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Report on the 25th International Congress of Vexillology

Last modified: 2014-11-15 by rob raeside
Keywords: international congress of vexillology | rotterdam |
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Daily Reports on the ICV

4 August - Day 0

 The ICV is about to commence. Many delegates gathered this evening in the top floor of the Engels Conference Centre, which makes it the hottest floor (where have we heard that before?), but fortunately with an open air rooftop plaza that we were able to enjoy. Rotterdam is certainly a modern city, lots of steel and glass, and the view from the rooftop plaza was the finest. It seemed like a big crowd mingling - the report is over 100, although we will wait to see who actually sits down to the conference. A big continent from Australia, which host the next ICV - no doubt looking for tips on how it is all done. We joined in a toast to a great week, before scoffing the hors d'oeuvres provided, and launching out on a hunter-gatherer mission to locate suitable restaurants for the evening. Those of us suffering from jet lag went home to bed.
More tomorrow when we start properly with the opening ceremonies down by the Flag Parade on the river front.
Rob Raeside, 4 August 2013

5 August - Day 1

Day 1 at the ICV began with the unofficial flag-raising of flags in the magnificent Rotterdam Flag Parade, well imaged at Flag of all nations are hoisted permanently, along with about 20 extra poles, used currently for Rotterdam city green-white-green flags. However five poles were conspicuously empty as we arrived bright and early at 8 a.m., awaiting the hoisting of the national flag (accompanied by the national anthem), the state flag of Zuid Holland, the city flag, and the flag of two major sponsors of the congress, the Flag Museum and the Flag Parade organization. All was well organized, with a portable stage, abundant loud and at times somewhat incongruous music, and a convenient shadowed area beneath the war memorial for the customary Day 1 group photo, except for one minor detail - the flag of the Flag Parade was hoisted upside down. Embarrassingly it was the first flag we saw that contained text, so it was abundantly clear that it was upside down! However, all eyes averted (although I am sure it's on Twitter by now!), the necessary switch was made and a cheer accompanied it back up the pole.

Following a short bus ride back to the Engels Conference Centre, we convened in the ultra-tropical roof-top convention ante-room, dreading the thought of climbing yet higher into the auditorium, where the merchant marines and a magnificent vista of the city awaited us. Rotterdam truly is a splendid city of modern architecture. Each building seems to be trying to surpass the architectural excess of its neighbour, and our view from the 9th floor was spectacular as the sailors of the merchant marine paraded in with the congress, national and city flags for the official opening. The president of the NVVV, Joost Schokkenbroek then welcomed us in very eloquent terms and introduced Michel Lupant, president of FIAV, who gave his customary multilingual welcoming remarks, and clonked the desk with the big FIAV gavel to proclaim the conference open and ensure everyone was still wide awake.

That was enough excitement for a while, so we adjourned back to the steamy rooftop lounge for coffee or tea, and a chance to compare notes, review items to be sold off at the bazaar, or generally search of coolness. Accompanying members then left on a tour of Delft, and sessions began seriously with a short presentation about the Port of Rotterdam by the harbour master. His talk was well illustrated with video and images of the work of the port, but being a workhorse of Europe, it was very focused on the superlatives that are Rotterdam, and I don't think we ever did learn if he had his own flag.  Like any business, the business of running a port involves a lot of branding these days, and Rotterdam is no exception, it seems. Many commercial flags were evident, as they too express branding of their shipping lines, commercial institutions, etc.

The first truly vexillological presentation was by John Cartledge, from the Flag Institute in the UK, who began perusing how countries that have formed by the union of parts have approached the adoption of a flag - for example South Africa and Tanzania, and of course the United Kingdom. However, his main theme is what happens when events like the interregnum interrupt such a process - the flags of the "British Republic" (Cromwell, et al.) Apparently at the restoration of the kingdom, the order was to destroy any record of the interregnum, and all flags appear to have been lost - but one, a possible flag of the Lord High Admiral, as shown at gb-inter.html#lha. There is some dispute as to what this flag is - was it an error of manufacture (the shields are upside down) that was "lost" at some point, only to be found again in the 20th century? Or was this a real flag? John reviewed the evolution of the St. George Cross/Irish harp design through the period, then the conflict of design when Scotland was added to the Commonwealth in 1654. Finally he speculated on what might happen to the current Union flag should Scotland choose independence. His conclusion is that most people don't know the Scottish connection in the Union flag, so they would retain it as the flag of "Little Britain".

After a pleasant lunch at ground level, we returned to the rooftop auditorium to resume, listening to what was for me a fascinating insight into what can be gleaned from dyes used in ancient flags. Art Proaño is a chemist and research analyst at the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency, and spends his time unraveling the history of fabrics by analysis of the dyes. Starting from the 16th century he reviewed the techniques involving direct dyeing, mordants and vat dyeing, recognising that some of the principal colorants were obtained from vegetable or insect matter - woad, indigo, madder, brazilwood, logwood, cochineal, oak and cork. His talk was a superb blend of botany, beetles, economics, history, politics and chemistry, using examples of Dutch, Swedish and German flags, and an Italian banner. Interestingly he noted that restoration attempts have often been more destructive than beneficial, at least of evidence for flag heritage.  In the Q&A session afterwards, he related one possible reason why the Dutch flag shifted from red to orange at one time, when the Netherlands lost its foothold in Brazil (named after the brazilwood tree, which supplied a superior red dye), and was reduced to using poor quality madder instead, with at best achieved an orange hue.

