14 3 / 2013
Political parties are prime examples for the correct use of flags in that they represent a specific group. Parties connect similarly-driven people, working together toward similar goals and aims. Parties can form a significant part of a person’s identity - it is altogether possible that someone may identify more strongly with an ideology than they do with a nationality or a race. If a nation should have a symbol to represent them in the form of a flag, it seems only sensible that parties, ideologies and movements have similar representation.
Indian National Congress
The flag of the Indian National Congress is a flag with simple symbolism, and one that serves a definite purpose. It’s background colours are derived from the original flag of India - orange, or more officially ‘India Saffron’ to represent the Hindus, ‘India Green’ to represent the Muslim portion of the country, and the white stripe to both show inclusivity toward other religions, with a secondary purpose to provide a distinct background for the original charge, the Ashoka Chakra - intended to represent the ‘eternal wheel of law’. Interestingly, the Ashoka Chakra also had a secondary function - to differentiate the national flag from the flag of the INC. The party has been in existence since far before Indian independence - originating in 1885, with India only gaining independence from the British in 1947 - 62 years later. This means that the flag of the INC directly influenced the flag of the entire nation - unsurprising since the part has been one of the biggest in India since it’s independence.
Obviously, the glaring difference between the actual Indian flag and the flag of the INC is the charge; in this case, the charge is a giant right hand. The reason for this is simple - in India, due to the relatively high levels of illiteracy, each party has a different symbol that represents them. They appear next to their name on ballot papers, and feature prominently in political advertising. The idea of having a flag, and it featuring prominently the election symbol of the party is not uncommon -all but one of the five flags of the Indian national parties feature their electoral symbol prominently - with only one presenting a slight deviation (The Communist Party of India do not feature the corn on the flag, whereas it is present on the election symbol). Flags of political parties in India (of which there are many) are some of the most obvious examples of symbolism around - they perform a very specific function, and they do it well.
The Red Flag
The red flag is an almost universal symbol, although it has in the past been used more specifically to refer to the British Labour Party, and of course has been used as the basis for many national flags. The Labour Party, established in the late 19th century, stood primarily on socialist principles. Red as a colour has for a great number of years represented left-of-centre politics, and the red flag especially has been used as the symbol for a number of revolutions - the one prominent example in popular culture given it’s recent adaptation to the big screen would be the June Rebellion of Les Miserables fame, and the subsequent attempts at French revolution.
The British Labour Party only abandoned the red flag as their symbol in 1986, during the leadership of Neil Kinnock. It was a time for modernisation of the party; arguably, the rebranding of the party’s logo can be seen as one of the very first attempts to rebrand the Labour Party into what eventually became New Labour. This was as a result of the Thatcher government - her 11 years forced the country rightward on the political spectrum, and a growing doubt over the effectiveness of socialism led to a modification of party policy and a gentle rebranding in the form of the replacement of the red flag with a red rose - still a symbol of socialism, albeit a more subtle one. This said, the red flag is not entirely absent from Labour Party politics - the eponymous song is sung at the close of every party conference, and was also sung in the House in 2006 to celebrate the centenary of Labour’s first seats in the parliament.
The red flag has also been used as the supplementary symbol for a couple of other political parties, although none in the same way as the British Labour Party, who used it as their main symbol - both the French Socialist Party, the party of the French President, and the Social Democratic Party, the second largest party in Germany, count the red flag among their symbols, but do not feature it in the official logo of the party. The red flag tends to be a more general symbol of an ideology rather than a flag of a specific party - but the fact that it was the main emblem of the Labour Party for 80 years deserves recognition.
Christian Democratic Parties
Christian Democratic parties in different countries tend to share the similar feature of having an arrow that points upward incorporated somewhere in their flag. The one depicted here is the Christian Democratic Party of Chile, although there are others that display the arrow - for example, both the Christian Democratic Party of Uruguay and the Social Democrat Party of Portugal also incorporate upward arrows into their flags.
One explanation for the symbolism of the arrow is the idea that they signify their place on the political spectrum. By avoiding any symbolism one way or the other, they can place themselves firmly in the middle of the spectrum. This is valuable for a party that has one clear demographic that spans multiple ideologies - religions can span the entire political spectrum, and so to not target people on a political basis is actually a sensible thing to do. By providing broad church, centrist policies they are able to target people using different demographics than a political party usually does; through religion rather than political ideology.
Another, possibly more obvious symbolism is that the arrow points toward the heavens, and once again solidifies their position as a party based more heavily on religion than on particular political ideology. Furthermore, we can also interpret the arrow as an attempt to represent improvement in a way that can be construed to build on their centrism; by implying that improvements must be made whilst not also expressly saying how is an entirely non-partisan act. It is something that no political standpoint argues for - except maybe for the most extreme - and once more appeals to members of all political persuasions, allowing it to target other demographics.
