Today, in the vast and fascinating world of flags, something very unusual happened. For the first time in history the flag of Denmark was replaced by the flag of Greenland on all Danish government buildings and on Danish embassies all over the world. Don’t worry, though, it doesn’t mean anything.
According to new flag rules issued by the Danish government in March 2016, all Danish state flags on government buildings are to be replaced by the Greenlandic flag, Erfalasorput, on June 21, the National Day of Greenland, and by the Faroese flag, Merkið, on July 29, the Feast of Saint Olav.
Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has explained the new flag rules with the wish to strengthen the bond between Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the three countries which make up the Kingdom of Denmark, also known as the Realm or rigsfællesskabet. His announcement put an end to press speculations, wittily dubbed Flagstaffgate, caused by a decree from the Minister of Finance to count all flagstaffs belonging to Danish state authorities.
What makes this new Danish practice so remarkable is the fact that from now on the Greenlandic and Faroese flags will be hoisted not alongside, but rather instead of the Danish state flag two days a year.
The Danish state flag is the swallow-tailed version of the Danish national flag and is not to be confused with the latter. Whereas the rectangular national flag is being used by civilians – lovingly and enthusiastically and in all sorts of circumstances – the state flag is to be used by state authorities only. And as such it represents the Kingdom of Denmark and is a symbol of its sovereignty over all parts of it: Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
Imagine if once a year the Bavarian flag was hoisted instead of the German above the embassies of the Federal Republic of Germany. Or imagine if the UK embassies celebrated Saint George’s, Saint Andrew’s and Saint David’s Day by replacing the Union Flag with the flags of England, Scotland and Wales. Or imagine if Spanish embassies flew the Catalan flag on September 11, the National Day of Catalonia.
These examples are as unlikely as can be! Flagstaffs on embassies, government buildings and military installations are not platforms for symbolic gestures, it would be argued. However, this is exactly what the new Danish flag rules compares to.
But Danes are well-meaning and sometimes shockingly informal people, and there isn’t a very deep understanding of the quasi-federal nature of the Kingdom of Denmark with its ‘mainland’ of Denmark and the two self-governing countries of the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Also very few Danes, perhaps including the Prime Minister, would be able to tell the difference between Dannebrog in its national flag version and its state flag version and the appropriate use of either.
And thus it works: In Copenhagen today the Greenlandic flags on ministerial buildings have, at most, raised eyebrows among those who had forgotten that Midsummer Day is Greenland’s national day. Morning television programmes used the opportunity to invite Greenlanders to talk about Greenland and Greenlandic-Danish relations. On July 29, in an equally positive atmosphere, there will be an opportunity to focus on the Faroe Islands and familiarise Danes a little more with the Faroese flag.
The hole thing doesn’t mean anything, really. As a Greenlandic member of Folketinget, the Danish parliament, said about the new flag rules: “It’s mostly symbolic. I would like the Prime Minister to pay more attention to other, more pressing needs for Greenland.” She and many other Greenlanders want full independence from Denmark someday. The flag of Greenland may replace the flag of the Kingdom of Denmark once a year, but the Realm is still very much political reality in the North Atlantic.