Next up was Ralph Kelly, well known to this group, and chief of the organization of the Sydney ICV in 2015. Ralph can always be counted on to provide interesting insights, and this year was no exception as he reviewed colonial signal flags in Sydney Harbour. In the early 19th century, emigrants (whether voluntary or not) eagerly awaited contact with the world outside and set up watch at the harbour entrance to announce the arrival of a ship. Without any other method of communication, an elaborate signal system was developed that could relay detail as fine as "expect a ship coming in from the north conveying male convicts from Ireland", thereby alerting all the residents as to what to expect next day. The signals were made from 8 km away and were used alone up to the 1850s when rising buildings began to obscure the sight lines, and the telegraph began. However they were still employed up to 1912, although latterly mostly for weather warnings. Signals evolved as the cargoes did - when non-convict women began to arrive, what signal could be used - that for female convicts? Or merchandise? New signals were needed.

After a short coffee break (20 minutes sharp!), Dominique Cureau reviewed the various flags found on French ships, from national flags to the flags of the 10 arrondisements, signal flags, pilot flags and house flags, starting with a French East Indies Company in 1664, and using selected examples to the modern day. I think most appear on FOTW (fr~hf.html), but bears checking. Dominique spoke in French, but illustrated his presentation in English, and I think managed to keep the attention of the non-francophone component of his audience.

Geoff Parsons, chair of the Flag Institute of the UK, then took us across the Channel to Portsmouth where he gave us a virtual of the diversity of flags that could be seen at the Portsmouth Naval Base. The naval base is part museum, part operational, part ship-building yard, so anything from the flag of the First or Second Sea Lord or the standard of the Princess Royal, to the common maritime flags of many nations may be seen, depending on the day. The Naval Base preserves the HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose, which occasionally get dressed for special events. This was a fascinating insight into the ongoing relevance of flags in a fully operational naval base. And who else would be sure to inform us that Admiralty House on the base was the location of the first flushing toilet in the United Kingdom?

Annie Platoff concluded the sessions for the day reviewing the use of flags in an aeronautical condition - namely on the Space Shuttles. Starting off by getting rid of any technological hang-ups (throwing away the slide advance remote control), she introduced us to the use of flags on the fuselage and wings, the NASA "worm" and "meatball" (two logos, the latter more preferred than the former by employees), and moved on to the intricate, and modernistic designs on the individual mission patches, and even payload flags, many of which incorporated components of the US and other national flags, with increasingly complex and often awful designs as time went by. The orbiters had archivexillar designs, all employing a silhouette of the shuttle as one of the letters of the name (see us-shut.html). Finally, she reviewed the thriving space collectors industry, whereby flags taken to space, sometimes by the thousand, were returned for provision to NASA employees, and now are available on ebay. On the final (135th) mission, some 24,780 small handwaver flags were taken aloft to ensure supply as novelties on earth!

So concluded a full and interesting day at the Engels Convention Centre. We then trotted off to the City Hall, one of the few buildings to survive the bombing of WW2 in Rotterdam, a magnificent stone building with at least 10 different rock types visible in the front entrance. I wished I could have my  Geology class there for a rock lesson! Also of great interest was the dome in the front interest, adorned with the coats of arms of European nations, and the Citizens Hall where were received by the vice-mayor, who in return took receipt of a "new" Rotterdam city flag. Rotterdam is striving to be greener, so was deemed appropriate to increase the number of green stripes from 2 to 4. It was then pointed out that in so doing, the percentage of green thereby dropped from 67% to 57%. Oops! Perhaps it was the camaraderie, or perhaps it was the wine, but all was taken in good humour. The Citizens Hall is itself adorned with many flags of the period of building, around the 1920s. After the formal events concluded, Peter Hans, Željko and I relocated to a convenient café for refreshments, dinner, and an opportunity to set the world (or at least FOTW) aright, a process we will continue in the Urban Room of the main floor dining area in the Engels Centre tomorrow afternoon after the FIAV meeting (5 - 7 p.m.) All FOTWers and wannabe FOTWers in Rotterdam are welcome to join us.
Rob Raeside
, 5 August 2013

6 August - Day 2

Tuesday has come to an end - a day of wide-ranging presentations dealing with the "Semiotics of and Symbolism in Flags" and "Historical Flags of Asia", concluding with the General Assembly of FIAV. After an impressive display of atmospheric electricity and heavy rain overnight, the new day dawned much cooler and fresher, and the conference venue was much more comfortable for those of us more used to northern latitudes. The first presentation of the morning was given by Scot Guenter who examined flag retirement rituals, primarily in USA, using a scholarly and philosophical approach. He noted how the treatment of flags arose from a combination of the perceived need to deal appropriately with disused and decaying flags, and the need to employ the flag as a symbol of veneration in a quasi-religious sense. The US flag-burning ceremony was devised by members of the American Legion in the 1930s, and became increasingly elaborate, employing dissecting of the flag, sequential burning of the red and white stripes and then canton, until in the modern day the stars are sometimes cut out and retrieved for presentation to servicemen. He emphasised the mingling of religion and ritual and the increasing need for the veneration of the symbol in his very thought-provoking address.

