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Estonia - History of the Flag

Last modified: 2005-10-08 by dov gutterman
Keywords: estonia | cornflower |
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image by Ant?nio Martins, 22 April 1999

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History of the Flag

From <>:
The blue-black-white flag was first consecrated at Otep?? on the 4th of June, 1884, as the flag of the Estonian University Student Association. During the following years the blue-black-white flag became a national symbol.
The Provisional Government of Estonia adopted a resolution on the 21st of November, 1918, proclaiming the blue-black-white flag the state flag. The Law on State Flag was adopted by the Parliament (Riigikogu) on the 27th of June, 1922.After the forcible annexation of Estonia by the Soviet Union in June, 1940, this flag was banned.
In 1987/88, during the days of the "singing revolution", or the process of regaining independence, the blue-black-white flag was used openly as a national symbol. On the 24th of February, 1989, the blue-black-white national flag of Estonia was flown from the tower of Pikk Hermann.
Jorge Candeias, 26 October 1999

From <>:
The national colours of Estonia came to use in 1881, when blue, black and white were taken as the colours of the Society of the Estonian Students. In 1884 the flag of the Society was consecrated in a church at Otep??. On June 27, 1922 the blue-black-and-white national flag was officially declared as the state flag of Estonia. According to the state flag law the ratio between the width and length of the Estonian flag is 7:11 and the standard size is 105 x 165 cm.
Dov Gutterman, 23 January 1999

As you are well aware, all three Baltic States use "heraldry" in their national flags dating back to the days of the crusades. For example, the Estonian coat-of-arms, three leopards on a shield, was first introduced by the Danes in approximately 1220. The Danish flag, the "Dannebrog" (white field, red cross), was said to have fallen from heaven on to the Danish forces who at that very moment were moments away from being defeated by and Estonian siege army. The "heavenly sent" sign rallied the Danes and they went on to defeat the Estonians. To this day, the Danish flag has remained a white field with a red cross (it is thus the worlds longest used state flag in continuous use - over 700 years. The Estonian coat-of-arms has remained virtually unchanged since the early Danish period.
Arvo L. Vercamer, 29 January 1999

