New Flag In Mauritania?

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A referendum to be held before the end of the year will decide whether or not the flag of Mauritania is changed. The proposal to add two red stripes to the national flag has been met with harsh criticism.

After a period of deepening political instability and a so-called Dialogue national inclusif led by president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, himself a leader of two military coups, Mauritanians will be asked to go to the polls soon to vote on constitutional changes and the revision of national symbols.

“Two red stripes will be added to the top and bottom of the national flag to honour the sacrifice of the nation’s martyrs, and there will be a patriotic modification to the national anthem while maintaining its religious character,” it says in the accord from the political talks.

The flag of Mauritania was adopted in 1959. It is one of the few national flags in the world which doesn’t contain red, white or blue, the three most common flag colours. The colour green as well as the crescent and star represent Islam. The golden yellow is said to represent the sands of the Sahara Desert.

The Islamic Republic of Mauritania is a vast West African country with a relatively small population of about 4 million. Half of all Mauritanians live in the capital of Nouakchott, one of the largest cities in the Sahara, located close to the Atlantic coast. Arabic is the official language, French is widely used in the media.

The proposal to add red stripes to the national flag has not been received with unanimous support from Mauritanians.

Some argue that no-one, not even the country’s political leaders, has the right to change a flag which has been passed down to Mauritanians as a symbol of national heritage, unity and pride. Others argue that changing the flag is a mere gesture in the face of growing frustration with unemployment, hunger and corruption.

A former Mauritanian minister of foreign affairs and retired United Nations senior official, Ahmadou Ould Abdallah, criticizes the decision to change national symbols, saying in an interview with the Réseau Mauritanien d’Informations:

“Faced with the daily difficulties encountered by citizens, the security challenges that accumulate, the huge national needs, the priority now is to stop the suicidal spiral which leads us towards a catastrophe.”

The diplomat issues an unusually stern warning to his country’s leaders:

“We must avoid ridiculous and false debates about the changing of national emblems, the country’s name or the transfer of the capital city. We saw with Mobutu and Muammar Gaddafi that their flags didn’t survive their reigns.”

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The Flag That Could Have Been Greenland’s

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A green-white Nordic cross flag almost became the new flag of Greenland in 1985. It was designed by Sven Tito Achen, a renowned expert and author on heraldry. But his design was defeated 11-14 by the current flag in the Parliament of Greenland.

It was the debate on Greenlandic identity and the want for increased autonomy from Denmark in the 1970s that led to the adoption of a new flag of Greenland in 1985. Until then the flag of Denmark was the only flag in Greenland and the preferred choice for Greenlanders.

In 1979 Greenland was granted home rule with its own legislature and autonomy on internal policies. A year later the new Parliament of Greenland, the Inatsisartut, asked for proposals for a flag of Greenland. No less than 600 different designs were admitted, none of them lived up to standards and expectations.

Instead nine Greenlandic artists were given the opportunity to design  flags characterizing the country and its people. The parliamentary flag committee also wanted to see proposals for a flag of Greenland inspired by other so-called Nordic, or Scandinavian, cross flags.

Sven Tito Achen (1922-1986), a Danish editor, author of several books on heraldry and co-founder of the Scandinavian Heraldry Society, designed a Nordic cross flag which was chosen to stand together with the preferred flag design from the group of artists.

It was Thue Christiansen (born 1940) who designed that white-red flag which later became Greenland’s new flag. He is a Greenlandic artist, teacher and Social Democratic politician and he was Greenland’s first Minister for Culture and Education 1979-1983. His flag design, now known as the Erfalasorput, “our flag”, represents the sun and the ice and its colours are those of the Danish flag indicating close ties between Denmark and Greenland.

In proposing the Nordic cross design Sven Tito Achen intended to link the flag of Greenland to all the other Nordic countries whose flags have a cross design based on the oldest of the Nordic flags, the Dannebrog. The Faroe Islands, also part of the Kingdom of Denmark, adopted a Nordic cross flag.

Sven Tito Achen argued that a green flag with a white cross was a simple and easily recognizable design. Green, he wrote in an article in 1984, is the colour of hope, life and growth; white is the colour of peace, friendship and honesty. Achen also noted that a majority of the many un-used proposals in 1980 had been cross flags.

The type of green Sven Tito Achen chose for his Greenlandic flag was a dark colour tone well suited for use in a country where many houses are painted in warm red, blue, green and orange-yellow colours. Playing on the word “Greenland” was never the intention. The Greenlandic name for the country is Kalaallit Nunaat meaning “our country” or “the land of the Greenlandic Inuit”.

In 1985 the Parliament of Greenland decided to vote on the two proposals. In an effort to avoid that the issue would be overly politicized, the parliament cast their votes in a secret ballot. The result was 14 votes in favour of Thue Christiansen’s red and white flag and 11 votes in favour of Sven Tito Achen’s green and white flag.

The winning flag was hoisted officially for the first time on Greenland’s national day, 21 June 1985. For years Achen’s flags was a close contender and the preferred choice for many. Today, Christiansen’s flag is universally liked and used in Greenland.

