Post 247

Flags of Europe:
Vexillology Like You've Never Seen It Before

You’ve been wondering, “But what does Blogger really think about the different flags of the world?” I won’t leave you in suspense any longer. I’ll tell you what I really think, for a change.

The world has a lot of flags. I can’t tell you how many there are, because there isn’t really even agreement about how many countries there are in the world. It depends how you count them. Wikipedia says there are 190 sovereign states whose statehood is undisputed. There are another 16 states whose independence is challenged.

The one that I found humorous was about Korea. Beside North Korea, it says: “Claimed by South Korea” and beside South Korea, it says: “Claimed by North Korea.”

So let’s get started.

How does one begin? What sequence makes the most sense? Alphabetical? By region? By seniority? By colour? By pattern?

Let’s do it like this:


Great Britain has a symmetrical cross superimposed onto a St. Andrew’s cross (also called a ‘saltire’). The advantage with a symmetrical cross is that it looks great when viewed from the front or the reverse. Nevertheless, this flag is less symmetrical than it could have been, and it’s less symmetrical than it appears at first glance. The red striping on the St. Andrew’s cross is not as predictable as you might expect. Strangely, it reminds me of the way the Korean flag rotates as you go around it; the little black lines vary in quantity, from three to six. Those wily Brits.

England’s cross is a symmetrical red cross on a white background.

Georgia’s flag is quite new, adopted in 2004. It has a total of five red crosses, one in the middle and four smaller crosses in each quadrant (or ‘canton’) of the flag. The mini crosses are done in the style of “bolnur-katskhuri” so they don’t match the central cross in style, which is sort of strange; something doesn’t quite fit.

Switzerland has a symmetrical white cross on a square red background. It’s a little disconcerting to have a square at a party for rectangles, but it’s been around since 1889.

The Nordic Cross is asymmetrical in terms of left and right. It’s inspired by the Christian cross, but of course that’s symmetrical from left to right. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland have the Nordic cross and all of them are strong yet approachable. I like Finland’s the best. Blue and white is always a wonderful combination.

And speaking of blue and white, Greece has a seamless and clever combination of a cross in the top left canton and several stripes. It’s an interesting flag that keeps your attention despite its apparent simplicity. It’s a 10.

Scotland has the St. Andrew’s cross, and it’s noble-looking. The flag is very unique, which is surprising when you consider how simple and pleasing it is.

Malta has a George Cross in the top left canton. The cross is gray with an image of St. George defeating a dragon. As for the rest of the flag, it is white on the left side (‘hoist’) and red on the right side (‘fly’). Does it work? I’m not sure.


Poland, Ukraine and Monaco have bicolour flags without emblems. Again, the disadvantage of a bicolour design is that it can be easily mistaken for other flags and again, its beauty comes down to the colours chosen and the arrangement of those colours. When I say arrangement, consider how Monaco has red on the top and white below, while Poland has the white above. The thing is that red is a strong and, you could say, a ‘heavy’ colour. For that reason, it looks misplaced above the white. Ukraine has cheerful and optimistic colours.

Some flags add an emblem somewhere on two horizontal colours. San Marino has an emblem which is reasonably memorable and not overly minimalistic. It has three towers topped with ostrich plumes. Lichtenstein has a crown floating in the top left canton, and the entire combination with the strong blue and red looks questionable. Belarus has almost an embroidery-style pattern running vertically on the left side. To the right of this, there is a thick band of red above a narrower band of green. The flag presents a strange mood. It strikes me as undecided about its own identity, as if created by committee.


The word “fess” comes from the Latin word “fascia” meaning band. It’s a reference to a horizontal band across the flag, and it’s a very common style in Europe and throughout the world. The following European countries have nothing more than three bands: Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Estonia. What do I think of these? One of the biggest problems has to do with the popularity of this style. It means that one flag can be mistaken for another. The flag of Luxembourg is too similar to the flag of the Netherlands. The Netherlands flag is older so give it to them, although the red, white and blue colour combination is fairly bland. The ‘success’ of the tri-colour fess flag depends upon the colours chosen; some colours are better than others, obviously.

