This week a video of two Ukrainian soldiers in the trenches singing a version of the World War II anti-fascist Italian partisan anthem “Bella ciao” was widely shared across social media. It wasn’t actually the first time the video has made the rounds, however, as it had first been posted online in July.
The video showed two young women serving in the Ukrainian Army singing the folk song while reportedly near the frontlines. Some users were quick to suggest the performance was “staged,” given their well-kept appearance and singing ability. Yet, even if it was completely staged, it is really about the message of resistance that has resonated with viewers, and the video has already been seen nearly 400,000 since it was re-posted on Tuesday.
Song Of Protest
This is far from the first time the Italian protest folk song from the 19th century had circulated across the various social platforms.
Originally sung in opposition to the harsh working conditions in the paddy fields of Northern Italy, “Bella ciao” later became the anthem of the Italian resistance movement who opposed fascism and the German occupation during the Second World War.
It has also received mainstream attention in the years since, as it has been recorded in numerous languages and performed by folk musicians, world music artists, punk rock groups, and electronic dance music bands.
Today, versions of “Bella ciao” continue to be sung as a hymn of resistance and freedom. The tune had gained international attention as it was used by some to protest the Italian lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A Protest Tune In Iran
It isn’t just in Ukraine where the old folk tune has been performed to bring attention to a cause. Another video recording of the song has also been widely shared across social media this week. It featured two Iranian women singing in Farsi in response to the Islamic Republic’s recent crackdown on protests and demonstrations that began earlier this month after the death of Iranian woman Masha Amini in police custody.
“Iranian women — no Hijab — sing the Farsi version of Bella Ciao, the anti-fascist anthem of the Italian resistance during WW II,” CNN contributor Frida Ghitis (@FridaGhitis) tweeted.
That video has been seen nearly 300,000 times – highlighting how a simple peasant tune has been transformed into a timeless and nearly universal anthem of resistance.
Freedom Not Nationalism: Song Of Resistance In Ukraine
The song has become a de facto resistance anthem in Ukraine. The first locally recorded version appeared online just days after Russia launched its unprovoked and unwarranted invasion in February. Ukrainian folk singer Khrystyna Ivanivna Soloviy shared her take on the folk song via her Instagram account, and it quickly surpassed a million views.
“My version of the popular Italian song is dedicated to our heroes, the Armed Forces, and all those who now fight for their homeland,” Soloviy wrote in her post.
What is especially noteworthy about the Ukrainian’s use of “Bella ciao” is that it isn’t the least bit patriotic, nor is it even a nationalist song. Rather is one about overcoming oppression.
“Americans usually think of ‘nationalism’ in reference to ‘national socialism,'” said Dr. Matthew Schmidt, associate professor of national security and political science at the University of New Haven.
“But it’s more accurate to use the term ‘patriotism’ for what we see in Ukraine,” explained Schmidt. “Nationalism is about ethnic purity, while the Ukrainians understand Ukrainianess to include Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, and other ethnicities. Ukraine is a multi-ethnic state. What unites them is what these soldiers are singing about: freedom from a mono-ethnic, fascist, vision of who they should be.”