The future for New Zealand’s flag: 4 scenarios

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New Zealand voted to keep its existing flag one year ago. The flag of New Zealand is still the one that looks very similar to the Australian flag and has the British Union Flag in the upper hoist and the Southern Cross in the lower fly. Now, the flag referendum last year doesn’t mean the debate is over.

The existing NZ flag, adopted in 1902, won the referendum. But it wasn’t because it has no critics or because everyone agrees to never change it. Rather, a sizable portion of the electorate wasn’t happy with the alternative flag designs and voted for status quo in the hope for better options ahead. So, what are the possible scenarios for the NZ flag in years to come?

1. New Zealand keeps the existing flag forever

Despite years of debate and widespread political support for a new flag, the existing flag won the second round of the referendum in March 2016 with 57 % of the votes. The voter turnout was 68 %. However, the whole process and the cost of it all was heavily criticized. Also, public enthusiasm about the issue could have been much higher.

In this scenario, the debate will slowly die out, if nothing else, out of sheer fatigue. For the time being, no-one has the political guts to reopen the debate and spend more money on changing the flag. Those who don’t like the existing flag won’t be able to present a clear alternative. And so, the result is that New Zealand never changes its flag.

2. A less democratic process

The flag debate and the referendums of 2015 and 2016 was a very democratic process. New Zealanders wouldn’t want it any other way. Or would they? The problem with a lengthy, bottom-up process is that it results in hundreds of flag designs, most of which are very far off the mark. Designers have pointed out that inviting people to participate who hasn’t the faintest idea about design, might not lead to the best possible result.

In this scenario, New Zealand has a go at changing the flag once more. But this time the process is much more top-down. Parliament appoints a committee of flag specialists and designers and let them come up with one single alternative flag for people to vote on in a third referendum. Also, Parliament could make the final decision without a referendum.

3. Kyle Lockwood revisited

In the first round of the referendum in November-December 2015, two flag designs made by the same designer got almost the same amount of votes. Kyle Lockwood’s red-white-blue Silver Fern Flag got 42 % of the first preference votes, his black-white-blue Silver Fern Flag got 40 %. In the end Lockwood’s black, white and blue design got 51 % of the two-flag preferred vote and went to the second referendum. It was this design which lost against the existing flag with 43 % of the votes.

Kyle Lockwood combined elements of the existing flag with the Silver Fern, already a popular symbol of New Zealand. With two successful designs in the first round, it’s reasonable to suggest that any viable alternative to the existing flag must be a Lockwood flag. In this scenario Kyle Lockwood is asked to rethink his two top scoring designs and come up with the perfect Silver Fern and Southern Cross flag for New Zealand.

4. Total chaos

None of the five proposed designs which got to the first round of the referendum was able to beat the existing flag in the second round, but each of them was liked by a group of people. Supporters started using these flag designs in front of their houses, on stickers and online leading up to the referendum. Some still do. The risk of letting people campaign for six different national flags for years is that it becomes very difficult to unite around just one flag in the end. The most important purpose of a national flag is that it unites people.

In this scenario, two or three of the flag designs from 2015 are in unofficial use for years to come, causing lots of devisive arguments among New Zealanders and confusion abroad.

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The Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg dies at 82

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Prince Richard, brother-in-law of Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and head of the Sayn-Wittgenstein family, passed away on Monday 13 March 2017. His funeral service will be held on Tuesday 21 March, in the Evangelische Stadtkirche Bad Berleburg. 

Richard zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg was the third son-in-law of King Frederik IX of Denmark. He married Princess Benedikte in 1968 at Fredensborg Palace, Denmark. Her younger sister Anne-Marie had married Constantine II, King of the Hellenes, in 1964 in Athens, Greece. In 1967, the older sister Margrethe, heiress to the Danish throne, married Henri de Laborde de Monpezat who became Prince Henrik of Denmark.

Richard was a man of humour, and of temper, totally devoid of the stiff upper lip and the jetset lifestyle so often associated with royalty. He met his future wife at the wedding of Princess Beatrix and Prince Claus in the Netherlands in 1966. “In the royal corner,” as he once explained. From birth, Prince Richard belonged to that inner circle of closely related princely houses of Europe, but he never liked the pomp and circumstance and would rather wake up early to a day of hard work in the forest.

His main occupation in life was the Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg inheritance, one of the largest private estates in Germany. Prince Richard took that responsibility seriously. “One would hate to be the weakest link in a long chain,” he said. The Prince has been praised for his work in wildlife conservation. He was an accomplished hunter and angler. And he was a central figure in local life in the town of Bad Berleburg. His family’s presence in the area goes back 800 years.

Prince Richard was a male line descendant of the medieval Counts of Sponheim. The chequered arms of the House of Sponheim were however not used by that branch which inherited the County of Sayn in the 13th Century. In stead, the arms of Sayn (Gules, a lion guardant Or) became the central element of the family’s heraldic achievements.

The County of Wittgenstein, where Bad Berleburg is located, was added in the 14th Century. Its arms (Argent, two pallets Sable) are the same as those of the medieval Counts of Battenberg and, in modern times, the Mountbatten family: the Marquesses of Milford Haven, the Marquess of Carisbrooke, the Earls Mountbatten of Burma and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

In 1792, the reigning count in Berleburg was raised to princely rank by the Holy Roman Emperor. The Principality of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg in the Rothaar Mountains on the border between Westphalia and Hesse was one of the many tiny German states that didn’t survive the Napoleonic Wars. Until the fall of the monarchy in 1918, the head of the family sat in the Prussian House of Lords.

