Muslim Bosnia

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I have recently become aware of the existence of a flag for Muslims in Bosnia. It’s green with a white crescent and star. These symbols are not purely Islamic and Ottoman in origin. In fact, they’re also related to the Illyrian heritage of the western Balkans.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is among the most diverse countries in Europe, ethnically and religiously. It’s held together by a 22-year-old peace agreement and strong outside pressure from the EU and the UN. For example, the national flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina was introduced by the UN High Representative in 1998.

On paper, the country functions as one republic with one flag. In reality, the population is heavily divided between Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. Cultural and religious divisions that existed for centuries were made physical and political by civil military conflict and many instances of war crimes and ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.

Today, half of the country is the Rebublika Srpska which is 80 % Serb and uses a red-blue-white horizontal tricolour similar to the flag of Serbia. The other half is the Federacija Bosne i Hercegovine which is three quarters Bosniak and one quarter Croat. Following a ruling by the Bosnian Constitutional Court, this part of the country has no official flag. Among Bosnian Croats, however, Croatian flags are in widespread use.

The medieval Christian Kingdom of Bosnia was conquered by the Islamic Ottoman Empire in 1463. Four centuries of Turkish rule left its mark; the history of Bosnia is full of animosity between people who share the same South Slavic language and the same beautiful land.

In 1878 the country was annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo in 1914 led to World War I. After the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of Yugoslavia. World War II brutally opened up old wounds along ethnic and ideological lines. At the beginning of the 1990s socialist federal Yugoslavia as well as multicultural Bosnia disintegrated.

Muslim Bosniaks, part of the patchwork that is the Balkans, also share in the heritage of the much larger Islamic world. The political and cultural ties which once connected Bosnia with Turkey, North Africa and the Middle East are still visible, especially in Sarajevo. Here, the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, Bosnia’s largest historical mosque, is a prime example of Ottoman architecture and an important centre for the Islamic community in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Green flags with a white crescent and star decorate the entrance to the mosque. I haven’t been there myself; I know this thanks to a holiday photo of a Facebook friend of mine, Michael Sinan Amir Aslanes, who visited Bosnia not long ago.

At first glance, these flags look like Turkish flags where the colour red have been replaced by green, the colour of Islam. They may be inspired by the national flag of Turkey, but green flags with a crescent and star were used in Bosnia already in the second half of the 18th Century in the struggle for autonomy from the Ottoman Turks, and later the Austrians and Hungarians.

Around the same time, a red flag with a white crescent and star became the flag of the Ottoman Empire. The crescent was already a long-established symbol of Islam. The inspiration to use the crescent and star together may have come from Constantinople or from the Illyrians, the ancient people of the western Balkans. Illyricum was a Roman province roughly corresponding to 20th Century Yugoslavia.

In the first half of the 19th Century the Illyrian Movement drew on the name and memory of the ancient Illyrians in an effort to unite all South Slavs. The common Serbo-Croatian language, spoken today in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, was a result of their efforts.

A star and crescent is the oldest known symbol of Croatia from the 12th Century; it can still be found in the current national flag of Croatia. A star and crescent in a field of red represented Illyria and (Christian) Bosnia in medieval (fictional) heraldry. Three stars and a crescent in a field of blue represented Slovenia in the royal arms of Yugoslavia.

So, stars and crescents have been used by both Christians and Muslims in the Balkans for hundreds of years. On a field of green, the crescent and star represent the Muslims of Bosnia.

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Cross of Saint John the Baptist

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In medieval Italy bloody battles were fought between white flags with red crosses and red flags with white crosses. The former is known as the Cross of Saint George, the latter as the Cross of Saint John the Baptist. Both flags stem from the time of the Crusades and their simple designs spread to all of Europe and the rest of the world. 

Top left: Order of Malta, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland

The state flag of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) is red with a white cross. Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of the order and the flag with the Croce di San Giovanni Battista (as it’s called in Italian) can be seen in Malta, on the SMOM headquarters in Rome and at SMOM embassies around the world. The order is a charitable organisation and a subject of international law at the same time. Since 1798 it doesn’t rule an independent territory, but the order enjoys diplomatic recognition by many countries and issues its own passports, license plates, etc.