The late 1860's is known as the "awakening" period in Estonian history. It was a time when Estonian culture was beginning to assert itself after centuries of German and Russian domination. In addition to a growth of Estonian arts and sciences, many Estonian fraternities and student societies can also trace their origins to this period.
One of the older fraternities was named "Vironia". "Vironia" is a Latinized form of the word Estonian word "Virumaa" which means "the province of Viru". "The word "Viru" in both Finnish and old Estonian refers to Estonia. "Vironia" was founded in 1870 in Tartu, Estonia's second largest city and also its leading educational center. In 1881, Tartu University Theology student Jaan Bergmann, wrote a poem praising the black-white-cornflower blue flag of Estonia. The poem laid the foundation for the acceptance of the Estonian colors by "Vironia". On 29 September of 1881, "Vironia" took on as its color the cornflower blue-black and white flag. On 07 April 1882, "Vironia" publicly displayed its colors at a student parade in Tartu. Within a few short years, the "Vironia" fraternity flag had gained quick and wide acceptance among native Estonians as representing the "Estonian" national colors. Here it must be noted that although the current colors of the Estonian Collegiate Society (Eesti Üliõpilaste Selts) are blue-black-white, the original blue-black-white colors belong to "Vironia". In 1888, "Vironia's" official "keeper of the flag" changed his allegiance. He left "Vironia", took the "Vironia" fraternity flag with him and joined the "EÜS". From that day forward, the EÜS took on as its colors the cornflower blue-black and white flag. "Vironia" was left with no choice, it had to select new colors.
By the turn of the century (1900 - 1914), the cornflower blue-black-white flag became closely associated with Estonian nationalism and hopes for self-determination from Imperial Russian and German Nobility rule. Many Estonian nationalists, both in Saint Petersburg (home to a large Estonian and Finnish community) and in the provinces of Estonia and Livonia rallied around the cornflower blue-black-white flag as they marched against the Czars minorities policies.
Although over 100.000 Estonian soldiers served in the Imperial Russian Army, Navy and Air Force (and over 10.000 of them lost their lives) from 1914 to 1917, the Estonian cornflower blue-black-white colors did not adorn any of the military uniforms worn by Estonian soldiers until 1917. In early 1917, as Estonians were granted home rule/independence by the Czar, Estonian political leaders officially declared the colors of cornflower blue-black-white to be the national colors of Estonia. At 2000 hours, 23 February 1918, Estonia declared its full independence from the Soviet Union and the flag was made the official flag of the new republic (the first independence declaration was made exactly one year earlier, but due to both German and Russian repressive measures, it could not be enforced by Estonians). The first full day of independence thus became 24 February 1918, and this then has become Estonia's official independence day. When the Germans occupied Estonia (April - November 1918), they officially banned the "nationalistic" colors of cornflower blue-black-white; but in
reality did little to enforce their own edict. Even Estonian steamers running between Helsinki and Tallinn could openly fly the Estonian flag without the Germans objecting to this. By late fall, it was clear to everyone that the war was lost for German. Estonians were just waiting for the official last day of the war to be announced. On 12 November 1918, the Estonian flag quickly resurfaced as the official flag of the land wherever possible.
Approximately 450 Estonian soldiers served with the Russian Expeditionary Corps in France during the First World War. Nearly all of them were with the 1st and 3rd Brigades in the Bordeaux region. After February 1917, the Estonian soldiers attached small cornflower blue-black-white flags on to their sleeves to distinguish themselves from other Russian Expeditionary Corps nationalities. The few cars requisitioned by the Estonian troops in France also carried the Estonian flag as a recognition symbol. This same practice held true for those members of the 150.000 strong Estonian community members residing in Siberia. As they made their way back to their ancient homeland from late 1917 to 1919, they too used the "Estonian" flag a means of identification.
From 1917 to 1936, all of the available German and Russian military uniforms were altered or re-tailored to be more "Estonian" in origin. A small blue-black-white cockade was affixed to all peak caps. For the Estonian military, shoulder boards, medals and sleeve patches centered around the cornflower blue-black-white motif. The Estonian Air Defense Force (EADF) (Eesti Õhukaitse) adopted as its national recognition symbol a triangle made up of the colors blue-black-white. In addition, the rudders of all Estonian military aircraft were painted in the colors of the Estonian flag. This triangular recognition symbol continues to be used by the EADF to this day. Estonia, along with Austria and the Netherlands, is one of the few nations of the world to use a triangle device as roundel on its military aircraft. In 1936, the 1918 vintage Estonian military uniforms were redesigned, now resembling a British/German mixed cut.
On 27 June 1922, the Estonian Parliament, at its fourth and final debating session on the matter, officially decreed the colors of cornflower blue-black-white to the official state colors. Of note is that the decree states that the color of cornflower blue is to be the same as the "blue" of the Finnish national flag. The height to length dimensions of the state flag were set at the proportions of 7:11. Poorly documented writings shows that back in the late-1800's, Estonian and Finnish nationalists decided that all "Estonian and Finnish peoples" (to include Ingermans, Laplanders, Karelians, etc.) will include "cornflower blue" as a part of their national colors. Whether this is true or not, is clearly open to debate - but it is an interesting little side story. From 1918 until August 1940, the cornflower blue-black-white flag flew from the Pikk Herman tower in Tallinn every day (Pikk Herman, the tallest tower of the Toompea fortress in Tallinn, is known to every Estonian since pre-school days). Weather conditions and wear on the flag caused the flag on the tower to be changed approximately 25 times per year. Triple heavyweight gold medal winner Kristjan Palusalu carried the Estonian flag in to the Olympic Stadium at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
Estonian independence ceased to exist when the Soviet Union formally annexed Estonia on 21 July 1940. At 0745 hours, the Estonian flag was struck from Pikk Herman tower by Soviet NKVD soldiers. It was replaced with the Soviet State flag. At that time, Estonia also received a politically "acceptable" Soviet Socialist Republic flag. During the first Soviet occupation (1940 - 1941), the Estonian flag was officially banned from display. The Soviets went so far as to ban the color combinations of blue-black-white from ever being produced (i.e. in clothing articles, textile designs, etc.) for fear of inadvertently fostering anti-Soviet feelings. This same ban also held true for Latvian and Lithuanian national colors. In mass media publications, the Soviets often referred to the old Estonian flag as the "blood-dogs flag" or the "counter-revolutionary flag", etc. Despite the ban, enterprising Estonians often found a way to replace the Soviet flag with the Estonian flag at many official installations throughout the 50 year Soviet occupation period.
During the German occupation (1941 to 1944), the Germans were far more tolerant of Estonian nationalism than were the Soviets. Much to their surprise (and dismay), in July and August of 1941, as they advanced towards Leningrad, they found large areas of Estonia were already cleared of Soviet forces. Estonian pre-independence partisans wasted no time in exacting their revenge on the retreating Soviets. When the Germans arrived in Estonian towns and villages, the saw that the Estonian flag was flying everywhere; an interim Estonian political administration was already in place, an Estonian postal administration was functioning.
Though the Germans quickly disbanded the Estonian political organs (they had hoped that the Soviets had already neutralized that problem), they basically turned a blind eye to the use of Estonian national colors. Estonian soldiers serving in both the Finnish and German military were identifiable by their small blue-black-white shields they carried on their sleeves. These sleeve shields were officially authorized by the German and Finnish military. Though not officially sanctioned, many Estonians serving in the German Army also affixed small blue-black-white shields to their M-42 Stahlhelm's (many Latvian and Lithuanian soldiers also did this with their national colors to their helmets). Estonian Luftwaffe pilots painted their propeller spinners in the Estonian colors, a practice also tolerated by the Luftwaffe. Most Estonian's flew either with Sonderstaffel Buschmann or in NSGr. 11. The official flags of the Estonians serving in either Finland's Infantry Regiment 200 or in the Estonian Legion of the German Army (20th SS Panzer Grenadier Division) included the Estonian national flag on one side of the flag. Interestingly, the Germans, on many state occasions, flew the Estonian (1918 -1940 state) flag underneath the German flag on Pikk Herman tower.
When the Soviets returned in the fall of 1944, all "Soviet" flag rules and regulations existing in July of 1940 returned to force. From 1944, until Estonia reclaimed its independence, no association with the blue-black-white was permitted. By the late 1980's, Soviet resistance to Estonian nationalism had diminished to such levels, that occasional displays of the old Estonian national colors were no longer fought by Soviet occupation officials.
In 1991, the Estonian flag once again flew over the land. In nearly every civilian and military instance, the pre-World War Two flags of Estonian officialdom were resurrected. In 1991, Estonia declared that all rules and regulation in force on 20 July 1940 (the last day of full Estonian independence) would be in force again. The 51 year occupation was only a temporary aberration in the Estonian nation.