The second talk was by a new face at the ICV, Tiago José Berg, from Saõ Paulo, Brazil, who presented the findings of his university thesis on the employment of landscape in mainly national flags. Starting with simply bicolours and tricolours (Ukraine: sky over wheatfields; Estonia: sky over dark forest over snow) and moving on to more stylistic representations (Armenia: red/blue/gold = sun/sky/wheat = freedom/hope/work), he matched flags with scenic photographs or paintings that will help us recall more easily the order of stripes in some of these less known tricolours. He then moved on to the use of landscapes in coats of arms seen on national flags, where more realistic scenes are often employed. In conclusion he noted interestingly that the use of landscapes are often seen as relatively neutral symbols on flags, and in the Q&A it was recognised that it is common for the significance of colours to evolve through times, sometimes invoking a landscape after the fact, or sometimes starting off as rooted in the landscape, but having new meanings endowed on them through time.

Next up was the youngest member of the congress, Amy Langston, who employed a record 77 slides to examine the symbolism of the use of stars in flags. She noted that stars often become a symbol by default, and the meaning can be wide ranging, with variations in colour, shape (3-pointed to 24-pointed examples were shown), arrangement, and religious connotation all being offered. Amy was the first person to show a flag "in the cloth" - the flag of Ward Co., Texas (us-tx-wa.html) where the stars are arranged in the position of the seven cities and towns in the county.

After a coffee break, we moved our focus to Asia, beginning with a presentation by Sekhar Chakrabarti on the ancient use of the swastika symbol, and an attempt to address the question how a symbol can be transported across space and time. He provided an impressive collection of swastika symbols and images from around the world and noted the employ of the swastika in tablets from India from over 3000 years ago, but also its use in North American native burial mounds in Ohio in copper ornaments. The swastika was a widespread symbol on many continents during the Bronze Age, 5000 years ago. The word swastika comes from Sanskrit, Su Asti, meaning good fortune and good being. Looking at more modern uses, he spoke about the possible use of the swastika in the chakra in Indian flags in the 1920s, and that it was still used in an Indian shipping line flag until the line ceased in the 1990s. Other well-known uses of the swastika include the Tule symbol in Panama, and ongoing uses in Hindu culture, by Falun Gong and Jains. More controversially, it has been used to promote controversy, as in the book "Imperfect Justice" where a swastika arrangement of gold ingots on the Swiss flag is employed to draw attention to the lodgment of Nazi German funds in Swiss banks.

The next talk of the morning turned to the ancient and epic flags of India, in which Cdr KV Singh of the Flag Foundation of India extracted details from the Rig Veda, perhaps the world's oldest document, that have been interpreted as references to flags. In what must be the highest decibel presentation of the conference, he produced many depictions of flags based on ancient writings, including the shining blue flag with a white emblem, and a possible rendering of it in a pennant form with white multibranched tree. The flags mentioned were used at flag festivals, with many similarities to the modern use of the flag to open and close the Olympic games. Several other flags are associated with various gods and warriors, including the headless god Ketu who, KV claimed, had the power to endow a follower with an infatuation for flags. Warriors raised flags with auspicious symbols - the snake, skull, palm as examples. Some symbols were considered not honorable enough if seen on a flag that they were not worthy of fight (e.g., the bird). He emphasised that flags were depictive of an inner (character) state, not an outer (national) state.

The final presentation of the morning by Xing Fei took us north into the study of vexillology in China. Beginning with a 9th century fresco, and Manchu banners of the 17-19th centuries, he traced the development of flags from traditional designs to more western designs as the influence of the west increased in China. One particularly interesting scene of Guangzhou Harbour from 1805 showed the use of several western flags (Netherlands, UK, USA, Sweden, Denmark and Spain) above a busy harbour scene where boats flew smaller oriental banners. He then reviewed the development of the national flag from the 19th century dragon flag, through the 18-balls flag (cn-nwarf.html) and the five bar flag cn-nqta.html), which he firmly attested referred to five groups of people, into the flags of the communist period. In modern use is the example of the 2011 City Games, in which 72 cities participated, and each city was represented by a single colour flag with the name written in the centre in a contrasting colour (apparently avoiding the use of green or black). He noted that flag culture has been slow to develop and vexillological investigations even slower, although he did show a text entitled "Atlas of Flags in China". In the Q&A he ominously responded to a question from Graham Bartram, suggesting that in time flag use will become as prevalent as in the west. What does that mean for FOTW - could it be tens of thousands of new municipal flags?

After lunch, a quick switch of the program brought Marcel van Westerhoven (who also has done much of the local legwork to make the conference happen so smoothly) brought a presentation of the flags of the princely states of Indonesia. This is an area with a preponderance of flags, but only very limited resources - much work remains to be done. When a sultanate has over 20 flags for various officials, and there are tens of sultanates on each island, and tens of islands, that soon mounts up to a bewildering variety of flags. Marcel introduced us to some of the themes, as we will get to see some of these flags in the Ethnological Museum in Leiden tomorrow. He was able to pull out some geographic, cultural and religious similarities, and using a recently loaded site we now have some access to maps of the former Dutch East Indies, but still the primary source is Rühl (1952), a translation of which we have id_pruhl.html. Native symbols like the kris, or crossed kris abound, the colours red and white represent the duality of man, the yellow colour is much favoured, especially on Borneo, and especially by higher (royal) ranks. Hindus and Buddhists often used the Garuda, Islamists the zulfiqar, verses from the Koran or the crescent and star. Having once edited in this area, I was pleased to see that the images I often doubted were real were in fact based on a source - it is so important for our contributors to indicate the sources of images we post.

