapers when you were one, and you’re not doing that anymore, because children learn to control their sphincters - so I'm assuming that you can also learn to sing different texts," she said.

She added that he was being disrespectful of the law, as parliament had decided to change the lyrics of the anthem. Gabalier countered by saying that he didn’t think Austrians had been properly consulted on the matter. He said he understood the fight for women's rights but that he didn’t think a historic text needed to be changed.

Gabalier cannot be prosecuted for singing the old version of the hymn - the justice department said a prosecution would only be considered if the hymn was “insulted or disparaged”.

Earlier this week the Greens party wrote the singer a letter saying what he had done “was unacceptable”. Gabalier responded by saying that he thought Austria had “other, more important problems to deal with”.

Others have spoken out in support of the singer, including an organization representing writers, which said changing the original lyrics had interfered with Austrian democracy and history. 

As Women’s Minister in 2005, Rauch-Kallat stated her objection to the words 'sons', 'fraternal', and 'Fatherland' in the lyrics and proposed changes. Her proposal met strong resistance by Austria's largest newspaper, the Kronen Zeitung, and failed to gain support from the then coalition partner, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ).

In January 2010 Austrian singer Christina Stürmer presented a pop version of the hymn with the line “Thou art home to great sons and daughters”, as part of a campaign by the Austrian federal ministry of education. Since January 2012 the anthem has been officially gender neutral.

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