Soviet Republics

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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National, cultural and historical references in the flag designs were kept at a minimum.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!”.

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.

The Russian Connection

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In 1698 Tsar Peter the Great established the Order of Saint Andrew. The X-shaped cross of Russia’s patron saint became an integral part of Russian naval flag design and inspired a number of naval jacks and ensigns in countries around the world.

The naval ensign of the Russian Federation, also know in Russian as “the Andreyevsky flag”, has a blue saltire (a diagonal cross, or a Saint Andrew’s cross) on white. It was designed by Tsar Peter personally and in its present form it has been Russia’s naval ensign since the 1710s (except from the time between the Communist Revolution and the fall of the Soviet Union). It is used by the Russian Navy and on board its warships, submarines and auxiliary vessels.

The Russian naval jack and fortress flag also originated in the 1710s during the reign of Peter the Great. It is a red flag with a white narrow cross on which is superimposed a blue saltire with white edges. The jack is flown from the bow of a naval vessel when it’s moored or at anchor. The fortress flag is raised on a flagpole at coastal fortresses and naval shore installations.

The Russian Coast Guard ensign is green and also has on it the blue saltire with white edges. The flag is used by all Coast Guard vessels. The Coast Guard is part of the border force of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).

The flag of Arkhangelsk Oblast, adopted in 2009, has the provincial coat of arms and a blue saltire on white. The oblast, or province, is the home of Russia’s largest naval shipyard. The city of Arkhangelsk lies where the Northern Dvina river meets the White Sea. It is the most important harbour on the country’s northern coastline.

The naval jack of Uruguay shares two features with the country’s national flag: “The Sun of May” is in the centre, and the colours of the national flag are arranged as a blue saltire on white.

The naval ensign of Belgium has a saltire of black-yellow-red, the three colours from the Belgien national flag, with an anchor, two crossed cannons and a crown, all in black.

The naval jack of Bulgaria has the three colours of the Bulgarian national flag, but with a different design: A white background with a red cross superimposed on a green saltire.

The naval jack of Estonia also has the colours of the national flag arranged differently: A blue cross on a black saltire, all on a white background.

The naval ensign of Georgia has a white saltire on a red cross, all on blue. This flag is the youngest naval ensign of what could be called “the Andreyevsky naval flag family”. It came into use in 2004 at the same time as the national flag of Georgia was changed to its present design.

 

 

This is part 2 in a series about Saint Andrew’s crosses in flags. Read also Saint Andrew’s Day.