Soviet Republics

Skærmbillede 2017-07-31 kl. 00.21.00

In the highly centralized, one-party-ruled Soviet Union (USSR) ethnic, religious and linguistic differences were played down and even suppressed. Accordingly, the flags of the Soviet republics were designed not to look too distinct from each other and not to be too heavily rooted in the history and culture of each republic.

In 1947, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR recommended that the Union’s republics adopt national flags. The constituent republics adopted such flags in the years 1950-1954. The design of all these flags adhered strictly to guidelines laid down by central authorities. So, in the end, the flags of the Soviet republics became quite similar to that of the Soviet Union.

Like the flag of the USSR, a red flag with a golden hammer and sickle emblem under a gold-bordered red star, the flags of the republics were also predominantly red. All but one, they had the star, hammer and sickle in gold; only on the flag of the Georgian SSR the emblem was red, on a blue sun with red rays. The distinguishing features of these flags were vertical and horizontal stripes or wavy lines in the colours blue, green and white. To an untrained eye, the flags of the Soviet republics looked remarkably alike.

National, cultural and historical references in the flag designs were kept at a minimum. So, for example, the flag of the Belorussian SSR had a vertical stripe of a traditional pattern at the hoist. The Usbek, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Azerbaijani Soviet republics had a stripe of blue or sky blue, a colour traditionally representing Turkic peoples. The red-white-green in the flag of the Tajik SSR are the Pan-Iranian colours, but the colours were also ment to stand for Tajikistan’s agriculture and cotton production.

At the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 there were 15 republics. Today, only two of the now independent former USSR republics use the old flags: Transnistria, officially the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, refused to leave the Soviet Union together with the majority of the Moldavian SSR, now Moldova, and 25 years later this small strip of land is a mostly unrecognized republic which uses exactly the same flag as the Moldovan SSR. The present flag of Belarus is a slight modification of the flag of the Belarussian SSR.

In the heyday of the USSR, the flags of the Soviet republics were on the album covers of several different singles, EPs and LPs with recordings of the national anthem of the Soviet Union and oftentimes also the anthems of the 15 republics and the international Socialist anthem The Internationale. They were released from Melodiya (Μелодия), the major state-owned record label of the USSR.

On the cover in the picture, the 15 flags are arranged in rows of three. From left to right, beginning with the largest of the Soviet republics, 1: The Russian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Belarussian SSR. 2: The Uzbek SSR, the Kazakh SSR, the Georgian SSR. 3: The Lithuanian SSR, the Azerbaijani SSR, the Moldavian SSR. 4: The Kyrgyz SSR, the Latvian SSR, the Tajik SSR. 5: The Armenian SSR, the Turkmen SSR, the Estonian SSR.

On the albums with national anthems were typically also the Soviet Union’s state coat of arms with the Communist red star and the hammer and sickle over the globe and the rising sun. The emblem was surrounded by a wreath of wheat and a red ribbon with the Union’s motto in Russian and the other official languages of its constituent republics: “Workers of the world, unite!”.


Muslim Bosnia

Skærmbillede 2017-07-18 kl. 22.09.53

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.

Cross of Saint John the Baptist

Skærmbillede 2017-06-21 kl. 21.32.51

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

Skærmbillede 2017-07-04 kl. 12.57.46

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.

How stars on state flags tell U.S. history

Skærmbillede 2017-05-12 kl. 14.58.59

It may not be easy to spot from a distance, but the number of stars on U.S. state flags matters. Following the original thirteen, all other states were admitted to the Union between 1791 and 1959. Count the stars and you’ll see that, for example, Indiana became the 19th state and Oregon the 33rd.

Ohio: The 17 stars in the Ohio flag symbolize that Ohio was the 17th state of the Union. Ohio was admitted in 1803, the fourth state after the original 13. The state flag was adopted in 1902. Its colors and 5-pointed stars come from the U.S. flag. The triangle and stripes suggest Ohio’s hills and valleys, roads and waterways. The white circle with the red disc is an O, the first letter in the state’s name, and also evokes the state’s nickname, “the Buckeye State”.

Indiana: The state flag of Indiana is dark blue with a gold torch surrounded by 19 stars. The 13 stars in the outer circle represent the original U.S. states. The biggest star with the state’s name in capital letters represent the state of Indiana which was admitted to the Union in 1816 as the 19th state. The torch stands for enlightenment and liberty. Indiana’s state flag was adopted in 1917, originally as the state banner.

