2017 in Flag History: Mauritania’s New Flag

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This year, one of world’s 193 UN member states made changes to its national flag: The Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Two red horizontal bands were added to its flag, effective from 15 August 2017. The changes have been criticized because the President of Mauritania failed to include the country’s opposition in the decision and because of low voter turnout in the flag referendum on 5 August 2017.

It was in 2016 that the President of Mauritania, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, announced that  a referendum on constitutional changes and changes to the country’s national flag and national anthem would be held before the end of the year.

“Two red stripes will be added to the top and bottom of the national flag to honour the sacrifice of the nation’s martyrs,” it said in the accord from the 2016 political talks ment to end years of political instability in Mauritania. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, twice elected as President of Mauritania, has also lead two military coups against two of his presidential predecessors.

Read my report from 2016 on the announced changes to the Mauritanian flag.

However, the process of changing the constitution and the national symbols was delayed, not least because of opposition from the Senate which was to be abolished. Opposition parties and political opponents of the President rejected the referendum altogether.

In the national referendum on 5 August 2017, 85 % voted in favour of constitutional changes and changes to the national symbols. However, voter turnout was only about 50 %, so the changes can’t be said to have widespread national support.

The changes to the national flag and the national anthem have been criticized as a mere political gesture compared to the much larger issues facing the nation. Many Mauritanians suffer the consequences of unemployment, malnutrition, corruption and the government’s abuse of power. Even slavery remains a problem in parts of the Mauritanian society. Only in 2007 did Mauritania become the last African country to criminalize slavery.

From a vexillological point of view, Mauritania’s new flag is less remarkable and less unique than the old flag. The now defunct national flag of Mauritania, in use from 1959 till 2017, was made up of only two colours: green and yellow. Thus, it was one of only a few national flags in the world which doesn’t contain the three most common flag colours: red, white and blue.

As of August 2017, only Jamaica has a national flag which doesn’t feature either of the colours red, white or blue.

Read more about 2017 in flag history: The Philadelphia Pride Flag.

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

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The Danish flag will be displayed permanently in the Danish parliament from 2017. Controversial as this may be in Denmark, use of the national flag inside a national parliament is perfectly normal in almost all of Denmark’s neighbouring countries.

It has been announced that the flag of Denmark, the Dannebrog, will be displayed permanently in the meeting hall of the Danish Parliament, the Folketing. This change will take effect at the official opening of the next legislative session, on the first Tuesday of October 2017.

At the opening of the present legislative session in October 2016 a large, swallow-tailed Danish splitflag hung vertically behind the Speaker’s chair. This was a temporary measure because of repairs to the tapestry usually hanging in that place. The decision caused lots of debate in parliament and on social media. The announcement from the Folketing yesterday has reignited the debate.

Danes would be hard pressed to explain to foreigners why the use of the Dannebrog in the Danish parliament is such a contentious subject. Especially, since almost all of the countries that Denmark likes to compare itself to display their national flags inside their national parliaments.

Some of the debate, it seems, centres around the fact that permanent use of the flag in the Folketing has been championed by the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti). Its former leader, Pia Kjærsgaard, is the present Speaker, or President, of the Danish parliament. Being highly sceptical of the European Union and of immigration, the Danish People’s Party see itself as a defender of Danish sovereignty, language etc.

In the future, the Dannebrog will not be hanging vertically behind the Speaker’s chair. Rather, it will be hoisted on a flagpole positioned near the Speaker’s chair. Deputy Speaker Christian Juhl of the left-wing Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten), who was very critical last October, has said that he can live with this decision.

It is worth noting that by flying the flag in the legislative assembly, Denmark would do exactly the same as Greenland and the Faroe Islands. The flag of Greenland, Erfalasorput, can be seen in the Greenlandic parliament, Inatsisartut, and the flag of the Faroe Islands, Merkið, in the Faroese parliament, Løgtingið.

A flagpole with the national flag is placed near the Speaker’s chair in the parliaments of Iceland, Germany and Latvia. In the Estonian parliament, a table flag is standing at the Speaker’s left hand. In the Polish Sejm and the Lithuanian Seimas, a large national flag is displayed vertically behind the Speaker’s chair. In the parliament of Åland, there are no less than four Ålandic flags.

Also in the plenary hall of Sweden’s Riksdag, their is a Swedish flag. For six months in 2009, during the Swedish presidency of the European Union, there was an EU flag, too. In the German Bundestag and in many other parliaments of EU countries, the EU flag is displayed permanently next to the national flag. That is not likely to happen in Denmark’s Folketing, especially not with Ms Kjærsgaard in the Speaker’s chair.

 

Read also: Parliament Opens Amid Flag Debate

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.”

 

Read about the result of the Mauritanian flag referendum in 2017 here.

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