Finally, talks ended with a presentation in a Chinese language, but translated on the spot, by Zhao Xinfeng, founder of the Centre for Flag Culture Information and the China Flag Network, and the man behind the flags at the Beijing Olympics. In spite of the paucity of information on our website, China has a long history of flag use, with early "chi" characters being carved on bone. This pictograph meaning flag represents a streamer flying from a tree. An early book by Zhou lists 9 functions of flags: the emperor (sun, moon), governors (crossed dragons), the deputy prime minister (a large red flag), senior officials (many colours), generals (bears and tigers), official state flag (falcon), county level officials (turtles or snake), a leading car (a plume) or a rear car (feathers or an oxtail). Military flags were used for signalling, and ceremonial flags were often objects of veneration. In addition early flags were surprisingly modern, being used to attract attention for advertising or commercial purposes.

So concluded the formal presentations. Marcel van Westerhoven clarified the gift of the seven-striped Rotterdam flag last night to the vice-mayor was part of a semi-serious lobby effort to return Rotterdam to a multistriped flag, and indeed for the week of the congress, the seven stripes are flying from the south tower of the city hall - a minor victory indeed! The remainder of the afternoon was given over to the General Assembly of FIAV. Some 45 member organizations were present when the assembly was called to order and each delegate was provided with their elaborate voting card. Jan Oskar Engene and Alex Brozak were appointed as tellers, and the minutes of the 2011 Assembly were passed. President Lupant related on his travels on behalf of the Federation to 14 countries for flag research, and the secretaries reported on their labours on our behalf, ensuring organization of the Assembly, and continuity of ICVs. Bids were received to host the 2017 ICV in Greenwich, London, UK (the 2015 is already confirmed for Sydney, Australia) and the 2019 ICV in San Antonio, Texas. Both were approved. Ralph Kelly reported on the exceptional organization that appears to be done for the Sydney ICV, with much sponsorship already promised. Hugh Brady reported on the relocation of Whitney Smith's collection from the Flag Research Center to the University of Texas in Austin, a collection which will be available for viewing by the San Antonio congress. The board (president Michel Lupant, secretary general Charles "Kin" Spain, and secretary general for congresses Graham Bartram were reelected by acclamation, and by report we were reminded that the publication arising from the Alexandria 2011 congress was prepared in advance of the conference. A report of progress was received from the commission to adopt vexillological conventions for flag descriptions, but no final report is yet prepared. Finally, the Bulgarian Heraldry and Vexillology Society, the Portland Flag Association, the Bandiere Storiche ("Historical flags") and the Genealogical Society of Ireland (vexillology division) were approved as new members, just in time to vote for adjournment. The world of FIAV is doing what it should.

At 5 p.m., a group of interested FOTWers convened in the Urban Lounge of the Engels Centre, where I provided an opportunity to review the work of FOTW, and garner insights into where it is headed. Peter Hans van den Muizenberg elaborated on some of the programming changes he has made, and the opportunity to open up the page-building process on FOTW. Several suggestions were received, and I hope someone took notes, as I was busy trying to moderate an ever-exuberant Roman to ensure discussion was received from all sides. Thanks to all for the great turnout - I thought perhaps the intervention of the FIAV assembly would allow people to drift away, but the group was eager and full of ideas. Some that I remember included focusing our efforts on one website (so mirrors that fall behind no longer exist), providing .svg files that can be used at any size, especially where Wikipedia files are inaccurate or non-existent, ensuring that editorial responsibilities are distributed, and many more. In discussion of the use of the FOTW-Facebook initiative to transfer FOTW to a wiki, while the idea has merit, it was recognised that the job was immense, and that it is vital to retain a known degree of peer-review, and not open up the website to editing by anyone. Too many agendas with alternate versions of reality exist out there. So ended another busy and productive day. After a brief html session with Peter Hans and Bruce, we retired with another group of foragers to an Argentine tapas restaurant for a lovely feast and tales of times past. Tomorrow we have the day off talks, as we take a trip to The Hague - more about that another time.
Rob Raeside
, 6 August 2013

7 August - Day 3

Today in Rotterdam was a day off from the talks and bazaars in the Engels Convention Centre, and an opportunity to see some interesting sights across Zuid-Holland. Our buses left the city at 8.45 and took us across the greenhouse heart of the Netherlands to the warehouses that house the collections of the Leiden Museum. We had a couple of hours to peruse the various rooms, one housing Indonesian materials, one with materials from other lands, and the third showing some ongoing study of flags of princely states in Indonesia. We were privileged to see the original flags of some of the rather scanty images on FOTW.

From there, we moved on to The Hague, where first we viewed the flag parade (somewhat abbreviated by steady light rain) then on to the International Peace Palace, where we were provided with an escorted tour around the building. A spot of excitement occurred on this short journey when we were held up by a police escort with flashing lights taking a member of royalty to his next engagement. Most impressive works of art and ornamentation, many of them gifts from the various nations when the palace was constructed over 100 years.