The Yellow Banners Of The Thai King

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The King of Thailand has died at the age of 88 and his country is mourning him dressed in black. During the 70-year reign of King Bhumibol, as a sign of love and loyalty, Thailand was every so often dressed in yellow, the king’s personal “birthday colour”.

Thailand’s king was the world’s longest reigning head of state. Maha Bhumibol Adulyadej, King Rama IX, Head of the House of Chakri, Great King of Siam ascended the Thai thrown as a young man in 1946.

Most Thai people have awarded the king and his wife, Queen Sirikit, an almost god-like status as a symbol of national peace and development, a unifying force in a sometimes unstable society, a constant in the past seven decades of Thailand’s history.

At the news of the king’s death tens of thousands of mourners took to the streets. For weeks people had been waiting and praying outside the Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, many wearing pink as a sign of wishing luck and good health. In addition to the striped blue, red and white national flags of Thailand, the crowds also carry yellow and sky blue flags.

These are the royal flags of the king and queen. All members of the Thai royal family have two banners: A royal standard for official and personal use, and a royal flag which is also commercially available to the public.

The Royal Standard of Thailand is a yellow square banner with a red and golden Garuda. The Garuda is the national emblem of Thailand, a mythological man-bird connected to the god Vishnu in Hindu and Buddhist traditions as well as a centuries-old symbol of the Thai monarchy.

The royal flag of King Bhomibol is a yellow rectangular banner with three elements: The king’s cypher (three letters), the mantra Aum (written in Thai) and the Great Crown of Victory, the golden coronation headdress of the kings of Thailand.

In several Asian cultures gold or yellow is the colour of royalty and prosperity. Saffron or ochre yellow is the colour worn by Buddhist monks. In Thailand yellow is also the colour for those who want to show a special love and reverence for the king. Many buy the royal flags and fly them together with the national flags in homes, shops, restaurants, and in public for the king’s birthday, political rallies etc.

The royal flag of Queen Sirikit is also widely used. It s a rectangular sky blue banner with the queen’s cypher (two letters) and the Great Crown of Victory.

Thai astrological traditions dictate that members of the royal family have flags with different colours depending on their birthdays. King Bhomibol was born on a Monday and the colour of that day is yellow. Hence, the king’s personal colour is yellow. Queen Sirikit was born on a Friday and therefore her colour is sky blue. The colour of Saturday is purple and Sunday is red. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are pink, green and orange, respectively.

The next king of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn, King Rama X, who is designated to succeed to the thrown soon, will uphold the tradition of two yellow banners.

The square yellow Garuda banner will remain. It has been the Royal Standard of Thailand since 1910. The rectangular royal flag with the Great Crown of Victory will also be yellow under the reign of the new king. For Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn was born on a Monday like his father.

Why Fiji Didn’t Change Its Flag

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October 10th is Fiji Day. A new Fijian flag was supposed to have been at the centre of independence day festivities at this year’s Fiji Week. But Fiji won rugby gold at the Olympics in August and that changed everything.

Not only Australia and New Zealand have ongoing flag debates because of the ties to the UK in their national flags. Australians have discussed the removal of the Union Jack from their flag for years, and in New Zealand a two-step referendum was held to replace the current NZ flag with a new one.

Parallel to events in New Zealand it was also announced by the Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, that he wanted Fiji to have a new national flag without the Union Jack in the upper hoist. The country needs a more indigenous and truly Fijian symbol to honour, now and in the future, it was argued.

The current Fijian flag is a light blue version of the British Blue Ensign with the coat of arms of Fiji in the fly. It was adopted as an update of earlier Fijian colonial flags in 1970 at the time of Fiji’s independence from the United Kingdom.

A flag design competition in 2015 resulted in 23 different designs for a new flag. However, the proces was met with staunch resistance from the opposition in Fiji’s parliament. A flag change is not what the country is asking for, rather the flag is highly revered and dear to the people of Fiji, opposition MPs protested in February 2016. Prime Minister Bainimarama refused to let a referendum decide the matter.

In March this year the New Zealand flag referendum was won by the current flag. Prime Minister John Key, who had led the campaign for a new NZ flag, accepted defeat. 2,000 km northeast of New Zealand, the Fijian flag issue was again delayed with no real news about a decision.

Then, on 11 August 2016, Fiji won the men’s rugby sevens competition at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The rugby-crazy island nation erupted with pride and happiness over the 43–7 win against Great Britain! The light blue Fijian flag with its Union Jack was waved vigorously by fans in the Brazilian stadium and for days afterwards in Fiji.

Six days after the Olympic victory for Fiji an announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office read: It has been deeply moving to witness the way Fijians have rallied around the national flag as our rugby sevens team brought home Olympic gold. And it continued: It has been apparent to the Government since February that the flag should not be changed for the foreseeable future.

Frank Bainimarama also said that the cost of a flag change would be better spent on the ongoing recovery of severe tropical cyclone Winston which hit Fiji on 20 February 2016 killing 44 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless. Response on social media indicates that this is a very popular decision and may indeed put off the flag debate in Fiji for a long time.

