On Tuesday, March 30th the Czech flag was more in evidence than usual – the state symbol turned 90. The red, white and blue flag with its simple geometric pattern was created in 1920 shortly after the founding of an independent Czechoslovak state. Although Czechoslovakia no longer exists, the flag remains the Czech Republic’s state symbol.
When the author of the flag, Jaroslav Kursa, an archivist in state service, set about creating it he had two considerations uppermost in mind – selecting colours which would say something about the country’s history and making it distinct enough from the flags of the other newly emerged states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The first two colours Kursa picked were white and red - the traditional colors of Bohemia, representing the sky and the blood shed for the freedom of the country. But because this flag would have been almost identical with the Polish flag and had the same colours as the Austrian flag Kursa added a blue wedge on the right-hand side. Blue is the traditional colour of Slovakia, but it is also present in the French and American flags and was thus meant to represent their role in helping to achieve the country’s independence. The flag was officially approved by the Czechoslovak Parliament on March 30th 1920. But it was to take years for people to accept it. Jaroslav Martykan is an expert on the country’s state symbols:
“When the flag and state symbols of Czechoslovakia were approved it was forbidden to use the old flags of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia which caused plenty of hostility. It was only with the Nazi occupation when the country was under threat that people rallied around the Czechoslovak flag, took it for their own and the old symbols were forgotten.”
In 1993, just two years after the fall of communism the Czechoslovak federation split up in what was dubbed the Velvet Divorce. The Czech Republic refused to give up the flag, and created one of the few moments of open hostility in the separation when it went back on its promise to give it up. Jaroslav Martykan again:
“Our politicians promised Slovakia that the Czechs would give up the common flag. But the Czechs wanted it badly and when the federation dissolved the flag ceased to exist as a state symbol. It was abandoned –anyone could pick it up- and the Czech Parliament was quick to reclaim it. This was done despite its promise to go back to one of the other flag versions considered back in 1919 and 1920.”
In an attempt to justify the move Czech politicians argued that it was Slovakia which wanted out of the common state and the Czechs saw no reason to loose out on their state symbol which had become well-established. Twenty years after the fall of communism the issue is no longer a matter of contention between the two neighbours. And although the 90-year old Czech flag is the better-known of the two Czechs are occasionally given a lesson in humility –as when during a Czech state visit to Pakistan the authorities mistakenly hoisted a checkered flag instead of a Czech one.