Missouri: The State of Missouri became the 24th U.S. state when it was admitted to the Union in 1821. The Missourian flag was adopted in 1913. It is a horizontal tricolor of red-white-blue with the state seal in the middle. Both in the seal and surrounding the seal on the flag there are 24 stars showing that Missouri is the 24th state.

Arkansas: The state flag of Arkansas, adopted in 1913 and later modified, has a white diamond with a blue border on a red field. 25 white stars and four blue stars are arranged around the name of the state. The white stars on the diamond’s border represent the fact that Arkansas was admitted to the Union in 1836 as the 25th U.S. state. The blue stars represent the four nations that Arkansas has belonged to: Spain, France, the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. Arkansas was among the seceding states in 1861 and the colors and design of the state flag resembles the Confederate Battle Flag.

Minnesota: The first state flag of Minnesota is from 1893, the present version is from 1983. It is blue and has on it the state seal, the state’s name, the year 1858, 19 gold stars and a wreath of Pink and White Ladys’ Slippers, the state flower of Minnesota. The state was admitted to the Union as the 32nd state in 1858. The 19 stars on the state flag alludes to the fact that Minnesota is the 19th U.S. state following the original 13 states.

Oregon: There are 33 stars in the state seal of Oregon. They also appear on the obverse of the state’s flag together with the name of the state and the year 1859. Oregon’s is the only double-sided state flag in the U.S. On the reverse of the flag there is a beaver, the state animal. The state flag of Oregon was adopted in 1925. Oregon was admitted to the Union in 1859 as the 33th state.

Kansas: The state flag of Kansas is similar to that of Oregon. It is also dark blue and has on it the seal and name of the state. Above the seal there is a sunflower, the state flower. On the seal there are 34 stars because Kansas was admitted to the Union as the 34th state in 1861. The state flag is from 1927 and was modified in 1961.

Nevada: Nevada became a U.S. state in 1864 during the American Civil War. Hence the motto “Battle Born” on the state flag. The flag is dark blue and has a white star, representing the U.S. state born in wartime, and two sprays of sagebrush, the state flower of Nevada. The present version of the Nevada state flag is from 1991.

Utah: As so many other U.S. states Utah sports the state seal on a dark blue state flag. Some versions of this state flag, officially adopted in 2011, have exactly 45 stars divided between the two U.S. flags behind the shield in the middle of the seal. Utah was the 45th state to be admitted to the Union in 1896. The year 1896 appears on the seal together with the year 1847. The first Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

Trooping the Colour 2017

Skærmbillede 2017-06-05 kl. 23.17.15

The Queen’s Birthday Parade in London on Saturday 17 June is the 65th of her reign. Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Sapphire Jubilee and this year it’s the 1st Battalion Irish Guards which troops its Queen’s Colour in the prestigious Trooping the Colour parade. 

Each battalion of infantry regiments in the British Army has two standards: the Regimental Colour and the Queen’s Colour.

A colour is a flag for military and ceremonial use mounted and fixed to a pike, usually with nails, and adorned with different kinds of embroidery, fringes and tassels, often with gold cords, and usually has a guilded ornament at the top of the pike. A colour is proportioned so it can be carried by one man.

The tradition of military units carrying large, colourful and elaborately decorated standards stems from the time when communication on the battlefield couldn’t be done any other way. “Trooping the colour” originally meant to parade the commander’s standard through the ranks of soldiers to let them know what to look for in the heat of battle.

In the UK there are five Foot Guards regiments: the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards and the Welsh Guards. The battalions of these five regiments take turns leading the Queen’s Birthday Parade which always takes place on Horse Guards Parade at St. James’s Park in London on a Saturday in June.

At the centre of this year’s Trooping the Colour is the Queen’s Colour of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards. On the crimson silk standard there are 21 woven battle honours. These are the names of battles and campaigns where the regiment has fought with distinction:

Retreat from Mons. Marne 1914. Aisne 1914. Ypres 1914:17. Festubert 1915. Loos. Somme 1916:18. Cambrai 1917-18. Hazebrouck. Hindenberg Line. Norway 1940. Boulogne 1940. Mont Pincon. Neerpelt. Nijmegen. Rhineland. NW Europe 1944-45. Djebel bou Aoukaz 1945. North Africa 1943. Anzio. Iraq 2003.

The Irish Guards was established in 1900 by Queen Victoria and the regiment has fought in both World Wars and other military conflicts. Guardsmen of the Irish Guard carry out guard duty at the royal palaces but also serve as ordinary infantry soldiers, in the UK and abroad.