In the evening we gathered on the river aboard the Spido riverboat to dine and chat on a riverboat tour. While perhaps not the prettiest boat tour I have been on, it was indeed impressive. Sailing in and out of the various wharves gives a good impression of the immensity of the Rotterdam harbour. Ships flagged from Panama, Liberia, Russia, Cyprus, Argentina, Netherlands, Finland, among others attests to the international nature of the port, and oil rigs, bulk coal (and cat litter!) facilities, hectares of oil tanks, and increasingly larger container ships down the Maas River show the diversity of commerce.  Almost as impressive was the service in the riverboat, which to the tones of Thus Spake Zarathustra rose from the floor to serve a lovely buffet. Some at my table were especially pleased that desserts came around again, and again, and again!

So ended a third day in Rotterdam. The skies have cleared tonight, and I hope our minds have cleared in order to embark on a full day of presentations tomorrow.
Rob Raeside
, 7 August 2013

8 August - Day 4

Thursday has now come and gone, and with it a long day of presentations. The first sessions in the morning focused on flags of three islands. We started with student Edwin Crump from Australia who has written a thesis on the sociology of Lord Howe Island, including a substantial review of the use of flags. On a 10 x 1 km island in the Tasman Sea live 300 people, many loyal to their 7-generation heritage on the island. Around 2000 a new flag was developed displaying a yellow disk showing a native palm before two mountains placed on a blue and white union flag-style base. Edwin conducted a series of interviews with the population on their impressions of the flag and concluded that flags are dynamic, condensed symbols that can be simultaneously unifying and divisive. He recognised that both a cultural and a personal mythology can be transcoded to flags, a process that transforms a piece of cloth into an object with power. Legitimization comes daily use, and acceptance of the origin myths of the flag. The LHI was developed by John Vaughan off-island, so there is some resistance to acceptance. Edwin's lecture was very thoughtful and he is willing to share his entire thesis with anyone who wants to investigate further.

The next talk by Michel Lupant recorded his visit to Bermuda two year ago, beginning with illustrations of the old badge (1875-1910) depicting three ships by a dock that was used at least unofficially on a blue ensign. The first depiction of the current coat of arms dates from 1910, displaying the wrecked ship held by a lion, and used on a red ensign, or on a union flag for the governor. The blue ensign can be seen in use by the Government Marine Services, for example at lighthouses. The red ensign was considered to be the flag of the island by default, as expressed by the governor in 1955, and finally authorized in 1967. Early versions in the 1960s and 1970s used a white disk for the badge, which was dropped, and in 1999 the badge was enlarged. In 2007 a more elaborate badge was introduced, with less lion showing behind it. Michel visited the governor's house, where he discovered a large chest with many previously used flags. In addition he showed flags of the "governor general" (mistaken, as there is no such office), the militia the volunteer rifles, volunteer engineers, various colours, and the flags of the police and fire & rescue service. Some consternation arose in the Q&A when Graham Bartram detected the use of non-British crowns on some of the militia flags, but Ian Sumner was able to assure us that these were correctly used following traditions in Britain.

The third presentation was by Alain Raullet - a review of his visit to Ireland last year, and as always abundantly illustrated by animated monks, exploding light bulbs, interrogating reporters, and the like. He was intrigued by the diversity in the use of flags between the Republic and Northern Ireland, identifying which country he was in by the use of the flags. He also noted that the county bicolours associated with the Gaelic Athletic Association are abundantly used to express local identity, but in every format from bicolour to chequered.

After a very brief break, we moved from the islands to Europe's historical flags. First up was Michael Schneider, who reviewed the military colours of Hamburg as contained in the Hamburg Historical Museum. He located 130 flags of the City Soldiery, the Citizens Sentinels (described as with an attitude "drunk and lacking discipline"!), and the Citizens Militia from the period 1684-1817.  Very little is preserved of the Soldiery flags as the flags were customarily torn up as souvenirs, or used on funerals, but several fragments of the Sentinels flags are known. These flags are complex with many common design elements, but various adornments and colours. Michael showed examples from 5 regiments. The Militia were raised to augment the protection of the city, and their flags have been hanging in museums until the 1980s, when it was recognised they were disintegrating rapidly, and are now removed from view. Michael's talk gave great insight into the activities of these forces, and their symbolism, and he seeks input from others, looking for locations where other flags may be found.

Ales Brozek then reviewed the flags of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia during the time of the Third Reich. The Czechoslovak flag was supressed by the Germans, and considerable correspondence exists from 1938-1940 concerning the development of an appropriate symbol for the remaining Protectorate. The blue triangle had connotations of Slovak nationality, and was to be removed.  Could it be replaced by a blue bar along the hoist, or a blue stripe across the flag? A white-blue-red horizontal tricolour with a narrower blue stripe was deemed too similar to the Slovak flag, so a white-blue-red version was devised instead. Even more dispute concerned which symbols to use on arms, as seen on the presidential flag - the Bohemian lion and Moravian eagle, with a white-red-blue flame border. These flags were not popular in the Protectorate, and the old Czechoslovak flag was used surreptitiously.

