Italian anthem "Bella Ciao" now sung by protestors in solidarity with Iranian women

The song, which talks of dying for freedom, was sung in Italy during World War II and became a symbol of resistance against the fascists.

Published: 06th October 2022 07:07 PM  |   Last Updated: 06th October 2022 07:07 PM   |  A+A-

Iran Protest

People chant slogans and hold pictures of Mahsa Amini during the 'Freedom rally for Iran' event in the Shibuya district of Tokyo on October 1, 2022. (File Photo | AFP)


ROME: From Ukraine to Chile, protesters worldwide have long rallied to the stirring Italian anthem "Bella Ciao," which is now being sung by demonstrators in solidarity with the women in Iran.

The song, which talks of dying for freedom, was sung in Italy during World War II and became a symbol of resistance against the 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 morality police.

Early in 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" -- meaning "Goodbye 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 it was actually 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 back further to a 19th-century musical tradition from northern Italy characterised by passionate themes, especially unfulfilled love.

"It is difficult to say exactly what its origins are," Pestelli told AFP. "Its ambiguous lyrics have allowed its adoption for many causes," he said.

"It wasn't a communist song but a manifesto for freedom... it represents apolitical values that everyone can understand and share," Pestelli added.

It is also "an easy song to sing," with a catchy chorus that even non-Italian speakers can pick up.

The global reach of the song has been fuelled by popular interpretations, including by French star Yves Montand, and more recently, its inclusion in the Netflix hit "Money Heist."

And it can be heard wherever there are crowds rallying, from the streets of New York to Hong Kong and Athens.

Cry against oppression

Ukrainians this year have sung it in defiance of the invading Russian forces, it has been the soundtrack to dancing demonstrators in Tripoli, a chant by English football fans and a call for action by climate activists from Sydney to Brussels.

In Rome and Paris, it was sung with emotion from balconies during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown.

For many, the history of the song is of less importance than its global impact.

"This song is very famous in Iran and all over the world because it is a symbol against oppression," said Masah, a 29-year-old Iranian expatriate 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", meaning "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 Rome Iran protest.

"Music is a form of expression that allows you to communicate even without knowing other languages."


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