The central element on the Queen’s Colour of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards is the crowned royal cypher of Queen Elizabeth II, E II R, surrounded by the collar of the Order of Saint Patrick with Irish harps, gold knots and red-white Tudor roses. The order’s badge, suspended from the collar, has a green shamrock on a Saint Patrick’s Cross i.e. a red saltire on white.

The Order of Saint Patrick was established in 1783 for the Kingdom of Ireland as an equivalent to the Order of the Garter in England and the Order of the Thistle in Scotland. The order still exists, but no knights of the order have been created for more than eighty years. Since the partition of Ireland the Order of Saint Patrick has been dormant and there are no plans to revive it.

The Irish Guard keeps the symbols of this order alive, however. Not only on its Queen’s Colour, but also the regimental badge of the Irish Guards is the star of the Order of Saint Patrick and the regimental motto is the same as that of the order: Quis Separabit? Who shall separate us?

Scottish Isle of Barra Mourns Teenage Terror Victim with Island Flag

Skærmbillede 2017-06-05 kl. 20.53.36

The Barra flag is not yet officially registered, but it enjoys a great deal of local support on the small island in the Outer Hebrides. The tragic death of a teenage girl from Barra in the Manchester Arena bombing has made the island’s green and white Nordic Cross flag more widely known.

A 14-year-old schoolgirl, Eilidh MacLeod, from the island of Barra in the Western Isles of Scotland was one of the 22 adults and children who were killed in the Manchester bombing on 22 May 2017. Her friend, 15-year-old Laura MacIntyre, also from Barra, was critically injured in the Islamist terrorist attack and is still fighting for her life.

A week ago today, on Monday 5 June, Eilidh MacLeod’s funeral service was held in the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Castlebay, the main village on Barra. Hundreds of mourners, many of them her relatives and childhood friends, participated in the funeral procession to Vatersay, a small island adjacent to Barra, where she was laid to rest.

Barra has a population of around 1,000. Vatersay, connected to Barra by a short causeway, is the southernmost inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides. The islands have a large percentage of Gaelic speakers and the Outer Hebrides, or Western Isles, comprise the only Scottish local government area with a Gaelic-only name: Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

For some time now a Nordic Cross flag has been in widespread but unofficial use on Barra. It is green with a white cross. Like other islands and traditional counties in the northern and western parts of Scotland the isle of Barra has found flag inspiration in its Norse heritage and cultural ties to Scandinavia.

The exact design of the island’s flag has not yet been decided. Hence the shade of the green colour and the shape of the cross still vary. In order to be official the Barra flag must be registered with the highest heraldic and vexillological authority in Scotland: the Court of the Lord Lyon.

A formal registration is to be expected at some point in the future. The effort to get the flag of Barra officially recognized is supported by Alasdair Allan, a minister in the SNP government and the member of the Scottish Parliament for the Western Isles since 2007. In 2016 he commented:

“The feeling at the initial meeting was that recognition of the flag would help boost the island’s marketing efforts as well as celebrate its unique identity. There is already widespread use of Barra’s flag which can already be seen flying from fishing boats, on local produce and on car stickers.”

When a chartered plane with Eilidh MacLeod’s coffin landed on the beach runway of Barra Airport on Saturday 3 June the coffin was covered in the Barra flag. The green and white flag of Barra was flying at half mast when the young girl’s funeral procession passed her local school two days later.


Read also The Flag That Could Have Been Greenland’s. Sven Tito Achen’s design for a Greenlandic flag in 1985 was also green with a white Nordic Cross.

Copenhagen 1892: Flags at the Royal Golden Wedding Anniversary

Skærmbillede 2017-06-07 kl. 12.31.31

The last time there was a royal golden wedding anniversary in Denmark was in 1892. A flag decorated Copenhagen celebrated the happy marriage of King Christian IX and Queen Louise. Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, their daughter, may have inspired a peculiar Saint Andrew’s cross flag: a merger of a Nordic swallow-tailed flag and a Russian naval ensign.

This photograph from 1892 shows a festively decorated building on the corner of Vesterbrogade and Frederiksberg Allé, two streets in Vesterbro close to the centre of Copenhagen. A number of different flags can be detected, some of them quite out of the ordinary.

Most of the flags are Danish flags, a number of them swallow-tailed. These are not naval or state flags, though. Since the 19th Century the swallow-tailed Dannebrog (the so-called splitflag) has been in wide-spread unofficial use at wedding parties, birthday celebrations etc.