Patrice de la Condamine presented a very thorough and insightful overview of  the Cross of Burgundy. I have often wondered where the "Burgundy" connection was on this cross, as I always associated it with Spain and Central/South America. I discovered that the origin of the cross from the early 15th century lies in the cross of St. Andrew who was crucified on a diagonal cross, augmented by flints, used to produce fire, a symbol of force and eternity, lies in Burgundy, which at times stretched from eastern France to the Netherlands. Following a loss to Lorraine, the cross was suppressed in northern Europe, but survived in Spain courtesy of Philippe I, who had Burgundian ancestry. In Spain the colours mutated, and it traveled to Spanish possessions, including in Italy, South America, Philippines and even back to the Spanish Netherlands, was used by the tercios (infantry units) before being abandoned in Spain, but retained in the New World. In the 20th century it again appeared in Spain, used by the Carlists, and even back in Burgundy for like-minded movements. Today it appears on local flags in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands (although that was disputed by some members of the audience), Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile, and in political flags also in Uruguay, Philippines and Spain.

Next up, Ralph Bartlett intrigued us with a title about the Right Angle Tricolour, and had us wondering about flags with right angles on them. However, he was referring to the origin of the French tricolour - and if it was originally a horizontal tricolour (and possibly related to the Dutch one) or a vertical tricolour. Contemporary illustrations appear to show a wide diversity of designs, as seen on art displayed in an exhibition in Melbourne and elsewhere, which only gradually died out in favour of the well known blue-white-red vertical tricolour of today. Even as late as 1805, British cartoons continued to use horizontal stripes. Ralph likened the situation to the subsequent adoption of a Belgian flag, and recent adoptions of flags for Afghanistan and Libya, wherein vertical and horizontal variants were known to be in widespread circulation simultaneously.

Last talk of the morning by Roberto Breschi reviewed in considerable depth, although at time in a whisper, a wide variety of flags from the little state of Lucca in western Tuscany over nearly 1000 years. Although his lecture was difficult to understand because of his accent, he carefully provided much illustration on his slides, showing an immense variety of design, many favouring the white/red bicolour, but including all sorts of emblems - eagles, St. Peter, the word LIBERTAS, a demi-lion, upside down flowering trees, checks, ladder,  fleur de lys, snakes eating children, harrows have been used, and yet other symbols on flags of lower level subdivisions. There is clearly a wealth of historical research needed in the flags of Lucca.

After lunch, we embarked on discussions of vexillological classification - perhaps not the easiest thing right after lunch, but inspiring considerable discussion. Hugh Brady reported on classifications systems used for vexillological material, primarily from a library perspective, noting that the three main systems in use would place vexillological resources into widely varying areas: geography-biography-history / heraldry / genealogy- ames-insignia. Database keyword searching likewise depends on appropriate indexing. He then reviewed critically the methods used by Whitney Smith in his extensive collection, now relocated to the University of Texas (Austin), suggesting that vexillologists should revise the classification system in preparation for the indexing of the collection in Texas. He recommended the Journal of Economic Literature approach to do this.

Christopher Maddish then took us beyond vexillology to meta-vexillology to examine inherent similarities among pairs of flags, based on design, colour, orientation, etc. Restricting himself to pairings only, he recognised very high correlation between units like Mexico-Italy and Monaco-Singapore (in part because of "synchronicity" of situation - Mexico and Italy both being sites of early civilization, Monaco and Singapore both being small city states with great significance worldwide (and F1 races). In discussion, it became clear that Christopher's intent in such comparison was as much to seek educational connections as vexillological classification.

After a short break, Roman Klimes took us to Lebanon, where the cedar tree has long been a symbol of the country. It is especially valued because its wood is free of knots, and suffers little from pest damage, and has been used in the building of the temple in Jerusalem, the temple of Diana in Ephesus, and the temple of Apollo in Utica. Roman reviewed the history of the flag from the Ottoman Empire to the present day, all of which can be found in Ivan's summary at lb_his.html. He showed a photo of the original sketch of the modern flag from 1943 (also found at ../images/l/lb'parlt.jpg), and explained the  discrepancy over the colour of the trunk. Finally he alluded to the choice of red-white-red being derived from a friendship between a participant in the 1943 discussions and a native of Austria, although the link seemed tenuous. It was clear there was an intent to seek politically and religiously neutral colours, although Zev Landes pointed out that the Shia do not use the flag today.

Zev Landes then delivered his talk wherein he attempted to assess the meaning of flags in this age of social media and globalization, using the case study of the changing role of flags in the Arab Spring. Times of political upheaval may lead to flag changes, or changes in how flags are used. In the Arab Spring, we have witnessed a shift from an authoritarian use of the flag, restricted in many places to the government agencies, to usage by the public as a whole. In some cases new (Syria) or new-old (Libya) symbols have been adopted, in other cases traditional flags have been retained (Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain). The internet has provided a new public space to use the flag and social media have created a new culture to present a new "self". He noted that in many cases people are deliberately employing the flag where they know they are being seen by outside interests, with cases of Al Jazeerah employing individuals in Tahrir Square to demonstrate with the flag so they can be televised overseas, thereby globalizing the situation. He concluded by emphasizing that during times of political instability, we must watch the street, not the state, for an understanding of the flag.

