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Croatia - History of the National Flag

Last modified: 2004-12-18 by dov gutterman
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by Carlos Esparza, 21 January 2001

See also:

Other sites:

  • Zeljko Heimer's FAME


Croatian horizontal tricolour of red, white and blue inherited it's colours, of course, from the Croatian coats of arms: Croatian chequered red and silver, Dalmatian blue with three golden leopards, and Slavonian blue with red field with black marten bordered with two white wavy lines, and golden star above. All of the three coats were, in fact, used in different times for all the land, as it is with the name also. Later in 19th cent. the geographical meaning of these names was finally firmly established. The land was named in 19th cent Triunar (meaning one made of three) Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia. Therefore, it is not unusual that the flag was made of all three colours.

The first time that it was officially proclaimed was in 1848 and under the influence of revolutionary movements in Europe, a simple tricolour was made. The flag was, of course, without any coat. However, it was used as local flag in a big empire, so it remained more or less internationally unknown, but it became one of the most important symbols of the Croatian people. Very often it can be seen on old postcards, most often together with Croatian coats (normally not on the flag, but from time to time as a part of the flag).

After the end of the World War Croatia proclaimed independence, and a tricolour became the state flag, again without coats. The collision with the Dutch flag didn't became, as a matter of fact, a problem, because the state was short living. After a short time, Croatia was united with Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in the State of Slovenians, Croats and Serbs (not to be mistaken with the later Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians), and a month later occupied by Serbian forces united in a Kingdom under Serbian dynasty which already had annexed Montenegro. This state was then named Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and took a neutral combination of pan-slavene colours blue white red (both Serbia and Montenegro had red blue white and Slovenia white blue red).

The Croatian flag again remained as local flag, highly respected by the people, but half illegal, as the Belgrade government tried to unite all nations into a Yugoslav nation. These efforts didn't succeed, and in 1938 a separate province (banovina) of Croatia was made. It took, as one can expect, the red white blue tricolour and in official use the coat of the province in the middle. By this time many Croatian political parties used the Croatian tricolour with their respective symbol in the middle. The best known was the Croatian Peasant Party, HSS, with a chequered red white field bordered green.
Zeljko Heimer, 14 October 1995

Reading the [isa01], I found out an interesting detail, however not very clear. After description of the austro-hungarian flags used on sea during 19th century on eastern Adriatic, and after a paraghraph on national colurs (i.e. Croatian national tricolour based flags) used as house flags and owner's signals on ships beside the A-H ensign, Isaic writes: "For river navigation the flag hoisting was solved with legislation of 1869 according to which each ship was to hoist its national flag. The first Croatian river ship "Sloga" was owned by Savsko-kipsko d.d. from Sisak, acquired in 1844."
This hints at least that the ships on rivers used national flags as opposed to the flag of the Dual Monarchy, and that this "national" is mean the flags of Croatia (Hungary, Austria etc. as appropriate). The year of 1869 is also the year of the Croatian-Hungarian Treaty with which the duties and authorities of the two kingdoms were in details defined. Weather this is the 1869 legislation Isaic refers, I don't know. If so, then possibly other A-H crownlands were not in that legislation, but if it was some kind of wider legislation, it may be that the same was prescribed for e.g. Czech ships on rivers, and maybe some others too.
Zeljko Heimer, 17 July 2002

Interpretations of the Colours

One of interpretations of colours dating from late 19th century is Red Croatia, White Croatia, and Kingdom of Slavonia (blue). Red and White Croatia are Croatian states from early middle age, approximately in today's Dalmatia (Red) and central Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (White).

And finally to mention an interpretation of colours of the Croatian flag made by Miroslav Krleza, a great national writer, saying that the colours represent the three symbols of Croatian history and people: blood of Croatian martyrs, Croatian peaceful lamb like nature, and Croatian devotion to God.
Zeljko Heimer, 14 October 1995

Order of Checquy Gules-Argent

[Unofficial Croatian Flag]
Unofficial Croatian Flag
by Zeljko Heimer

There is another issue, that has to be considered with the Croatian flag, that sometimes became a political question. It is the arrangement (or the order) of the red and white fields in the shield. The question is on the first square, as it is usually called, meaning the one in the upper right (heraldically) corner, weather it is red or white. The discussion on the matter was sometimes quite hot. The shield is usually 5x5 and sometimes (especially when the shield is trierced) 4x4. Until 1918 white was usually preferred, afterwards red (in most cases then the trierced shield was displayed). In Independent State in WW II the first square was white, and after 1945 again red (it was used, oddly enough, in a centre of coat of arms of Socialist Republic of Croatia in Yugoslavia, and not on the flags where it was forbidden). Now it is red. However it is possible to see flags with a coat with first white square, and a shield smaller than the white strip, without the crown of five shields above. This flag is not at all approved, but it is tolerated for use by private persons. It is common opinion that those who fly it are oriented politically to the extreme right.
What does heraldry say on that? Heraldic definition of chequered red and white does not say anything on which one goes first. However, most of books refer that if the shield stands for its own, it should have red first, mainly for aestethical purposes, making the borders of the shield more visible. If the shield stands together with others, e.g. in the trierced shield of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia, or the one of Kingdom of Yugoslavia, it is better to have the white one first, so that more metal (white) than colour (red) is against the coloured fields (red, blue) of the other two.
There is, also, a nice legend among the people on that. It is said that the red square comes first in the time of trouble and war, and white one in peace and freedom. The legend is nice, but is not true, as it is seen from the example of 1941 to 1945 when there was first white, but it was the most tragic and troublesome period of Croatian national history, with a civil war going on between left and right option of Croatian national corps. The red one was used for long periods of peace (but not freedom), and now the red one is used in freedom (but not peace).
Zeljko Heimer, 14 October 1995

Actually, the heraldic definition of chequered red and white does say something on which one goes first. At least in English, "chequy gules and argent" means red (gules) goes first, and "chequy argent and gules" means white (argent) goes first.
But the shield is older than the description; and it's likely that in old days, before armigers became numerous enough to require such fine distinctions, the shield was represented both ways.
A partial solution might be to use a shield whose top edge is not square, so the "first" cell is ambiguous.
Anton Sherwood, 14 October 1995

This have been attempted, but anyone you ask here would say instantly the "first" is the one that is on the edge (even if it is not shaped as a square). I am taking this much time on it, because it is quite an important question here.
There is one solution I've seen that is appropriate sometimes. It is to show the coat in relief. Than it is difficult to say if the deeper square is white, or if it's red.
Zeljko Heimer, 18 October 1995