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Bosnia and Herzegovina - The 1998 Flag Change - Overview

Last modified: 2003-07-05 by dov gutterman
Keywords: bosnia and herzegovina | proposals |
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The adopted flag
by Jan Oskar Engene

See also:

See also:

Why Change the Flag?

I am facsinated by a new flag change (obviously as any vexiollologist would be. However the most intesrting point that strikes me about this, is beyond the actual design itself, but the need to change in the first place! The flag of B-H is already a compromise design made up as a symbol itself that was politically neutral, ie the symbol of King Tvrtko rather than the far more politcally charged green and white crescent flag.
What I have found interesting is that this specifically design neutral flag, should receive a politcal charging which now makes it unacceptable. Does anybody know of any more such examples? The only two I can think of might be the flag of the Irish Republic, and the flag of Cyprus, although is is possibly more to do with the fact that it is predominatly flown alongside the Greek flag today.
John Hall, 17 December 1997

The CoA used by Kotromanic dinasty was supposed to be just such a neutral symbol, but in last several years it was adopted entirely by Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), and is now representing only one of the three nations. I agree, it is a pitty (though the flags as it is now is not much inventive).
Zeljko Heimer, 19 December 1997

"Flagging Progress"

From "The Economist"; September 6, 1997; p. 52):
"Sarajevo - At the end of May, when an array of governments involved in Bosnia met in the Portuguese town of Sintra, they drew up a modest list of tasks, along with deadlines, that the Bosnians were to complete in order to sustain the notion that they were bent on putting their country together again, however loosely. Some of these tasks were merely symbolic, and so, it was presumed, easy to carry out. A new design for a flag, for instance, was supposed to have been agreed upon by September 1st. But even that has been beyond the wit of assorted Bosnian leaders.
Several other deadlines set at Sintra have been missed too. Bosnia's various telephone systems were to have been linked up by July 15th. Though you can now make a call from Sarajevo, the all-Bosnia capital, directly to Banja Luka, headquarters of one of the two competing parts of Bosnia's Serb entity, you cannot ring Sarajevo direct from Banja Luka. The connection is supposed to be fixed this month.
Nor has an all-Bosnia civil-aviation authority, due to have been in action by the end of July, materialised. Joint laws on citizenship and passports, due for approval by August 1st, are still being argued over. The only agreement that has actually been struck - after the Sintra deadline - is a dishing out of ambassadorial posts.

The flag row is particularly silly. Bosnia's existing banner, unfurled in April 1992 after the old Yugoslavia broke up, consists of six golden fleur-de-lys with a white diagonal band across them. Most Serbs and Croats, however, view the design as "too Muslim." Yet the Serbs, especially, have refused to come up with an alternative. Instead, Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serb member of the Bosnian presidency, who still wants Bosnia's Serb statelet to have virtually nothing to do with the rest of Bosnia, wants the two entities (the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb portion) to have two separate flags fluttering side by side; or a different design on either side of the same flag.

Mr. Kranjisnik has been equally stubborn over such matters as common currency. He wants one of the proposed notes to depict an Orthodox Serb monastery that is not in Bosnia at all. When Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's presidency, suggested something as uncontroversial as flora and fauna, Mr. Kranjisnik promptly demanded a Serb eagle. Deadlock again. Anyway, Mr. Kranjisnik has for the past three weeks refused to turn up at meetings of the presidency.

His Muslim and Croat colleagues have meanwhile been quietly drawing up alternative flag designs. One sets the contours of a Bosnian map on a light blue background. Another has three horizontal stripes, red and white for Croat, blue for Serb, with a green "Muslim" V jutting into the middle. But even is some such design is eventually accepted, don't expect the flag to fly. It took two and a half years for Bosnia's Muslims and Croats to agree on a design, just for their bit of the country. Their federal law says the flag may be flown - though not compulsorily - from government buildings. You can occasionally spot it in Muslim areas, but never in Croat ones."
Randy Young, 1 September 1998

It says : "His Muslim and Croat colleagues have meanwhile been quietly drawing up alternative flag designs. One sets the contours of a Bosnian map on a light blue background."
However, it wasn't Bosniac and Croat colleagues who were deciding on this. It was Carlos Westendorp, as well as when he brought a new flag.
It also says: "Another has three horizontal stripes, red and white for Croat, blue for Serb, with a green "Muslim" V jutting into the middle."
In my humble opinion , this is not true. I would have been informed on this if it was proposed. It is unchecked information.
Velidaga Jerlagic, 3 September 1998

Is it RWB tricolour with green V in the middle stripe? Actually, I don't remember it either.
Zeljko Heimer , 4 September 1998

Controversies Around the New Flag

It leads me to believe that the Parliament of BiH simply cannot agree on anything. This is pure speculation, but for the High Representative to have to produce a flag so devoid of symbolism, I would guess that there are still fundamental differences of opinion as to whether the Peace Accords will actually produce one country.
For example, there are, as I understand it, colours associated with each faction: red = Croat, blue = Serbian, green = Muslim. If you wanted to make a statement with the flag, put white in the design to symbolize peace and just use panels of those colours.
Steve Kramer, 5 February 1998

This association is not very firm. The colours associated are the national colours of the nations red-white-blue = Croats, green-yellow = bosniaks, red-blue-white = Serbs. Then, since only red and white could be associated to Croats too, and only green for Bosniaks, the remaining blue could be thought for Serbs. But, if you choose only one of those colours (except green) there is no firm association.
Zeljko Heimer, 7 February 1998