There are also Norwegian and Swedish swallow-tailed flags in the black and white photo (Sweden’s blue and yellow appear a little lighter than Denmark’s red and white). Erroneously, the Norwegian and Swedish flags have two swallow tails like the Danish flag. In Norway and Sweden three tails is the norm.

The white flags with a Saint Andrew’s cross appear to be some sort of Russian flags. A white flag with a blue saltire is the naval ensign of Russia. On the building in the picture, these unofficial Russian flags are swallow-tailed like the Nordic flags.

On 26 May 1892, Christian IX and Louise had been happily married for 50 years and had been King and Queen of Denmark for more than half that time. The golden wedding celebrations in Copenhagen lasted for days. Photos and paintings from the time show that streets and houses and ships were decorated with literally thousands of flags, put up by the authorities and by private citizens.

King Christian IX and Queen Louise were known as “Europe’s parents-in-law” because their children married into prominent royal families all around the continent.

Their eldest sons became King Frederik VIII of Denmark and King George I of Greece. Their youngest son, Prince Valdemar, was suggested as a possible king of Bulgaria in 1887 and of Norway in 1905. Among their three daughters, Alexandra was married to Britain’s King Edward VII and Dagmar was married to Russia’s Emperor Alexander III. She was known as Maria Feodorovna in Russia and was the mother of the last tsar, Nicholas II.

A large number of King Christian’s and Queen Louise’s children, grandchildren, relatives and in-laws as well as foreign dignitaries gathered in Copenhagen for the celebrations. The Russian imperial yacht, the Polar Star (in Russian, Полярная звезда), lay at anchor in the harbour. The vessel was in Copenhagen not only at this occation, but rather often in fact, as the Empress loved to visit her parents and always travelled from Saint Petersburg to Denmark by ship.

Manned and commanded by the Russian Navy the imperial yacht of course flew the Russian naval ensign. This fact may explain why the Saint Andrew’s cross would have been known and used by Copenhageners to represent Russia in flag decorations in 1892.

125 years later, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, a great-great granddaughter of King Christian IX and Queen Louise, celebrates her royal golden wedding anniversary. It was on 10 June 1967 that Princess Margrethe, then heir to the Danish throne, married Henri de Laborde de Monpezat, today known as Prince Henrik of Denmark.

Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik have decided to celebrate their wedding anniversary in private with their family away from rolling TV cameras. So, there will be no public festivities in Copenhagen today and, it’s safe to say, far fewer flags than in 1892.

Saint George’s Day

Skærmbillede 2017-04-23 kl. 20.41.46

April 23 is Saint George’s Day. The legendary Roman officer who was killed for his Christian faith became a popular saint at the time of the Crusades. Saint George, knight and dragon slayer, is the patron saint of many countries, towns and cities around the world. A red cross on white is Saint George’s flag.

Top left: England

The flag of England is the Saint George’s cross, red on white. It has been connected to England since the Middle Ages. Saint George is the patron saint of England and of the most prestigious order of knighthood in the United Kingdom, the Order of the Garter.

The City of London combines the cross of Saint George and the sword of Saint Paul in its arms and flag; the Apostle Paul is the patron saint of London. In the Midlands, the city of Lincoln has a fleur-de-lys, a heraldic lily symbolizing the Virgin Mary, on its Saint George’s flag. In the North, the city of York has five lions on its Saint George’s cross; they derive from the royal arms of England.

Top right: The Channel Islands, Germany

The Channel Islands off the coast of Normandy have been dependencies of the English Crown since medieval times. The flag of Guernsey combines the Saint George’s cross of England with a so-called Norman cross. The flag of Alderney has the island’s arms in the middle of the cross.

In southwestern Germany, the city of Freiburg im Breisgau has a red cross on a white background both on its arms and its flag. The city of Koblenz, in the Rhineland, has a similar flag, but here a golden crown rests on the cross.

The red cross on white in the arms of Koblenz derives from the arms of the Archbishopric-Electorate of Trier, one of the more important states in medieval Germany. The much smaller Prince-Bishoprics of Constance, on the border of Switzerland, and Paderborn, in Westphalia, also used a red cross on white.

Bottom left: Liguria, Sardinia, Veneto, Piedmont

For centuries the Saint George’s cross was the sign of the Republic of Genoa, one of the major maritime powers in medieval Europe. The red cross on white is still in the flag of the city of Genoa, regional capital of Liguria.

