Flags have always been important in diplomacy but in the era of identity politics, flag waving is fashionable again, journalist and author, Tim Marshall told a gathering of press attachés at the Romanian Cultural Institute
“We need to understand our friends’ and neighbours’ symbols if we want to understand them,” said Marshall, whose book, Worth Dying For, The Power and Politics of Flags, explains the symbolism behind flags.
The Americans take the Star Spangled Banner, very seriously. It’s one of the few flags to be mentioned in a national anthem. “You would jump out of a trench for it,” he said, adding that he wondered if the British would run out of a trench for the EU flag.
But the Union Jack is not without controversy (it’s missing the Welsh Dragon). The English cross of St George still has racist undertones for some, after being highjacked in the 1980s by the far right.
Choosing a flag after a revolution or civil war is very sensitive, he added, citing the Mozambique flag, which was the flag of the winning faction. “It hardly encourages [the losing side] to rally around it,” he pointed out.
Nepal kept its flag with its unique shape after the overthrow of the royal family because the two peaks represent the Himalayas.
Some countries use religious symbols. Ethiopia uses the Star of Solomon, because of its Biblical links, while many countries incorporate the Christian cross. But in a multi-faith country such as Lebanon that would be problematic, hence the cedar tree.
Communist countries prefer the red star. China has five: one for the communist party and four small representing China’s peasants, proletariat, bourgeoisie and capitalists.
Flags of freedom movements (or terrorist organisations) inspire mixed feelings, while the newest flag on the global scene, the black flag of ISIS, is intended to inspire fear.