The Order of Malta which is Roman Catholic and the different Orders of Saint John which are Protestant trace their roots back to the hospitaller knights of Jerusalem, founded around 1099 to provide medical care to pilgrims and to protect Christians against Islamic prosecution. The SMOM is the world’s oldest surviving chivalric order and its state flag, a Crusader flag basically, has remained unchanged for 700-800 years.

According to legend, the Danish flag fell from the sky during a battle in Estonia in 1219. A far more reasonable explanation for the Dannebrog with its white cross on a red field is the Crusader flags of the 12th and 13th Century. The banner of the Holy Roman Empire (Reichsfahne, in German) during this time was also red with a white cross. This early German war flag may have inspired the flags of two neighbouring nations: Denmark and Switzerland.

The Swiss city of Lugano in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino flies a white cross on red, too. Its name (Luganum, in Latin) is spelled with the letters L, V, G and A in the four quarters of the flag.

Top right: Savoy, France and Italy

A red flag with a white cross is also the popular flag of the French historical region of Savoy (Savoie, in French). Savoy borders Italy and Switzerland and for eight centuries it was ruled by the House of Savoy, one of Europe’s oldest dynasties. Amadeus III may have been the first Count of Savoy to use a Crusader flag with a white cross on red. He participated in the Second Crusade in 1147. The flag of Savoy, therefore, shares the same origins as the flags of Malta and Denmark.

The city of Chambéry is the historical capital of Savoy. The only difference between the city’s and the region’s flag is a golden 5-pointed star. Also the flag of Valence, capital of the Drôme department, have a white cross on red (with a blue tower in the centre).

The Counts, later Dukes, of Savoy extended their rule across the Alps into Northern Italy. Amadeus VI of Savoy (Savoia, in Italian) fought the Turks under a blue flag with an image of the Virgin Mary in 1366. Since then sky blue, or Savoy blue, has been the livery colour of the Savoyard dynasty.

In the 19th Century Italy was unified under the Savoyard crown. The Kingdom of Italy from 1861 till 1946 made use of the white cross on red and a border of Savoy blue. These arms appeared in the white middle stripe of Italian flags and a banner of these arms was the naval jack of Italy’s Regia Marina.

Bottom left: Veneto

Northern Italy was part of the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages. For centuries cities, towns and noble families battled over their loyalties: On one side the pro-imperial ghibellini with their German-inspired red flags with white crosses (John the Baptist’s cross), on the other side the pro-papal guelfi who used flags of reversed colours (George’s cross). For example, the cities of Milan and Genoa used and still use white flags with red crosses.

Around Venice the Croce di San Giovanni Battista is in the municipal arms of e.g. Vicenza, Mirano (with an added cross in the first quarter), Treviso (with two 8-pointed white stars) and Oderzo (with a pair of 6-pointed stars). The arms of Vicenza and Treviso appear together with arms of other provincial capitals on the tails of Veneto’s elaborate regional flag, adopted in 1975.

Bottom right: Piedmont

In the North Italian region of Piedmont (Piemonte, in Italian) flags of several cities and towns are red with white crosses. Examples of cities which have a Cross of Saint John the Baptist in its municipal arms and flag are Asti and Novara.

The regional arms of Piedmont are the same as those of the Principality of Piedmont. The heir of the Dukes of Savoy, later the Kings of Sardinia and later still the Kings of Italy used the title of Prince of Piedmont. This is why the arms of Piedmont are the same as the arms of the House of Savoy differenced with a blue so-called label. In heraldry, a label is used to mark the elder son.

In Piedmont three versions of the regional flag are in use: One which is a heraldic banner of the region’s arms, another with an added blue border and yet another which has both a border of blue as well as fringes of gold. The latter of these is the official regional flag, adopted in 1995, the most common is the version with the blue border.

 

Read also about the Cross of Saint George (Saint George’s Day) and the Cross of Saint Andrew (Saint Andrew’s Day and The Russian Connection).