Flags of political parties serve many different functions, ranging from an explanation of their political standpoint (or their lack of it) to a representation of a party as an organisation. The use of flags in relation to political parties tends to be concentrated in countries where visual cues are more important than written words - in places with high illiteracy rates, such as India, flags are extremely important in the democratic process. There are many parties, and people who can only read small amounts or not at all have to visually connect parties to symbols. The vast amount of parties in India make this especially difficult, but is made easier by the prevalence of these symbols and their presence on the ballot paper.
Flags, like the normal symbols of the parties, play an important part in the democratic process - they play their part by providing an easy link between a party and the public. The more prevalent parties are in the eyes of the public, the more involved with politics they will become, even if it is just through familiarity - and greater immersion of the public with politics can lead to a more democratic society. Flags on the whole represent identities, and this is also true when they represent parties - political parties are solid factors that people can identify themselves by, and flags help them to do that in more ways than they could otherwise. Flags, although understated, can be argued to be some of the hidden heroes of politics.
09 12 / 2012
Flags of totalitarian regimes or extremist movements happen to be some of the most well designed flags around, and they bring together two of my favourite things - politics and flags. There are also a few totalitarian regimes in films or novels with their own flags, and i’ll take a look at them too.
National Fascist Party - Italy
The National Fascist party semi-officially came to power in a heavily disputed 1924 election after the 1922 coup d’etat that put Mussolini in power of the country. Their flag is one of the most understated - it’s achingly simple. Its black background is symbolic of fascism - For example, the uniform of the party incorporated black, thus why their followers are now known as Blackshirts.
The charge is called a fasces, and it is a bundle of sticks with a protruding axe. It’s a symbol that is used often in heraldry - it tends to symbolise power and authority. One example of this is that the Mace of the House of Representatives is based upon a fasces, with 13 ebony rods symbolising the number of states of the original union. The mace is only ever used to break up potentially confrontative moments during debate in the house. Its last recorded use was in 1994.
British Union of Fascists
Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists was a minor (in terms of representation, not necessarily of impact) political party in the UK in the 1930’s. Also known as Blackshirts, as Mosley was heavily influenced by Mussolini, and so along with incorporating much of their policy, he also adopted their uniform. The party came to an end in 1940, when Mosley and other leaders of the party were interned for the duration of the war due to their Nazi sympathies, and the party was proscribed by the authorities.
Their flag takes a turn away from the traditional black, and instead adopts the familiar red, white and blue of the Union Flag. This is because the BUF was really marketed as a ultra-nationalist party who promoted British patriotism above all else. This was one of the reasons for its collapse; it began to promote more explicitly the principles of fascism above the principles of nationalism, and as a result it lost much of its’ support around 1938.
It’s also based loosely on the flag of the Nazi Party - the symbol of the BUF, the lightning bolt, encapsulated by a white circle on a solid red background. Red is also a recurring theme of flags with extreme connotations at either ends of the political spectrum, as shown by such regimes as the ‘communist’ controlled China and the USSR. Communists, of course, being known as the reds. Red tends to symbolise danger, and power, as it does in nature; and far more often that not, movements at either ends of the spectrum are in some way dangerous.
1984 - IngSoc - Oceania
This is what gave me the idea to do a post on this subject. This is an interesting one. While at first the hands in the middle may seem to symbolise something like racial equality, actually, looking at the detail near the rest of the black hand would lead me to think that it’s actually some sort of safety glove. This seems to fit with the premise of the book - IngSoc is newspeak for English Socialism, and one of the core ideas of socialism/Marxism is the way in which industry, manufacturing and labour relations inter-relate with other sections of society. If anyone’s interested in this, you should take a look at the ideas of base and superstructure.
But back again to the flag - it’s got the classic red and black theme. This is true of a number of fascist flags, as you’ll have seen - red is traditionally associated with power, and danger, and as discussed previously black is usually seen as the colour of fascism. The solid V in the background stands for victory - understandable, especially in a novel that has it’s foundations in war. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia…
Norsefire - V for Vendetta
I have a lot of time for this flag. It’s simple, and yet it is still configured in such a way that is relatable to fascism. V for Vendetta is set in a “Greater Britain”, ruled as a police state by a small minority within ‘the Party’, known as Norsefire. In one way, it’s very loosely based on the flag of St. George, except the background colour has been reversed introducing the colour black to reflect the fascist control of the state, and an extra line added, making it into a double cross. This has two different implications - the first actually regarding the words ‘double cross’, as the party was clearly a corrupt organisation and it would both double cross it’s own members and the nation to fulfil the ends of a tiny elite.
The other implication is that the double cross is an already existing symbol - the Cross of Lorraine. It was used by the Free French Forces as a symbol of resistance against German occupation, and was also incorporated into parts of Gaullism. This could well be an ironic jibe on the part of the producers - especially given the similarities between Norsefire and the Nazis, who the Free French tried to rally against.