The flag of Sardinia has a Saint George’s cross and four so-called Moor’s heads. This flag also goes back to medieval times and is a reminder of the Aragonese victory over the Muslim Moors in the battle of El Puig in 1237. In Spain, the Saint George’s cross with Moor’s heads is called the Cruz de Alcoraz in memory of another Aragonese victory against the Moors in 1096. According to legend, Saint George appeared on the battlefield in both battles.

Sardinia was once one of the countries of the Crown of Aragon. Saint George’s cross also plays an important role in flags and heraldry of the Spanish regions which were under the Aragonese Crown. Saint George is the patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia and Majorca.

Saint George’s cross is in the arms and flags of numerous cities and towns in Northern Italy. In Veneto: Padua, for example. In Piedmont: Alba, Alessandria, Ivrea, Vercelli and many others. Alba spells out its name in the four corners of the cross.

Bottom right: Canada, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna

The English Saint George’s flag travelled across the seas with English settlers. In Canada, the city flag of Montreal, capital of Quebec, has a Saint George’s cross surrounded by four symbols of the city’s heritage: a fleur-de-lys for France, a rose for England, a thistle for Scotland and a shamrock for Ireland.

Back across the Atlantic in Italy, the red cross on white features in the flags of two cities that are also regional capitals: Milan in Lombardy and Bologna in Emilia-Romagna. The Duchy of Milan which dominated Northern Italy in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance flew Saint George’s cross. In Milan, the red cross may go back as far as the 10th Century.

The city of Reggio nell’Emilia, also in the Emilia-Romagna region, surrounds the Saint George’s cross with the letters SPQR. This is a Latin abbreviation for Senate and People of Regium (Reggio, in Latin).

In both Lombardy and Liguria, the red cross on a white background is seen, at least by some, as an alternative to the official regional flags. The argument is that the Saint George’s cross link these regions more closely to their history and cultural traditions.


Read also about the Cross of Saint John the Baptist which is red flag with a white cross.

Bavarian – A New Flag Family?

Skærmbillede 2017-04-21 kl. 06.27.18

You already know these flag families: Nordic Cross, Pan-Slavic, Pan-Arab, Pan-African. Also, flags around the world have been inspired by the Stars & Stripes, the Communist red flag, the Dutch and French tricolours, and the UN flag. I ask: Will Bavaria’s flag design with the iconic lozenges spread and become a new flag family?

The German state of Bavaria has two official flags which are both white and blue, the Bavarian state colours, or Landesfarben: One with two horizontal stripes called the Streifenflagge and another with a lozengy pattern called the Rautenflagge.

A lozenge (in German: Raute) is a rhombus, a geometric shape with four equally long sides, with acute angles of less than 90°. Lozenges or lozengy patterns is a well known feature in heraldry. The lozengy flag of Bavaria is derived from the arms of the Bavarian Royal Family, the Wittelsbachs, who have used the white and blue lozenges (in strict heraldic terms: fusilly in bend argent and azure) since the 13th Century.

Both the striped and the lozengy flag are in use in Bavaria and represent the state in the rest of Germany and abroad. But the flag with lozenges, being graphically more distinct and original than the one with stripes, has become the most widespread and is seen in a wide range of versions: with or without the officially prescribed number of lozenges (at least 21), with or without the Bavarian coat of arms, etc.

The lozengy design has for a long time been a symbol of Bavaria, one might even call it an iconic brand. The white and blue lozenges can be seen on all kinds of Bavarian produce. Maybe this is the reason why the lozengy flag design has spread in resent years.

Flags with black and yellow lozenges are being used in the Bavarian capital of Munich. The city’s colours are black and yellow and come from the city’s arms: a monk dressed in black and yellow. The official flag of Munich has two horizontal stripes, but the lozengy version is popular, too.

A Bavarian style version of the Gay Pride Flag with rainbow coloured lozenges is also in use.

It is perhaps most remarkable that the lozengy flag design has spread to a region of Bavaria which is not really Bavarian. Franconia (in German: Franken) covers the northern third of the state of Bavaria and is culturally and linguistically distinct from Bavaria proper in the south. Most of historical Franconia was incorporated into Bavaria in the beginning of the 19th Century, but there are also areas in the German states of Baden-Württemberg and Thuringia where people speak the Franconian dialect.

Franconia has its own regional flag (die Frankenflagge) with horizontal stripes, red and white, and the regional arms, the so-called Franconian Rake (der fränkische Rechen). This flag is common in the region. A version of the Franconian flag with a red-white lozengy pattern is also commercially available. Will the Bavarian lozenges spread further?