Tour de France 2017

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The world’s most prestigious bicycle race is a great occasion for flag flying. Fans and spectators line the route waving lots of national and regional flags. Some of the latter may not be that well-known. So, here are the flags of the regions that the Tour passes through this year, from Düsseldorf to the finishing line 23 days and 3,500 km later in Paris. 

[A] Rhineland, [B] Wallonia, [C] Luxembourg, [D] Lorraine, [E] Franche-Comté, [F] Champagne, [G] Burgundy, [H] Savoy‚ [I] Périgord‚ [J] Guyenne‚ [K] Gascony‚ [L] Béarn‚ [M] Bigorre‚ [N] Comminges‚ [O] Foix, [P] Languedoc‚ [Q] Rouergue‚ [R] Dauphiné, [S] Provence, [T] Île-de-France.

In 2017, like so many times before, the start of the course is outside France. The Grand Départ was in Düsseldorf, Germany, with the first individual time trials. On day 2 the Tour crossed the Rhine river and passed through Aachen on its way to Liège in Belgium. In the German Rhineland region the green-white Rhineland flag [A] could be seen in the streets of Aachen, for example.

The city of Liège is in the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia. The Walloon Rooster, red on yellow, is the region’s flag [B]. Stage 3 of the race started in Verviers in the Province of Liège, passed through the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and finished in Longwy in France. The Luxembourgers often use the armorial banner of Luxembourg [C] instead of their national flag which is very similar to that of the Netherlands. Longwy is in the historical province of Lorraine whose flag is also an armorial banner based on the province’s arms [D].

On day 5 the Tour will leave Lorraine and enter the historical province of Franche-Comté [E]. On day 6 the stage ends in Troyes in the historical province of Champagne [F] and on day 7 the Tour continues through Burgundy (Bourgogne, in French) [G]. Stage 8 is in Franche-Comté close to the Swiss border.

Stage 9, the first mountain stage, ends in Chambéry in the historical province of Savoy (Savoie, in French). The iconic Savoyard flag with a white cross on red [H] looks a little like the Danish flag.

After a day of rest, the course continues on day 11 with a flat stage from Périgueux to Bergerac. Both cities are in the Dordogne department i.e. the historical region of Périgord [I]. From there, the next stage takes the Tour south across the Garonne river through Guyenne [J] and Gascony (Gascogne, in French) [K]. It ends in Pau in the historical province of Béarn [L].

On day 13 and 14 the riders will climb the Pyrenees and pass through the historical regions of Bigorre [M], Comminges [N] and Foix [O]. The flag of Foix is an armorial banner with three so-called pales, red on gold, not to be confused with the flag of Provence which has four red pales on gold [S].

Stage 14 of the course stretches from Blagnac, a suburb of Toulouse, to Rodez, capital of the Aveyron department and the Rouergue region. Historically Rouergue was part of Guyenne. So, as on the flag of Guyenne [J], there is a golden lion on red in the flag of Rouergue [Q]. Both Toulouse and Le Puy-en-Velay, at the end of stage 15, are in the historical Languedoc region. The regional flag is red with a yellow Cross of Toulouse, or Occitan Cross [P]. This symbol is very popular in Languedoc and in others parts of southern France which are culturally and linguistically Occitan.

After yet another rest day, stage 16 of the course reaches across the Rhône river to the historical province of Dauphiné. The flag of Dauphiné has the fleurs-de-lys of the French kings and the dolphin of the heirs to the French throne [R]. The traditional title of a French crown prince, Dauphin, originated in this region in the 14th Century.

The steep mountain roads of the French Alps awaits the riders on stage 17 and 18, and the Tour enters Provence for the first time [S]. Stage 19, the longest this year with 222 km, starts in Embrun in the Alpine valleys of Dauphiné and ends in Salon-de-Provence. The second individual time trial will be in Marseille, the largest city in Provence.

The last leg on day 23 of the 2017 Tour is in the region of Île-de-France and, traditionally, the finishing line is on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in the centre of Paris. The fleurs-de-lys of the old Kingdom of France appear in the regional flag of Île-de-France [T].

 

Read also: Tour de France: A Festival of Regional Flags.