The final talk was by Jaroslav Martykán who has been watching the evolution of substates and flags in Somalia - no easy task! At least 20 states could be identified by 2004, when following discussion the category of the Somalian semi-state opened up the possibility of a state being formed that supported the concept of a centralized government, but with regional significance. A plethora of further subdivisions have resulted, with up to 43 semi-states, employing 57 different flags and arms since 1991. He then proceeded to categorize these flags: those of truly separatist states (typically using red & green flags); flags employing Koranic verses; and many variations of flags that allude to national unity, by using the white star on blue in some way. This third category includes flags with a blue triangle extending from the hoist bearing the star, flags with a light blue upper bar bearing the star, flags with a vertical blue bar along the hoist bearing the star, stars with blue in other locations typically bearing the star or stars, or simple reuse of the national colour often with Islamic verses. A few states have employed a plain white flag with a coat of arms, and a very few fall into miscellaneous examples, mostly good for demonstration of the bad flag principles from "Good Flag, Bad Flag".

So ended a long day of presentations, and if you are still reading you will have some feel for the condition of the participants in the congress! Tonight I am off to the Maritime Museum to see what can be seen there, but this letter is long enough, so I shall conclude for now.
Rob Raeside
, 4 August 2013

After the presentations, the participants and companions went to the Rotterdam Maritime Museum. After some words by Joost Schokkenbroek, who by now had begun starting each address to the congress with apologies for being heard so often, we were set free to roam the museum. On the occasion of the ICV, the museum had set up the exposition "With flying colours", showing historical Dutch national flags and pennants with on the white stripe hand-painted maritime scenes. Though Rotterdam has the largest collection of these flags that I know of, this was the first time the flags were ever shown to the public, as they are quite rare, rather large, and yet quite fragile. Anyone roaming back to the entrance hall found that by then it had been turned into a private dining room for us, decorated with flags from Marcel van Westerhoven's collection. Quite a pleasant arrangement, in more than one way, but though the personnel of the museum quite clearly enjoyed having us there, the time came when we had to leave the rest of the museum for another day, so all of us could get some rest before Friday would come around.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg
, 5 September 2013

9 August - Day 5

The final day of the congress - a day to complete our discussions, celebrate the success of the congress and banquet in style. The day began with a session on Designs and Colours. Theun Okkerse, the designer of the congress flag provided a study of flag visibility. Emphasizing that flag design must incorporate movement, he began using examples from art how a flag can display movement even when static. He then continued to develop a flag visibility chart, incorporating conditions such as variable wind, haze, distance, background and weather conditions, as well as reproduction in black and white, and for colour-blind, a total of 45 variants, and demonstrated how well the Dutch flag and the European flag fared. He concluded by recommending that designers consider flying conditions, noting that the lower hoist is often the most visible part of the flag especially in light wind conditions.

The second speaker, Han Buxin, from the Centre for Cognitive Psychology and Deputy Secretary of the Chinese National Committee on Colour Standardization, considered the emotive effect of colours, with special reference to flags.  Colour affects human behaviour and evokes emotional reactions. Studies have shown that in competition (e.g., boxing, taekwondo, wrestling) competitors wearing red tend to win over competitors in blue, and competitors wearing blue tend to win over competitors in white. He then proceeded to review the use of colours on national flags, noting that red and white are more commonly used than other colours. Why is red so prominent - red denotes avoidance, aggression, dominance, but within flags has also been correlated to blood, bravery, revolution, spirit/psyche, victory, freedom, independence, or passion. The next speaker was Marcus/Manuela Schmöger who chose to review the colour orange on flags. She noted that many colours have long been associated with specific movements - red with socialism and communism, green with environmentalism and agrarianism, etc. However orange has not been so used.  Where is orange used. Disposing first of the use of orange arising from the House of Orange (in Netherlands and by derivation Ireland) where orange carries special connotations, she noted that orange is often a colour that is available for new movements, it is not red, but is warm, it combines attributes of red and yellow, and probably because it is not used elsewhere is often the choice for symbolism developed by advertising agencies. Current modern usage of orange stems from the 1970s when orange became fashionable as a low cost colour used on cheap plastics, it has become associated with several movements, for example humanists, the pirate parties of Europe, and Christian democrats. She noted also the outbreak of orange in the Orange Revolution of Ukraine.

After a brief coffee break, Ladislav Hnát (Czech Vexillological Association) related the history of the Lusatian Sorbs (from southeastern eastern Germany, near the Czech and Polish borders), a group of people numbering some 60,000. This group has retained a Slavic heritage, and use Slavic colours of blue over red over white, originally devised in 1848 as a vertical tricolour, now used horizontally. The colours have been attributed to denote the sky, sunrise and love, and innocence, respectively. He noted they were banned (as were many symbols) between 1935 and 1945, but have seen a resurrection of use recently. In Q&A it was revealed that the current president of Saxony (in which the Sorbs lands lie) is a Sorb, and the flag is officially encouraged.

Pascal Vagnat then offered a paper on the regional flags of France. France has historic 'regions' and 'provinces', distinct from the départements and regional councils of today. Regional flags have in the past been recognised, but they are not forbidden, and "what is not forbidden is allowed." The term 'regional flag' is relatively modern. Before 1789, only coats of arms were known for some cities and provinces. The earliest regional flags were likely those of Lorraine in the 16th century. In the late 19th century Lorraine suffered (enjoyed?) flag fever, when a massive outpouring of celebration of its centenary caused the proliferation of flags. In the 20th century, Brittany joined Lorraine in adopting a regional flag, the well-known Gween-ha-Du, and Franche-Compté had a debate about developing one. Currently the provincial coats of arms are being developed as banners of arms, many having been established as coats of arms in the 1940s and 1950s, and reproduced on a series of stamps in 1970s. Things can get complicated when provinces and regions don't quite coincide - there are two Normandys, for example (Haute and Bas), both of which use two golden lions on red, and in the south the same flag is used variably for the city of Toulouse, the Midi-Pyrenees region, the province of Lanquedoc, the traditional region of Occitania, and the RC of Limousin.