Sini-must-valge 100 aastat (The blue-black-white 100 years); Artur Taksa; Eesti Üliõpilaste Selts Vanematekogu Kirjastus; Montreal, Canada, 1982 (Estoprint Ltd., Canada) (750 copies of the book were made).
Arvo L. Vercamer; 29 January 1999

Is this "(cornflower blue) black white" or "cornflower (blue black white)"? Or is is some blue shade that is characteristic to cornflower (whatever that be, flower of some grain sort?). Anyway, is there similar description of the blue shade by the Finnish? Finally, is the colour speciafication of today (if there exist, Pantone) same for Finnish and Estonian blue? Also, Finnish blue shade changed through time, were Estonian \par following.
Željko Heimer, 31 January 1999

It is (cornflower blue) + (black) + (white).
Christopher A. Young , 31 January 1999

blue wild flower which growing in the fields of corn, etc.. (that's why the name). In French it is "bleuet", in German "Kornblume" (same as in English), This is a common flower.
About the blue shad of Finlad flag , that is difficult to say. The blue colour of the Estonian flag was not fixed till the nineties. I don't think that shade of blue changed, the makers of the flag were using a blue which was nearest to the blue of a cornflower. I think the two blues were the same before WWII, but then the Finnish blue was made darker.According to "Valtioneuvoston päätos Suomen lipun väreistä" of the 16 September 1993, nr. 827, the blue of the Finnish flag is officially defined as PMS 294 C, ( for the state flag the red as PMS 186 C and the yellow as 123 C).
Pascal Vagnat, 31 December 1999

