Belarus

Something I should probably mention is whenever multiple nations join the UN on the same day, I’ll be boring and review them in alphabetical order. Expect a lot of this as we move through the founding members – and yeah, I’m surprised Belarus is one as well.2000px-flag_of_belarus_1995-2012-svg

Let’s address the European bison in the room first:[1] one band is wider than the other. This doesn’t bother me too much, as there are only two bands in the first place, so you can put it down to artistic preference rather than condemn it as an asymmetrical abomination.[2]  In fact, such unevenness sets it apart from pretty much every other national bicolour, which – well, we all know how difficult it is to make a bicolour interesting outside of projecting some hideous crest onto it, so well done, Belarus! Continue in your irregular ways.[3]  Also of note is the ornamentation, which firstly, despite kind of looking like a worried face still adds to its unique appeal, and secondly IS ON THE HOIST. To all aspiring vexillologists, if in your flag-creating whims you wish to add some frippery to your otherwise offensively boring tricolour, please put it on the hoist so that we can still see it when the wind isn’t blowing. Don’t leave it limply hanging, like a disenfranchised high five, off the fly where nobody can see it. Don’t do a Zambia.

Oh yeah, the colour scheme is also quite striking, which is another bonus.

Aesthetics: 9/10

Symbolism-wise, we could go for the traditional Belorussian interpretation, which means green represents hope, revival, spring and the verdant forests and fields of the country, whilst red evokes the victory banners of the Belorussian army.[4]  The ornament, by the way, is called a rushnyk, a traditional Slavic style of patterning usually found on towels. You would be placed on a rushnyk as soon as you were born, you and your spouse’s hands would be tied by a rushnyk on your wedding day, and your corpse would be covered with a rushnyk as your hearse trundled through the streets of Minsk or Lviv. So they’re quite a big deal in Slavic life, hence their prominent position on the flag.

But why bother with traditional symbolism when the great President Lukashenko has graced us with his own interpretation? According to Alexander, the green symbolises life and the red represents the sacrifice of the nation’s forefathers, and freedom, of course. Every national flag needs to represent freedom in one way or another. This representation paints a more romantic picture of the country, with the suffering of the past giving way to rejuvenation and rebirth, all tied together by the rushnyk into a neat Eastern European package. Also, mad props to Lukashenko for caring about your national symbols enough to personally intervene, even if your human rights record is a tad iffy.

Symbolism: 8/10

If we stopped the review here, we’d have ourselves a lovely little Slavic standard, with thoughtful symbolism and a bold yet simplistic design that includes a cheeky cultural nod. It breathes new life into a region filled with tedious tricolours and decent designs squandered by a thoughtlessly placed crest. However, as is so often the case in life, politics has to come in and intervene, and thus we have an alternate flag on our hands.

This is probably a good place to insert a disclaimer: here at The Good, The Bad And The Vexillology™ we try to judge flags embroiled in politics by their design alone. However, if the flag’s historical connotations are significant (e.g. the Nazi or Confederate flags) we’ll take them into consideration when reviewing it. [5]  With all this in mind, I present to you the “White-Red-White” flag of Belarus.

Flag of Belarus (1918, 1991-1995).svg

No, it doesn’t have a better name than that.

Whist the first recorded use of this flag was in 1918, red and white have a long history as heraldic colours of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, of which Belarus was once a part. Its only official uses were in a brief period of independence between 1918-1919, by Nazi collaborators in WWII and from 1991-1995, just after the nation’s independence from the USSR. However, it’s always been used by the opposition and the Belorussian diaspora as a symbol of Belarus at its most independent, and (since 1995) an anti-Lukashenko emblem, which sparks discussion about how democratic his regime is [6]  and all sorts of interesting Belorussian politics which I unfortunately don’t have time to go into.

Having said all that, I actually prefer the white-red-white standard. Not from a design viewpoint (it looks like an anti-Austria), and definitely not because I’m a Nazi sympathiser, but because the flag that flew over the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic from 1951-1991 looked like this:

So let me get this straight, Belarus. Five years after leaving one of the most vile dictatorships in world history, you decide to have a “referendum” (which drew massive criticism internationally and from the opposition, by the way) and revert to basically the same flag that you suffered under, when every other Slavic nation, even Russia, abandoned their communist symbolism?! This whole situation is akin to a 25 year old strolling around in clothes their mother bought them – and taking the label off makes no difference. I guess it just goes to show that with former Soviet country’s flags, you can’t have Ukraine and eat it too.