Finally for the morning, Andréa Nunes and Tiago José Berg reviewed the relatively new flags used in resorts - touristic, seaside, hydromineral and climatic cities, as classified by the government of São Paulo state. They presented 10 city flags, most (if not all) are on FOTW - see br-spmu1.html.

Before we broke for lunch, Annie Platoff reissued a plea for assistance with the developing International Vexillological Index (IVI), with a request for contributions, indexers, and collections. Her carrot for non-English contributors is when 50 articles are located in your language she will work with you to develop the index in your language. At lunch, a group of us celebrated Jan Oskar Engene's birthday (if one day late) and he sends greetings to all.

After lunch, Major Dr. Željko Heimer revealed the intricacies of the ceremonial flags of Croatia in a richly illustrated talk. As we know, Croatian municipalities (some 576 of them) have been producing flags since 1992, wherein the municipal flag and arms are considerably restricted in design. However, ceremonial flags are not under the jurisdiction of the Heraldic Commission, and are much more varied. Many use embroidery, and are rare objects, perhaps only one. They can be elusive, seen only in the city hall and occasionally on special events like religious processions. Željko has organized them according to design, and researched the history of some, which extends back to 18th century examples. He also reviewed the rate of adoption, noting that along the coast and in south of Zagreb there appear to be preferential adoption of such flags.

This was followed by a surprise extra presentation by Pierre-Jean Guionin, from SHOM (French Hydrographic and Oceanographic Institute), who have produced the Album des Pavillons Nationaux for many years. The last edition was released in 2000, and the 6th amendment to it will appear with a 2013 date. Modifications have been made to 34 countries, one new country (South Sudan) and one new organization (African Union). He intimated that SHOM will be shutting its printshop in 2014, so any further publications of this type will only be electronic.

Next, Geoff Parsons provided a sampler of what to expect in Greenwich in 2017 - he mentioned warm beer, driving on the right (i.e. left) side of the road, great footballers (England winners in 1966), and an orderly society. If you stand still too long, people will queue behind you. The ICV will be from 7-11 August 2017, in the University of Greenwich Old Royal Military College, with trips to the National Maritime Museum, and the Cutty Sark. Greenwich provides a village atmosphere in the city, and accompanying members will be able to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, Buckingham Palace, and shop in Harrods.  Accommodation will be in the adjacent Devonport House Hotel, or university dorms. There was mention also of afternoon tea as a standard ritual.

Finally Ralph Kelly took us virtually to Australia, by video and PowerPoint to see what lies waiting for us in 2015. From 31 August to 4 September, ICV 26 will run in Sydney, the Gateway to Australia. Facilities have already been reserved by generous sponsorship from Telstra in the Telstra Experience Centre, in the centre of the city, between the business and shopping districts. Some 20 hotels lie within 500 m, with less expensive alternatives a km or two to the south. Highlights will include a sunset harbour tour and barbecue dinner aboard the Captain Cook, and possibly a visit to Observatory Hill, which may host our flag-raising ceremony. The Wednesday excursion will be to Canberra, to see the Australian War Memorial and Museum, the Parliament House with its 81 m pole, and the Avenue of Flags. Day 4 (3 September) is the Australian Flag Day, and we will participate in the ceremony. Companions will also be able to visit The Rocks, the Sydney Opera House, and possibly a wildlife sanctuary. If enough interest, a youth accompanying member tour program will be arranged. The program will be tended by Tony Burton and tentatively will have themes of history of flags, flags of the Pacific, flags of the Australian military, good design, manufacture and retail, and indigenous & ethnic flags. If you are interested participating, fill out the intention to attend flag (this will knock $50 off the registration for you!) , and if you are an early registrant you can save a further A$50! Check the website at for full details and ongoing updates.

So ended the sessions. The flags of the organizations were removed; the renegade flags atop the Groot Handelsgebouw were just as surreptitiously removed, and life in Rotterdam returned to normal. Sincere thanks are due to Joost Schokkenbroek and Marcel van Westerhoven who were so busy through the week, and to all the organizing team for putting together a great conference. Although some delegates had to catch trains, many of us gathered one more time in the Laurens Kerk for a closing dinner. It was a most impressive affair, seated in the nave of a magnificent church with the pipes of the largest organ in Europe being played. A superb meal was provided, and much good camaraderie was enjoyed. Awards were made: for the best paper, the award provide by NAVA went to Art Ness Proaño Gaibor, for his paper on the "Hidden History behind the Colorants of Banner" (given on Day 1). He would have been my choice too - it was well deserved. The Vexillon, provided by the Flag Society of Australia for the most significant contribution in vexillology over the past two years, went to Andreas Herzfeld from the DGF. New fellows were appointed to FIAV: Joost Schokkenbroek, Marcel van Weterhoven, Andriy Grechylo, Annie Platoff, Alain Raullet, and Ian Sumner. Then to the tones of the anthem, the FIAV flag was passed from Rotterdam to Sydney, and the cycle starts again. Goodbyes were said as we parted our ways after a very successful conference.
Rob Raeside, 5 August 2013

Group photo

ICV group photo

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