Other fess flags have, in addition to the horizontal bands, an emblem. Spain has an emblem, and so do these former members of ‘Yugoslavia,’ which I visited when it was still known by that name: Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia. Emblems can be an improvement to an otherwise unremarkable background (or ‘field’). However, emblems are often problematic – a flag that looks regal and handsome from afar can be a disappointment when seen up close. Angry eagles and lions are never a plus, especially when decked out with claws and protruding wavy tongues. Spain’s pink lion is not an asset, you could say. At the other extreme, sometimes the emblem becomes almost cartoonesque. Croatia’s emblem doesn’t work, on a number of levels. Slovenia’s and Slovakia’s emblems are similar in their level of detail and visual appeal, or lack thereof. Serbia’s flag does not pass go, because animals do not have two heads.


The flag of the Czech Republic features a chevron. It’s red and white with a blue chevron, which is fine if you’re into chevrons and triangles in general.


Portugal and Vatican City have two vertical colours. Portugal’s emblem has polka-dotted shields ringed with castles at various angles. It’s another case of a flag which looks better from a distance.

The Vatican City flag is very good. No lions or eagles or dragons, slain or alive. The main feature is two hefty keys positioned in the shape of an ‘x.’ The flag is divided into two parts. The emblem is on the white half. A Canadian looking at it would say that the flag needs to have yellow on the other side as well, which would have the secondary effect of making a square flag into a rectangular one.


Some flags are divided into three vertical sections. That central vertical section is called a ‘pale.’ It’s also popular, and can have an emblem or not. You know which countries have this style. Ireland, Italy and France have flags of this type, and so does Romania and Belgium. The Belgian flag has the same colours as the German flag, but the black is tempered when it is on the left instead of across the top, and when it is separated from the red. Red and black are never a good combination.

Flags with emblems on the pale are Moldova and Andorra. Moldova’s flag is a mess of symbols, including a bull and an eagle. The eagle holds a cross in its beak (isn’t that somewhat irreverent?) and some knick-knacks in its claws. As for Andorra’s emblem, it’s not too bad. It has writing: “Virtue united is stronger” which is a good thought.


The flag of Montenegro features a golden two-headed eagle sporting a shield with a lion on it. There’s one crown above this creature, but neither head is wearing it. I believe that the bird has opposable thumbs.

The flag of Albania is dreadful, and it makes most of the other flags of Europe look splendid by comparison. It breaks all the rules of flag school. It features a black two-headed eagle with outstretched tongues and claws on a red background. The ‘wings’ of the eagle are entirely unlike wings. I initially thought it was a dragon. I extend my sympathy to those who have this as their flag.

The flag of Wales is perhaps equally bad, consisting of a large pissed-off red dragon on a background of green and white. My research shows me that nobody is entirely sure as to why a dragon is still being used on the flag. No reason could justify it anyway.

The flag of Turkey is almost entirely red. It has a crescent which at first glance brings to mind the moon, but which, on further examination, is the wrong shape. It’s an extreme and excessively sharp shape. The two tips of the crescent are too close together. The star is at a precise angle in relation to the crescent but this makes the star off-balance as a whole. It’s tipped over. Flags are meant to be symbolic, and this one reveals a lot.

The flag of Macedonia also has a red background. In the centre is a yellow circle surrounded by eight yellow rays. It strikes me as a flag designed by someone who thought that all the other flag ideas were already taken. It’s bright and I suppose it’s earnest in its way, but I find it a bit much.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a flag that looks like a chevron who lost its way. The stars are similarly not sure where to stand, as a couple of them are sliced off, missing their points. On the plus side, at least they’re upright.

The thing that surprises me most, in looking into flags, is that so many flags are very new. Sometimes this is because the country has recently undergone major political upheaval. In other cases, the country itself is new. When one country divides into several smaller ones, the newly-independent countries scramble to agree on a new banner. Often the newer nations make flags that are very similar to the nation that they recently left, which is counter-intuitive. I would have expected that a new country would want to differentiate itself in the matter of its flag.

Up next: Flags of Asia