Belarus, you’ve spoiled a great flag with an unwelcome historical stinkbomb. I’m going back to Latin America, where the worst things about the flags are the crests slapped on them. Join us next time for a detailed look at one of the most iconic flags of the Americas……

Sources: http://pastebin.com/vyTFaKX9

 

[1] If you understood that reference, you probably spend too much of your time researching national symbols. I can sympathise.

[2] Looking at you, Colombia.

[Bet you didn’t know you could click this to go back to your place] Though stay grounded in regular policy for some things, namely human rights.

[4] I only found one historical event which directly links to this: the Battle of Grunwald, in which Poland and Lithuania (of which Belarus was then a part) soundly routed some Prussian crusaders.

[5] This blog isn’t a collaborative effort, by the way. I’m only using “we” because it sounds more professional.

[6] Spoiler: It isn’t.

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Argentina

Here comes the sun, and I say….2000px-flag_of_argentina-svgIt’s all right…..

Which, coincidentally, is how I feel about the Argentine flag.

Okay, considering this Patagonian pennant provided the sky-blueprint for nearly all of Central America’s, I should probably give it slightly more credit than a shoehorned Beatles reference. And it’s not bad by any means – the light azure and white is easy on the eyes, even if the moon emoji’s just as unsettling cousin detracts slightly from the visual appeal. At least it’s distinctive, eh?

Aesthetics: 7/10

A popular interpretation of the flag’s colours is the sun breaking through a bank of clouds in a blue sky, which is apparently what happened when the first truly Argentine government was declared and the first large-scale independence demonstration took place in the May of 1810.[1] I’ll tell you what – seeing that thing suddenly appear in an otherwise peaceful sky would do a good job of banishing any revolutionary urges, or any emotions at all other than abject terror. Maybe that’s why parents don’t want us looking at the sun – not to protect our eyes, but to protect our sanity. Am I delving into half-baked conspiracies already? On the first post? Wow. Sorry about that. Moving swiftly on…

Another theory, and definitely my favourite, is that the blue represents the Rio De La Plata, the widest river in the world[2] and a natural border with Uruguay, and the white embodies the silver that the Spaniards thought graced the earth in such quantities that they named the entire bloomin’ country after it.[3] Some historians postulate the palette symbolises loyalty to the Spanish House of Bourbon, as opposed to Napoleon, who had taken control of Spain at the time. And to top it all off, there’s even a religious explanation: the colours apparently correspond to the Virgin Mary’s attire. Really, Argentina?! Nearly 200 years of using this flag, and you still don’t know whether it’s the vexillological embodiment of clouds and sun or Jesus’ mum? I’ll have to mark you down for indecisiveness, although no explanation is particularly wishy-washy so your score is at least partially salvageable.

Symbolism: 4/10

Whatever the reasoning, the designer was none other than Manuel Belangro, an Argentine founding father, if you will. He chose to adapt the Cockade[4] of Argentina (which, by the way, he also created) into a flag after noticing that the Spanish forces and the revolutionaries were using the same colour scheme of red and yellow. Oops! Originally used as a war ensign, it was nationalised in 1816; two years later, the Sun of May (alright, I’ll condescend to using its real name) was added.[5]

In conclusion, this South American standard sets a good tone for the continent as a whole. The symbolism isn’t fantastic, but I suppose that’s what happens when there’s actual history involved as opposed to an overworked committee that has to find a way to inject some excitement into a tricolour, Inti help them. Anyway, the flag’s passable, and that’s what matters.

Overall: 6/10

We’ll revisit South America soon, but first, an Eastern European interlude…..

1. This kickstarted the independence of Argentina (and many other South American nations) from Spain, but that’s a story for another day.

2. Technically it’s an estuary, and it’s so large that some geographers think it’s a gulf of the Atlantic, but “the widest river in the world” just sounds better.

3. The Latin word for silver is Argentum. This is also why silver is Ag on the periodic table, instead of Sl or something sensible like that.

4. A kind of rosette, except instead of showing you got second prize in the Devonshire Infant’s School egg and spoon race it signifies political or military allegiance.

5. By the way, no-one really knows the origin of this celestial chap. Some say it’s just another take on the sun as a common heraldic charge; others, it’s derived from the aforementioned independence rally. There’s even someone who thinks it’s a representation of the Incan sun god. (Inti going to expand on that?)