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National, cultural and historical references in the flag designs were kept at a minimum.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


The NFL Quarterback Who Took A Stand By Not Standing


Colin Kaepernick started a movement when he refused to stand for the U.S. flag and anthem before a game. But his stand was also met with outrage. It’s controversial to politicize the few symbols which unify a nation.

At a game in August 2016 Colin Kaepernick, a San Francisco 49ers quarterback, sat during the national anthem as a protest against police killings. Since 2015 a number of deaths of young black men during police arrests have been the cause of renewed debate about inner city crime, police education and procedures, and racial issues in America.

Kaepernick decided to stand up for what the Black Lives Matter movement has described as “victims of unaccountable police murders” in sitting down or kneeling during the singing of the anthem.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he explained.

Over the last three months other professional athletes have also chosen not to stand for the national anthem. According to ThinkProgress, in November 2016 the protests have spread to “at least 48 NFL players, nine NBA teams, 14 WNBA players, one gold medal swimmer, one pro women’s soccer player, 52 high schools, 39 colleges, one middle school, and two youth football teams in 35 states across the United States”.

There is a long history in the U.S. of sports figures using their position to make political statements. While obviously having the right to express himself freely, Kaepernick has been criticized for explaining his stance at a press conference wearing a shirt with an image of Cuban Communist dictator Fidel Castro, a notorious enemy of free speech. According to teleSUR, Kaepernick announced that he did not vote in the November 2016 election “as that would have been a show of support for a system of oppression”.

Kaepernick, it has been noted, speaks from a position of very little oppression, himself being a succesfull and very well-payed black man. 29-year old Colin Kaepernick is the son of a white woman and a black man who left the family before Colin’s birth. He was given up for adoption and raised by a white family living in Wisconsin, later California.

In September at a CNN presidential town hall President Barack Obama commented, saying that he respects Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem:

“Well, as I’ve said before, I believe that us honoring our flag and our anthem is part of what binds us together as a nation. But I also always try to remind folks that part of what makes this country special is that we respect people’s rights to have a different opinion.”

“The test of our fidelity to our Constitution, to freedom of speech, to our Bill of Rights, is not when it’s easy, but when it’s hard,” he continued. “We fight sometimes so that people can do things that we disagree with.”

At big sports events in the U.S. it is tradition that everyone present stand for the national anthem. The U.S. flag will always be displayed in some form. The solemnity of the moment would also imply respect for fallen service men and women and confirm an unspoken collective commitment to the unity of a diverse nation.

President Obama was clearly mindful of this when, on CNN, he addressed the issue of the protesters who refuse to stand for the flag:

“I want them to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat.”


This is part 3 in a series on American flag culture, November 2016. Read also:
The Rainbow Flag
The Thin Blue Line
Remarkably Few U.S. Flags At Protests, Flag Burnings Reported