The arms of Sayn and Wittgenstein can be seen together with the arms of the lordships of Homburg (Gules, a castle twice towered Argent, windows and port Sable) and Freusburg (Sable, on a bend sinister Argent three boar’s heads Sable) on the family’s armorial banner which was lowered to half mast on Berleburg Castle at the news of the Prince’s death.

Prince Richard’s only son, Gustav, is the new Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg. Prince Gustav is named after his paternal grandfather Prince Gustav Albrecht who was reported missing in action in Russia in 1944 during World War II. In the 1960s the prospect of the Danish king getting a German son-in-law was disliked by many Danes. It was decided that any children of Prince Richard and Princess Benedikte would only succeed to the throne on the condition that they were raised in Denmark and became Danish citizens.

It is one of Prince Richard’s achievements that his nationality became a non-issue. As a young child he had lived in Sweden with his widowed mother who was a member of the Fouché d’Otrante family, Swedish nobles descended from Napoleon’s Minister of Police. So, Prince Richard had learned Swedish. Later in life he also spoke Danish, albeit in his own charming, “mixed Scandinavian” version. He was the German prince who put a friendly face on Germany at a time when it was needed.

100 years ago: The last day of the Russian Empire

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The Imperial Russian State Colour is a splendid flag symbolizing that which came to an end on 15 March 1917 when Nicholas II abdicated: More than twenty million square kilometres of empire and a thousand years of monarchy.

The State Colour of the Russian Empire was the principal and most prestigious military flag in pre-revolution Russia, treated always with full military honours. The latest version of the State Colour, from 1896, is kept in the Kremlin Armoury in Moscow. The image above shows the State Colour as depicted in Герб и Флаг России: X-XX века (1997).

On it are the full heraldic achievements of Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias: the arms of all the realms and territories that made up the Russian Empire and, at the lower edge of the flag, the combined arms of his Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov dynasty. These armorial bearings were the same as in the Greater State Arms of the Russian Empire.

The central element of the flag is the crowned, double-headed Imperial Eagle carrying the sceptre and orb of the Empire and, on its breast, the arms with Saint George slaying the dragon, surrounded by the collar of the Order of Saint Andrew, the highest Russian order. On its wings the arms corresponding to a list of the Emperor’s titles:

Tsar of Kazan (a zilant), Tsar of Astrakhan (an oriental sword), Tsar of Poland (a single-headed eagle), Tsar of Siberia (two sables), Tsar of the Tauric Chersonesus (a double-headed eagle), Tsar of Georgia (Saint George and the dragon, among others), Grand Duke of Kiev, Vladimir and Novgorod (Saint Michael, a lion, a throne and two bears, respectively) and Grand Duke of Finland (a lion and roses).

At the edges of the flag, six shields surround the Imperial Eagle with arms of principalities, provinces and territories of the Empire. On an oak branch, from top to bottom: Great Russia (present-day Central Russia), Belarus and Lithuania, and the North-East (present-day Northern Russia). On a palm branch, from top to bottom: the South-West (Ukraine), the Baltic lands (e.g. Estonia, Livonia, Karelia) and Turkestan (Central Asia).

The State Colour was made of silk and adorned with different kinds of passementarie i.e. elaborate embroidery, edgings and braids, with gold and silver cords, and applications of coloured silk and gold leaf. Fringes and tassels were black, gold and silver. These are the colours of the Russian “heraldic flag”, a black-yellow-white tricolour introduced in 1858 and still used by Russian monarchists and nationalists today.

Two silk scrolls were embroidered with four important years. 862: The founding of the first Russian state by the viking Rurik. 988: The baptism of Grand Prince Vladimir the Great and the acceptance of Christianity by Kievan Rus. 1497: The introduction of a nationwide code of law by Grand Prince Ivan III; he was also the first Russian ruler to use the title Tsar and Autocrat. 1721: The founding of the Russian Empire by Peter the Great.

The year 1917 was as important as any in Russian history. The terrible World War brought about the fall of a deeply troubled monarchy. But in no way did the February Revolution and the abdication mean the end of hardship for Russia. The October Revolution, terror and civil war, decades of Communism and another World War followed. The last Tsar was killed, the legacy of the Empire and a millennium of Rurikid and Romanov rulers survived and is stronger in Russia today than for a long time.

Turkish Flag Hoisted Over Dutch Consulate

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It is a centuries old custom, respected all over the world, that flags of foreign nations fly unhindered on embassies and consular offices regardless of any local flag regulations and the state of affairs between the countries in question. That is why this morning’s events at the Golden Horn is something of a diplomatic faux pas.

On the morning of Sunday 12 March, 2017, an incident happened at the Dutch Consulate General in Istanbul. It was reported by international media that, for a while, a Turkish flag replaced the Dutch flag on the consulate’s rooftop flagpole. Apparently, a man had gained access to the roof and was able to lower the red-white-blue flag of the Netherlands and replace it with the flag of Turkey. Shortly afterwords, however, the Dutch tricolour was back in place.

This happened after days of tensions between the governments of Turkey and the Netherlands. Saturday 11 March, 2017, the Dutch government prevented Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and the Minister for Family and Social Policies, Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, from speaking to AKP supporters in Rotterdam. The Turkish government has expressed its outrage over this decision in harsh terms.

Politicians in the Netherlands and in other European countries openly express discontent with the fact that members of the Turkish government and the AKP (Justice and Development Party) leadership actively seek the support of the millions of Turkish citizens living in Europe ahead of the Turkish referendum on 16 April, 2017. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seeks to change the Turkish constitution and strengthen his power over Turkish politics.

The Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Istanbul is located in the old Beyoğlu district, just north of the Golden Horn. Pro-Erdoğan protesters have gathered outside the consulate following a night of confrontations between Turkish citizens and Dutch police in the streets of Rotterdam. The Dutch consulate in Istanbul is now being protected by Turkish police.