From what I understand, I think the problem is very similar to the one Vincent Morley pointed out when someone mentioned the possibility of a new flag for N. Ireland coming out of the peace talks there: the Unionists already have one (the white "Red Hand" flag) and the Republicans would see no point to a flag other than the Irish tricolor.
In Bosnia, from what I understand, politicians in the Serb state maintain the political stance that the Republika Srpska (sorry if I butchered that) is some sort of quasi-indepedent entity whose ties to the Bosnian state are a temporary expediency at best. I imagine the Croats there maintain largely the same position. The Muslim-dominated government in Sarajevo sees itself as the legitimate governemnt of Bosnia, and so doesn't see a need for any flag other than the fluer-de-lys.
Any flag that containes Bosniak, Croat, or Serb symbols will be an acknowledgement of some of those claims; but if you acknowledge those claims, then no compromise flag is possible. Thus we are left with the problem of coming up with some neutral "all-Bosnia" flag, which, of course, has no meaning in particular to any of the 3 particular groups. Since the war has hardened those 3 groups, any such flag becomes largely meaningless. In some ways, perhaps it would have been better to follow the Serb member of the presidency's suggestion: a national flag with the fluer-de-lys design on one side, and the Serb tricolor on the other. It would have been the most difficult national flag in the world to manufacture, but at least it would have had the virtue of being an accurate reflection of the national situation.
Here's a thought: the spokesperson for the UN High Representative was quoted in the Reuters story as saying that this flag should be considered permanent, but if the bosnian parliament votes to change it then of course it will change. Perhaps the UNHR deliberately designed an ugly flag to give the squabbling sides an incentive to come up with a compromise version? :)
Joshua Fruhlinger, 5 February 1998

A few updates on the reception of the new flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina:
In Bosnia questions have been raised about the use of the flag in various circumstances.
The news agency of the Republika Srpska, SRNA, reported that the mayor in the city of Zvornik refused to accept the new flag presented to him by the deputy High Representative Jacques Klein. In a statement to SRNA, the mayor said "In the name of 1,000 mothers of killed Serbian veterans and 1,000 war disabled persons, I am not authorized by this people to do so."
The river Sava is now open for navigation and this raises the question of ensigns used on ships navigating inland waterways in Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to reports from Bosnian Serb television, ships sailing into Brcko recently flew the flag of Republika Srpska. Interestingly, the law on the flag adopted by the High Representative on 4 February, does not give rules for flying the flag on inland waterways or on the high sea for that matter. Questioned on the matter by a journalist, the spokesman for the OHR said that they would 'look into' the matter. The OHR is also preparing a letter stating when and where the new flag is to fly. This letter, it was said, will be sent out to various institutions and authorities.
Finally, the House of Representatives in the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina is scheduled to discuss the flag law again in the session starting 5 March.
Jan Oskar Engene, 27 February 1998

I'm confused. Jan Oskar stated in his original message that the flag and arms were imposed by the High Representative on an interim basis until the Bosnian Parliament passes a law on national symbols. Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the Parliament already pass the white flag with blue shield/yellow fleur-de-lys as the national flag in 1992? Is the current Parliament a completely different legislative body than the one that passed the old flag? Or has the High Representative banned certain designs (such as the old one) from consideration?
Steve Kramer, 21 May 1998

Don't be Confused. Here's the explanation of the situation: Bosnia had a parliament before the war that was made of Bosniaks, Serb and Croat nationalist parties and opposition. That parliament voted for a referendum in 1992, but the serbs wanted that Bosnia stays in Yugoslavia, which was impossible since Serbs were only 1/3 of the population, though there was a certain amount of people among them who were not oposing independance. In 1992 the parliament tryed to pass laws on three flags, but the Serbs were constantly veto-ing the laws. So, when the JNA (Yugoslav Peoples Army) finally started the war on Bosnia, encouraging local Serbs for rebellion, what was left of the Bosnian parliament passed a law on flag - the one with the fleur-the-lis. This flag was representing Bosnia in it's full size (medieval kings, and so on [see the heraldical information on the page about the flag of 1992]) - as well as Bosniaks (muslims), Serbs (Orthodox) and Croats (Catholics)...
After the Dayton agreement, the authorities of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina were proclaimed illegal by the contact group, as well as Herceg-Bosna, a small satelite state in Bosnia formed by Croats on occupied territories (the Croats turned against Bosniaks in 1993, but now they are Federal Partners). Republika Srpska (territories occupied by Serb rebells) has been found legal. Now, we have the Federation and the Republika Srpska, forming Bosnia and Herzegovina, so Westendorp, the high representative, imposed the new flag, and we, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, had to give up of our lillies... Now he imposed a new coat of arms too, which is a piece of... something...
Velid-aga Jerlagic, 23 May 1998

I am glad that Velid is here, giving me the opportunity not to explain things again and again (as I used to do). But, it is confuzing, and the legal status is not always easy to see - even what is legal is under question, and one has to be a very good lawer to se it trough, and even that is not enough since politics gets in the way.
To put it simply, the former Republic of Bosnia and Herzegvina that adopted the fleurs-de-lys flag is not considered the predcessor of the current state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. (OK, this is not quite so, but in practice it comes to that).
Related to this, the mentioned "state" of Herzeg-Bosnia is officially disbanded. But it's leftovers are not easy to deal with. Here is a flag related example that I learned lately. The county (canton) of Herzeg-Bosnia (i.e. Hercegbosanska zupanija), mostly populated by (guess what) Croats, one of the 10 counties of the Federation adopted its Constitution in which it was provided that the flag of the couty is a red-white-blue tricolour with a 25 red-white chequy shield in the middle. Does this remind you of anything? ;-)
The Constitution was latter proclaimed as invalid (don't know by whom, the High Representative perhaps?) and consequentially the flag, too. However, as I am informed, the flag is still in use.
Zeljko Heimer, 24 May 1998