Return of the Empress

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Ten years ago, Empress Maria Feodorovna found her final resting place in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The golden standard of the Russian Empresses covered her coffin on its journey from Denmark where she died in exile almost 78 years earlier.

Empress Maria Feodorovna died far from her beloved Russia in her villa north of Copenhagen, Denmark, on 13 October 1928, 80 years old. She was the widow of Alexander III, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. In 1919 she was forced to leave Russia following the Communist revolution.

Maria Feodorovna first set foot on Russian soil in September 1866 at the age of 18. She arrived in Saint Petersburg on board a Danish warship as the bride-to-be of the young Tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich who later became Emperor Alexander III. She had already converted to the Russian Orthodox Church and very early on she came to regard Russia as her home.

Following the assassination in 1881 of Emperor Alexander II, Alexander III ascended the thrown. He and Maria Feodorovna were crowned in 1883 at the Kremlin, Moscow. The couple had six children. Their happy marriage ended in 1894 when Alexander III died at the age of 49.

Maria Feodorovna became much loved in Russia and played the role of Empress Dowager to perfection. Her eldest son became Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor.

Before marrying in Russia the Empress was known as Princess Dagmar of Denmark. She came from a large and close-knit family. King Christian IX of Denmark was her father. King George I of Greece was her brother. King Christian X of Denmark and Iceland and King Haakon VII of Norway were her nephews. Her sister Alexandra was the wife of Edward VII, King of Great Britain and Ireland, Emperor of India.

It was thanks to a British warship that Maria Feodorovna was able to get out of revolutionary Russia alive. During her stay in Crimea she had received the news of the murders of her sons, Nicholas and Michael, and of her daughter-in-law and her five grandchildren. For the rest of her life she refused to accept that they had been brutally killed by the Communists.

In 2006 after many years of planning it was finally possible to transfer the body of Empress Maria Feodorovna to Russia. She had been temporarily interred in the Cathedral of Roskilde, the main burial site for the Danish royal family. On 23 September 2006 a service there marked the beginning of the Empress’ last journey. Again, a Danish warship sailed her to Saint Petersburg.

On 28 September 2006 Maria Feodorovna was interred in the Peter and Paul Fortress on the River Neva in the former capital of the Russian Empire, next to the grave of her husband and in close proximity to the graves of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

Fittingly, the Empress of Russia’s Standard covered the coffin on her last sea voyage. This flag is a swallow-tailed version of the Imperial Russian Naval Standard adopted by Emperor Peter the Great and changed very little over the years:

On a background of gold, a black double-headed eagle, crowned with three Imperial crowns, on its chest an inescutcheon, red with the mounted Saint George slaying a black dragon, surrounded by the collar of the Order of Saint Andrew. In its beaks and and claws the eagle holds four nautical charts showing the “four seas of Russia” – the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

Parliament Opens Amid Flag Debate

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The Danish Parliament joins other legislatures which have a large national flag hanging vertically behind the Speaker’s chair. This change, announced to be a temporary solution only, is the cause of heated debate.

Today, October 4th, is the official opening of the Danish parliament, the Folketing. According to the Constitution of the Kingdom of Denmark the legislative session begins every year on the first Tuesday in October and the Prime Minister holds the State of the Realm Speech in parliament.

H.M. the Queen of Denmark is the guest of honour at the official opening of parliament. She is received by the Speaker, or President, of the Folketing and sits in the visitors’ gallery together with other members of the royal family, especially those Princes and Princesses of Denmark who are in the line of succession and sometimes act as Regents of the Realm, for example when the Queen is traveling abroad.

For some time the parliamentary meeting hall in the Palace of Christiansborg, Copenhagen, is being refurbished and modernized. Therefore, the tapestry usually hanging behind the Speaker’s chair has been taken down. If only a temporary solution, the decision to replace the tapestry with a large swallow-tailed national flag has been the cause of debate in the news and on social media.

Some accuse the Speaker of being overly patriotic. Deputy Speaker Christian Juhl of the left-wing Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) has criticized the choice and accuses the Speaker of politicizing the Danish flag. Speaker Pia Kjærsgaard was the leader of the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti) for 17 years.

In the last 24 hours the Speaker herself as well as many other Danish politicians have backed the decision and reject all criticism: How can it be deemed wrong to fly the national flag prominently in the national assembly? they ask.

The presence of a national flag, hoisted on a flag pole or hanging vertically behind the Speaker’s chair, is common practice in a large number of legislatures around the world. Hanging flags are part of the decoration in e.g. the United States House of Representatives, in the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, in the House of Representatives of the Philippines, in the Swedish Riksdag, in the Polish Sejm and in the Lithuanian Seimas.

The use of a swallow-tailed Danish flag in the Folketing also seem to confuse and cause debate. It is correct that the swallow-tailed version of the flag of Denmark, the so-called splitflag, is first and foremost used by the royal family, the Danish armed forces and state authorities, but there is a long list of exceptions from this rule.

The Danish parliament is among those non-military and non-state institutions which use the splitflag. Many seem to have forgotten that the Folketing has always flown the swallow-tailed Dannebrog, both outdoors and indoors.

 

Read also: Flag In Parliament? Almost All Of Denmark’s Neighbours Do It