I have had a long discussion with the department of Estonia national symbols. They couldn't explain to me how it was possible this blue tone is so dark as at <>. Nobady use that color, BUT the law say so since 1992-
"the blue tone on the coat of arms is 285C; colors of the triad: C91% CYAN (blue), M 43% MAGENTA (??), Y 0% YELLOW, B 0% BLACK".
This was a chaotic time, I think that the error with the blue tone was made by some unknown person..
I am an historian, and I know exactly - before World War II (the first Republic) the blue tone of Estonian flag was "sky-blue". That means strictly opponent to the dark! (It must be a clearly optical difference between blue and black!). I have found a link in your page to an Estonian Flag with the right blue color (historical true, since 1884 as a flag of Estonian student corporation, until 1940 as a national flagg) blue color. That is  <>.
Indrek Kiverik, 11 January 2001

I should note that it derived or was inspired by the blue cross of the Finnish flag, which become officially darker twice since it's creation and also that the used description was not "sky blue" but "cornflower blue" - this color was then proposed as a symbol of all finnic peoples, from western Lappland to Taymyr-Nenentsia.
Anto'nio Martins, 24 January 2001

In the first constitution of Estonia 1922 the blue color was fixed as "sky-blue (cornflower-blue)" at the same time... It`s a clear dissonance! After that there was a discussion which color is righter - dark or "sky-blue". So we had untill 1937 a "sky-blue" flag like it was made in 1881 (the first version!). Since 1937 the tone of blue color on the flag was probably as today, but I`m not sure this comes from the constitution of 1937, because the fact is that untill 1945 in Estonia was officially used a first version of the flag - "sky-blue", 100%CYAN! The norm of this color from 1992 is different...I don`t know why.
Indrek Kiverik, 29 January 2001

Following Anto'nio Martins info that Pantone did not exit in 1937, nor a contemporary law would be expected to refer it nor CMYK, I have asked by members of Est. perliament - where is the official regulation of national flag coming from? It`s a fact, in 30's we had an "sky-blue" tricolor. Every time I have received an answer - "this reguletion is probably taken from the last constitution of independent republik" ...that is 1937. So I think the mistake (if it is) was made in 1990-92.
Indrek Kiverik, 4 Febuary 2001

Here is the picture of the first Estonian flag from 1881 (photo 1995) to support my claim above.
Indrek Kiverik, 16 August 2001

Indrek refers to the blue being too dark, although I would comment that the blue on the large 1881 flag is darker than the blue on our one.  However the sashes worn by the men are certainly much lighter.
Rob Raeside, 17 August 2001

I've looked at Indrek's photo of a 120-year old flag, and I have a question: could the blue have faded in a century and a bit?  The white stripe is certainly a bit yellowed. Anyway, there is a hotel here in Surrey, BC, Canada which is owned by Estonians, they fly the Eesti Lipud with a rather dark shade of blue. 
Dean McGee, 19 August 2001

We have some manufecturors whose work is not correct, but the department of national symbols can not control all of the producers of estonian flags...
A lot of some dark-blue flags were been produced on the beginning of 1990'.
Indrek Kiverik, 19 August 2001

