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National, cultural and historical references in the flag designs were kept at a minimum.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

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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.

 

Return of the Empress

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Ten years ago, Empress Maria Feodorovna found her final resting place in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The golden standard of the Russian Empresses covered her coffin on its journey from Denmark where she died in exile almost 78 years earlier.

Empress Maria Feodorovna died far from her beloved Russia in her villa north of Copenhagen, Denmark, on 13 October 1928, 80 years old. She was the widow of Alexander III, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. In 1919 she was forced to leave Russia following the Communist revolution.

Maria Feodorovna first set foot on Russian soil in September 1866 at the age of 18. She arrived in Saint Petersburg on board a Danish warship as the bride-to-be of the young Tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich who later became Emperor Alexander III. She had already converted to the Russian Orthodox Church and very early on she came to regard Russia as her home.

Following the assassination in 1881 of Emperor Alexander II, Alexander III ascended the thrown. He and Maria Feodorovna were crowned in 1883 at the Kremlin, Moscow. The couple had six children. Their happy marriage ended in 1894 when Alexander III died at the age of 49.

Maria Feodorovna became much loved in Russia and played the role of Empress Dowager to perfection. Her eldest son became Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor.

Before marrying in Russia the Empress was known as Princess Dagmar of Denmark. She came from a large and close-knit family. King Christian IX of Denmark was her father. King George I of Greece was her brother. King Christian X of Denmark and Iceland and King Haakon VII of Norway were her nephews. Her sister Alexandra was the wife of Edward VII, King of Great Britain and Ireland, Emperor of India.

It was thanks to a British warship that Maria Feodorovna was able to get out of revolutionary Russia alive. During her stay in Crimea she had received the news of the murders of her sons, Nicholas and Michael, and of her daughter-in-law and her five grandchildren. For the rest of her life she refused to accept that they had been brutally killed by the Communists.

In 2006 after many years of planning it was finally possible to transfer the body of Empress Maria Feodorovna to Russia. She had been temporarily interred in the Cathedral of Roskilde, the main burial site for the Danish royal family. On 23 September 2006 a service there marked the beginning of the Empress’ last journey. Again, a Danish warship sailed her to Saint Petersburg.

On 28 September 2006 Maria Feodorovna was interred in the Peter and Paul Fortress on the River Neva in the former capital of the Russian Empire, next to the grave of her husband and in close proximity to the graves of Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

Fittingly, the Empress of Russia’s Standard covered the coffin on her last sea voyage. This flag is a swallow-tailed version of the Imperial Russian Naval Standard adopted by Emperor Peter the Great and changed very little over the years:

On a background of gold, a black double-headed eagle, crowned with three Imperial crowns, on its chest an inescutcheon, red with the mounted Saint George slaying a black dragon, surrounded by the collar of the Order of Saint Andrew. In its beaks and and claws the eagle holds four nautical charts showing the “four seas of Russia” – the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

Merry Christmas twice a year

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Millions of Christians all over the world celebrate Christmas in January. Yes, there is more than one Christmas Day. This has to do with the fact that there is more than one calendar in use in the Christian world. For the time being there is no sign of Christian unity on this issue.

Most Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25. In some countries the evening before Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, overshadows the day itself. At Christmas families and friends come together, eat traditional Christmas food and exchange presents. Some also sing Christmas carols and decorates a Christmas tree.

Across the world you would find many Christmas traditions and rituals. Church services in the middle of the night. Gifts for children put in stockings. Nativity scenes and nativity plays. Different kinds of music, clothing, lighting, decorations and food. Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Grandfather Frost.

Most Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7. Accordingly, December 25 ― where Catholic and Protestant Christians (and some Orthodox churches, to make matters more complicated) celebrate Christmas ― is a rather normal winter day in Russia, for example.

All Christians consider December 25 to be the day when Christ was born. Why don’t all Christians celebrate that on the same date? Confused? The thing is: The date December 25 in different religious calendars falls on different days in the ‘normal’ calendar.

The majority of Orthodox churches still adhere to the Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar, as basis for their liturgical calendars and calculation of movable feasts. Today the Gregorian calendar is the most widely used calendar in the world. Introduced by pope Gregory XIII in 1582, it is more closely synchronized to the ‘real’, astronomical year.

Today, in the 21st Century, the Julian calendar is 13 days ‘behind’ the Gregorian. Therefore, Christmas celebrations in Gregorian calendar churches and in Julian calendar churches are almost two weeks apart.

Really, Christmas comes twice a year! – So, Merry Christmas everyone!

Christmas is celebrated in January by Orthodox Christians in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Georgia, Armenia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea and in the Levant. This last group include some of the Orthodox churches in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. The rest of the Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas in December (i.e. Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Finland as well as Orthodox Christians in Asia Minor, Egypt and in the Levant who recognize the leadership of the Roman Catholic pope or the Greek Orthodox patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antiochia and Jerusalem.)

Church leaders more than once tried to unite Christianity under one calendar. So far, Christian unity on this issue has remained a dream. Theological, political and national differences aside, maybe it just is very difficult to change old habits. Christmas could be one of the most difficult habits to change, laden as it is with traditions, meaning and memories for both young and old.