I know that there are yet hundreds more movements that i could cover, but i’ve just looked at these four. Partly because their flags appeal to me, but also partly because i can never begin to comprehend the social situations in which these movements began, or the people who make them what they are; and the study of them and in some ways their flags is all part of the wider understanding of a world that can incorporate so many different bizarre opinions and beliefs.
03 12 / 2012
trentmeow-deactivated20130322 asked: When and how did you get interested in flags?
It started when i was a kid, i used to like just knowing things, so i would read through lists, like lists of countries, watched gameshows, loved questions, all this sort of stuff. Then i came across flags and originally i was just content with knowing which flag belonged to each country. I did that for a while. Then, over the last year i’ve started to realise that actually flags are fantastic - little rectangles of cloth can stand for so much, even if it’s just two or three colours.
Now i’ve got a little bit of spare time (i’m at university) i thought i’d pursue my interest even more. NAVA, the North American Vexillological Association, one of the big flag authorities call flags a ‘Shorthand for History’, something which is so true - it constantly amazes me when i see the symbolism behind new flags and to understand that to some, that flag represents who they are - it’s awsome. So in my spare time i look around at these new flags and i have a small flag collection of my own, and i post here partly to help others understand more about vexillology and partly just so i have an excuse to research a topic i enjoy more in depth!
03 12 / 2012
trentmeow-deactivated20130322 asked: I am so happy I found this blog!
And i’m pleased you found it! Hopefully i’ll be doing some more updates over the christmas period when i have some more free time. Hope you enjoy them!
02 12 / 2012
Antarctica, being a continent rather than a nation-state leaves it in a bit of an odd situation when it comes to flags. Many different countries have made territorial claims over parts of Antarctica, usually for use in scientific endeavours. So in each of these territories, the national flag of the country in question would probably used. However, there have been calls for the creation of an official Antarctic flag, for use when referring to the continent as a whole. Which I suppose is similar to having something like the flag of the European Union. Antarctica can never have an official flag, since no government or political entity has the power to impose anything official upon Antarctica, as per the terms of the Antarctic Treaty.
So far, there have been three main flags attributed to Antarctica. Firstly, we have the flag of the Antarctic Treaty Organisation.
The Antarctic Treaty is an agreement that has been ratified by a total of 49 countries. This treaty puts certain restrictions on what Antarctican land can be used for - more can be found on the exact nature of the treaty here. This flag is based on a geographical representation of Antarctica, plus lines converging at the South Pole, and concentric circles representing latitudes emerging from the pole. This has been heralded as the ‘official’ flag, since it is combined with an organisation that has some authority over Antarctica, but it is very seldom used in reality, apart from as the official emblem of the organisation.
The second flag that has been proposed for the flag of Antarctica is a design by Graham Bartram.
This design is similar to the one above, except it eschews the lines that tend to clutter the first, and it also lightens the blue. It’s a fairly blatant flag - there’s no real hidden symbology; it is what it is, a geographical representation of Antarctica, surrounded by ocean. This is however the most commonly used flag for Antarctica - it was raised over the bases of the UK, Brazil, and Ukraine - and it’s use was documented by Ted Kaye in his paper “Flags over Antarctica.” (I’ll post a link to it if I can manage to find it, or if anyone can point me in the direction of it, i’d be very grateful.) The fact that countries are raising it give it a level of officiality - even so, I believe it not to be the best option for Antarctica. Instead, i’d advocate the next design; one by Whitney Smith.
This flag is specifically designed with a great number of practical considerations in mind. It must be remembered that Antarctica is a place like no other - a flag here must be able to withstand exceptional conditions, and this is the only one of the three flags to adequately address these environmental problems.
1) The bright orange background of the flag has two different justifications. First, to signify Antarctica’s unique position in the world, both geographically and politically, it is extremely different from any other existing national flag. The other justification is that in harsh conditions, it is much more visible than the other two options; something that could prove crucial, especially given how easy it would be to become lost on a landscape with no discernible landmarks.
2) The charge near the hoist has a number of meanings. The hands imply a duty of care, as ratified by the Antarctic treaty. The small semicircle indicates the position of Antarctica in the world, and the large A simply stands for Antarctica.
3) The charge is intentionally placed closer to the hoist so it is more visible in high winds, and is less susceptible to damage. These are more features that clearly address the problems of raising a flag in such extreme conditions.
These three points are the basic reasons why I see that Whitney Smith’s version stands above the others in terms of design - it has meaningful symbology and it addresses the practical problems of having a flag in Antarctica. So maybe, if the powers that be do decide that Antarctica should be assigned a flag - hopefully they’ll go with Whitney’s design!
30 9 / 2012