The French e-zine "Regards sur l'Est" ("Looks at the East"), in his special report #30, "Mythes et Symboles", has a paper by Antoine Chalvin entitled "L'hirondelle et le bleuet" (The swallow and the cornflower - see in French at <>). The paper deals with the evolution of the perception of the national symbols in Estonia.
The author explains that, after ten years of independence, the perception of the national symbols ihas relaxed, whereas it was a matter of national affirmation under the Soviet era. At the end of the 1980s, the national flag, reestablished after a 50-year ban, was an object of veneration. Today, the flag has lost its sacred aura, so that some iconoclasts have used it in ways which would have caused a great fuss in the late 1980s.  In 1998, the painter Raul Meel scribbled coarse words on the flag and was awarded the National Price of Culture. In December 2001, Kaarel Tarand, the son of a former Prime Minister, proposed to change the national flag for a Scandinavian-like design and triggered a big national debate on the national symbols (1). These acts are not widespread and probably not widely approved by the Estonian people, but they are possible, which seems to prove that the Estonian nation has gained in self-assurance.
In the past, the Estonians were denied any national identity by the Soviet system, and they used two substitution symbols, the swallow and the cornflower (2). During the Soviet rule, all symbols (flag, arms and anthem) of the "bourgeois Estonia" were banned. The ban was extended to the national colours, and those who wore clothes "blatantly" blue, black and white were bothered by the KGB. However, some expressions of the Estonian national feeling were tolerated, provided they were not political and did not recall the independent Republic of Estonia. During the "thaw" period of the early 1960s, the Estonians were allowed to adopt a national bird and a national flower.
In 1960, the International Board for Birdlife Preservation, today Birdlife International, proposed that every country in the world adopts a national bird, on the model of the American eagle and the Japanese pheasant. In spite of not living in an independent country, the Estonian ornithologists adopted the swallow as the national bird, which was recognized by the International Board for Birdlife Preservation in 1962.
In 1967-1968, the Estonian Society for Nature Conservation organized a contest for the adoption of the national flower, which was widely aired on TV. The Estonians massively selected the cornflower, which defeated the daisy and the primrose.
The swallow is black and white, whereas the cornflower is blue. The association of these two symbols constituted a substitute to the banned colours.
The Soviet power quickly understood the meaning of the new national symbols and banned the cornflower. In 1969, the hall hosting the national festival of choral song, the most important Estonian cultural festival, was decorated with a lot of cornflowers. All the flowers were hastily painted in red and officially presented as marigolds.
With time, the swallow and the cornflower were more and more tolerated. They were widely used during the "Singing Revolution" at the end of the 1980s and officially adopted as "national symbols" by the Supreme Soviet of Estonia on 23 June 1988. The blue-black-white flag was reallowed in the same time.
However, the swallow and the cornflower are not State symbols, in spite of being widely used in national iconography. The 500 kroon banknote shows stylized cornflowers and a swallow; the swallow was featured on two postage stamps released in 1998 and 2001, the latter for the celebration of the 10th anniversary of independence.
Ivan Sache, 18 August 2005

Flag on Coin

image from <>

From <>:
"2004 Estonia 10 Kroon Colored Silver Proof Coin "Flag 120 Years"  
Issued on August 7, this issue celebrates the 120th anniversary of the national Estonian flag, with its three equal horizontal bands of blue, black, and white. On February 2, President Arnold Ruutel officially declared 2004 the year of the flag.  
In the late 1860s, Estonia was beginning to assert itself after a long period of German and Russian domination, and the student fraternity Vironia (an old name for Estonia) chose the traditional Estonian colors of black, white and blue as its colors. On April 7, 1882 Vironia publicly displayed its colors at a student parade, and the fraternity flag quickly gained acceptance among Estonians. On June 4, 1884 the flag was formally consecrated by the Estonian University Student Association at the University of Tartu. The flag subsequently became associated with Estonian nationalism and was used as the national flag when Estonia became independent from Imperial Russia on February 24, 1918, formally adopting the flag on November 21, 1918. From 1918 until August 1940, the flag flew from the tallest tower of the Toompea fortress in Tallinn every day.   When the Soviet Union formally annexed Estonia on July 27, 1940 the Estonian flag and color combinations were officially banned from display. During the German occupation 1941–1944, the flag was accepted as the ethnic flag of Estonians but not the national flag. When the Soviets returned in Fall of 1944, all Soviet flag rules and regulations existing in July 1940 returned to force, and no association with the flag or colors were permitted.   The movement to restore Estonia's independence started in the late 1980s, and culminated on August 20, 1991. However, already on February 24, 1989, the flag of the Soviet Union was replaced by the Estonian national flag on Toompea tower. It was re-adopted as the national flag on August 7, 1990, shortly before Estonia regained its full independence.   Estonians have explained the symbolic meaning of the three colours in several ways. Blue is the sky, black symbolizes the soil, and white symbolises snow and the bark of the birch tree. Another interpretation says that blue symbolises faith, black suffering and white hope for a brighter future.   Designed by Tiit Jurna, the obverse features the coat of arms of Estonia with its three lions and golden oak branches. The reverse features a blue, black and white ribbon modelled on the national flag.   The coin is minted in 99.9% fine silver by the Mint of Finland, measures 38.61 mm in diameter and features a weight of 28.28 grams.   The worldwide mintage limit is 10,000 pcs, and the item comes delivered encapsulated in a jewel box with a certificate of authenticity."
Lewis A. Nowitz, 15 January 2005