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Public use of flags

Last modified: 2005-08-06 by phil nelson
Keywords: flag: usage |
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Pro-War (or whatever you wish to call them) demonstrations were held around the US today. I stopped by the one in New York. Not much to report, flag-wise: Mostly US flags, and US flags on placards, buttons, etc. (Oh, and one US flag on a flag. Sigh.) The only exception was a large Australian flag at the front of the demonstration.

However, it did bring a question to mind. John Derbyshire, a columnist for National Review, recently wrote the following, in a column describing ways in which the US doesn't understand Europe, and vice versa (

There is perhaps no other country in the world [besides the US- NL] in which, on a day that is not a national holiday, you can walk down a residential street and see flags flying from the doorposts. I have been hunting around on the web for statistics on flag ownership? how many citizens, country by country, actually own a copy of their country's flag. Couldn't find those statistics, but I feel sure the U.S.A. easily ranks number one in this table, too; and I bet that was true even before 9/11. I lived more than twenty years in Britain, and I can't recall a single instance of any British person I knew owning a British flag.

My question, therefore, is this: Is it true? We're all flag enthusiasts here, but what are general non-US flag ownership rates? At demonstrations of any sort in Europe, for example, is the local national flag seen much? (I guess it would be best to concentrate on demonstrations that are not anti-local government- say, an anti-war rally in France as opposed to one in Spain; although I personally see flags as representing nations and not governments, I suppose many disagree.) It seems that what's been shown here are more generic "peace" flags or defacements of US flags, which may have their place, but are there national flags?
Nathan Lamm, 23 March 2003


Flying the national flag in front of your home all year round is very popular in Scandinavian countries, including Denmark. Even vacation homes (sometimes tiny cottages without electricity or running water) often have a flag pole on the front lawn. Customs even dictates (or merely recommends?) to fly a very long and very narrow ("vimpel") in the national colors when the national flag is not flown, so that the flag pole never be empty.

As to protest rallies, national flags were very popular at pro-democracy rallies in Central Eastern European countries around 1989/90. It was a way for demonstrators to show that the national flag really belonged to the people and was a symbol of national identity and self-determination, not of the communist regime which had tried to co-opt it. In cases where the regime had added a communist symbol to the historic national flag, e.g., Romania or Bulgaria, demonstrators would usually carry flags without that symbol (which sometimes led to flags with a whole, esp. in Romania, where demonstrators simply cut out the symbol.) In one interesting case in East Germany, demonstrators routinely carried the flag of a foreign country, i.e., West Germany! (The East German flag was the West German flag with an added communist symbol.),
Thorsten, 24 March 2003


Well, in Colombia people (private citizens) are supposed to fly or show (i.e. from the window) the national flag on national holidays, so it is safe to suppose that a lot of private citizens own flags. Recently, several campaigns had tried to promote the use of the flag anytime, so you can actually walk down a residential street and see flags flying from the doorposts.

The flag is supposed to be the national flag: The Yellow-Blue-Red horizontal tricolor with yellow 1/2 in height, without any defacements and any length (customary it should be 2:3 but there is nothing in the law specifying the length of the national tricolor; the law is clear on the civil ensign). However flying the state flag by private citizens is not uncommon (the state flag is the one with the coat-of-arms on a white circle, bordered in red, when is not the presidential flag or it stands for a military unit, the inscription on the red border is usually "REPUBLICA / DE COLOMBIA").

The law says that only the president and the military units may fly flags with coat-of-arms, but as far as I know, nobody is enforcing the law preventing private citizens to use such flags. I even dare to say that most small flags, those designed to "fly" on a pole standing over a table in, say, a school classroom, have the coat-of-arms on it.

And, of course, every time the national soccer team plays, and mainly when it wins (and some time for other sport events) you will see the Colombian flag everywhere. Including those Colombian flags with the name of the country in white over the blue stripe, or defaced with the logo of the Colombian Football Federation, or even defaced with the logo of certain beer brand.
Carlos Thompson, 24 March 2003


The question of levels of flag ownership and usage in different countries is an interesting one. Some years ago a survey was conducted in the Scandinavian countries to measure levels of national identity included questions on flag use - see: Pål Ketil Botvar and Jorun Lunestad: Survey om nasjonale symboler i Skandinavia: en dokumentasjonsrapport, Oslo: Diakonhjemmets høgskolesenter, 2001.

In one of the survey's questions respondents were asked whether they themselves, or the household to which they belonged, had used the Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish flag in various circumstances during the past year. The question made no distinction between kinds of flags, so respondents may have had flags hoisted on flag poles, as well as both small hand wavers and flags for cakes and Christmas threes in mind when answering.

In the Norwegian sample only 6 percent reported that they did not posses a national flag. A further 9 percent reported they had not used the flag at all during the past year. However, 82 percent reported having used the flag on national holidays and 50 percent reported having used the flag on private festive occasions.

In Denmark, flag use was also quite common. Though 10 percent of respondents reported they did not own a flag and a further 7 percent reported they had not used the flag during the past year, a full 81 percent reported use of the flag on private festive occasions during the previous year. Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, only 13 percent of Danes reported having used the flag on national days of celebration.

Compared to Denmark and Norway, the data reported by Botvar and Lunestad indicate that Swedes are less keen on using their national flag. In the Swedish sample, 17 percent answered they did not own the national flag and a further 18 percent reported they had not used the national flag over the past year. ‘Only’ 49 percent of Swedes reported they had used the flag on private festive occasions and 24 percent had used the flag on national days of celebration. Note however that 27 percent of Swedes had used the flag for seasonal events, probably reflecting the position of Midsummer in Sweden (corresponding figures concerning seasonal events were 13 percent for Norway and 11 percent for Denmark).

Other occasions for which the flag is used in the Scandinavian countries include private days of mourning (28 percent in Norway, 22 percent in Denmark, 12 percent in Sweden), days of religious significance (23 percent in Norway, 15 percent in Sweden, 12 percent in Denmark).
Jan Oskar Engene, 25 March 2003