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ERIC BLAIR'S WORLD OF FLAGS


i shall use this valuable space to critique a world flag. i shall follow only this rule: stick to the extraordinary and the dreadful while ignoring the mundane. now, on with the flags!

Zimbabwe

5 October 2004

Formerly a United Kingdom possession known as Rhodesia, Zimbabwe gained its independence over a 15-year period between 1965 and 1980. Robert Mugabe, the nation's first prime minister and country's only ruler has dominated the political landscape.

Things weren't peachy, but they weren't chaotic either. That is until Mugabe instituted a land redistribution campaign in 2000 that caused an exodus of white farmers, crippled the economy, and ushered in widespread shortages of basic commodities.

Flag time line

But what about the flag? It's a busy banner with not one, not two, but seven horizontal stripes of green (which symbolises agriculture), yellow (mineral wealth), red (bloodshed), black (native people), red, yellow and green, with a white isosceles triangle on its hoist side. Inside the triangle sits a yellow Zimbabwe bird superimposed on a red star.

I'm all for colours and symbols, but this flag tries to do too much with all of those stripes. It reminds me of the various rugby shirts I wore as a lad.

However, as avid readers of this column know, I cannot totally condemn a flag with a bird. And this little beaked friend is a regal sort, sitting on a throne and looking away from the striped mess that lies behind him. And for that, the flag gets a half-star higher rating than it would have otherwise received.

2 stars

Next time: Belarus


Iraq's Flag

Iraq

8 September 2004

A great deal of controversy abounds in Iraq these days, but what I'm referring to has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction nor Saddam Hussein. The center of the hubbub is the new flag design of post-Saddam Iraq.

Traditionally, flags in the Arab world share three colours: green and black for Islam and red for Arab nationalism. This is true of such flags as Syria, Jordan and Kuwait. And countries such as Egypt, Oman, Yemen and others have at least two of the colours. However, Iraq's new flag is inexplicably comprised of white, blue and yellow.

While it is aesthetically pleasing, it does little to capture the spirit of its people. Designed by Iraqi artist Rifat al-Chaderchi, the flag's parallel blue bands at the bottom are said to represent the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, and the yellow band Iraq's Kurdish minority. A large Islamic crescent sits in the field and is unusually depicted in blue.

The Governing Council needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with a design that truly represents the Iraqi people. This irrelevant monstrosity is a slap in the face of Iraqis — and Arabs — everywhere.

A brief history of Iraqi flags

1921-1959: The original flag of Iraq was adopted in 1921, when the country was formed. Two seven-point white stars on the triangle denoted the then 14 provinces of the kingdom.

1959-1963: Following Abdul Karim Qassim's 1958 military coup that deposed the monarchy, Iraq adopted a black-white-green vertical tricolour with a red eight-pointed star with a yellow circle in its centre.

Flag time line

1963-1991: After the Qassim regime was overthrown, the country adopted the now-familiar red-white-black horizontal tricolour with three green stars. The stars were originally placed there for the a proposed union with Egypt and Syria. That union, however, never materialised.

1991-2004: In 1991, Saddam Hussein added the words, "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) between the stars. It is said that the words on the flag are in Saddam's own handwriting, and many interpreted the change as an attempt to garner support from the Islamic world in the period immediately preceding the Persian Gulf War.

2 stars

Next time: Zimbabwe


St. Helena's Flag

St. Helena

1 September 2004

St. Helena is a tiny island in the South Atlantic Ocean that was once an important British port for ships travelling around the Cape of Good Hope to points beyond in the Middle and Far East. (If you were to follow a line straight south from Côte d'Ivoire and straight west from Angola, you'd find it.) It's probably most famous, however, for being the place Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled from 1815 until his death in 1821.

Flag detail
St. Helena flag detail.

The flag is much like those of many current and former British possessions, which sports a solid color (in this case, blue) with a flag of the United Kingdom in the upper hoist-side quadrant. The St. Helenian shield features a rocky coastline and three-masted sailing ship with an English flag at the stern. Our flying friend at the top a wirebird, which is the last surviving endemic land bird on St. Helena.

I am generally not a big fan of these cookie cutter flags, but as I have pointed out in the past, I have a soft spot in my heart for flags with birds. The shield is imaginative and represents various aspects of the island. The flag would be much better if eliminated the Union Jack and incorporated more from the shield into the field.

2 stars

Next time: Iraq


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