Wednesday, May 11, 2005


I am a boring person. One of the few true hobbies I have is flags. Of course, you cannot collect them (ok, you can, but what are you supposed to do with them then? They make nice sofa and bed throws and that is pretty much all), but you can learn about them. When I was a child, I would buy the Mickey Mouse mag every single week for several months in order to cut out the two cards at the back cover. Each card contained info on two countries, recto and verso, and -- crucially -- their flags.

Flags are funny and nasty. They are funny in that their main aesthetic value is to add colour to otherwise grim urban surroundings, especially public and military buildings (usually the grimmest of them all). Moreover, how would the vast frozen expanses of Greenland / Kalaallit Nunaat look like without being brightened by the vivid red of its flag? They are also funny in that they enjoy high popularity (too high, if you ask me) for the abstract symbols they are: think of Austria, Indonesia, Latvia, Monaco, Poland and try to tease their flags apart; what aspect of the national characters they stand for do these variations in red and white incarnate? Sometimes the original symbolism is lost and people go out of their way to reinvent them (Bulgaria is a case in point, France before that, too). They are funny in that some of them are long established and glorious, but the people under them would hardly identify with their (religious) symbols, and in that some of them are inept or portentous (sometimes produced by clueless leaders or graphic designers). Too few of them evoke nostalgia or sympathy for a lost but just cause or noble ideals.

They are nasty in that people are ready to die and kill for them and what they stand for, supposing they know it.


Anonymous varske said...

Flags are my nightmare.

Recently I had to organise seating at an international meeting as which both Greece and Macedonia were represented. The Greeks refused to have table labels for countries like we usually do, since they were hosting the meeting and we normally wrote FYR of Macedonia.

So a set of flags were obtained and carefully labelled so we knew which was which. All went well the first day, then a kind person collected up the flags without the labels.

Next day there was consternation in case the Macedonia/ Greece problem expanded 10 times as we put the wrong flags in front of countries. Luckily the Serb/Kosovo confusion is not possible. Somehow we got the layout checked before the VIPs came in.

13/5/05 21:44  
Blogger The SeaWitch said...

The most bizarre flag out there has to be Mozambique's. It has an AK-47 on it.

8/10/05 11:51  

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