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Report on the 22nd International Congress of Vexillology

Last modified: 2014-02-16 by rob raeside
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Daily Reports on the ICV

August 6

Day 1 at the ICV is coming to a close after a very interesting startup ceremony and an afternoon of presentations. The morning began with introductions and welcomes from various members of the organizing committee (who are doing a great job!), the parade in of the flags of the organizations involved, and an opening address form Andreas Herzfeld, who described vexillology as part archaeology and part journalism. Andreas was followed by the museum director who provided some hints about what we might see in the main museum - part of their collection of over 2000 flags, although he did note that some had not been viewed yet - some have never been unfurled (and when we saw them, we could see why - they are more fragile than the Dead Sea scrolls! Michel Lupant officially declared the congress open and our first presentation was a more detailed description of the flag collection of the museum by Hans Martin Hinz. The collection is on exhibit (or a small part of it is) right now, no doubt because of the congress, but he did a nice job of explaining how various flags had been 'removed' during one upheaval or another - sounded a lot like a presentation we heard in Stockholm a few years ago! However the collection extends right up to the modern - seems that the World Cup last year did a lot for the revival of the use of the German flag. We then had the opportunity to view the collection - No Photos! No Photos! caused a few ruffled feathers, but I suspect rather more than a few were taken without flashes. The staff of the museum were well primed for our visit and were surprisingly knowledgeable - a nice touch! The museum is an impressive building - 18th century pink frontage and courtyard, but behind it an extensive warren of beautiful smooth-cut limestone (hey I'm a geologist too!), very new and very well laid out.

After lunch the real work started: The first couple of presentations took us half a world away to the Cook Islands and Guam - Michel Lupant always seems to find time to continue from an ICV into a world tour and this time went to Cook Islands, and reviewed the history of the flags. He had the opportunity to meet the queen of the islands, who showed him some flags with the portrait of Queen Victoria that were new to the rest of the world. His talk was a bold attempt to describe what he saw, although with not so much analysis. Roman Klimes then took us north to Guam - there seems to be less to say about that flag, but he did unearth the blueprints that were used by a home economics teacher to replicate the first flag to be sewn, and provided us with an actual photo of a scene that is almost identical to that on the flag - just needed the canoe to sail by (and a plane to paint G U A M in the sky in red letters!)

Ted Kaye then provided a very measured presentation on the flags of 50 US Indian tribes that were encountered by the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804-1806 (all the flags are younger - many were apparently made specifically for the centennial celebrations of the expedition) and concluded with a display of all of them on the screen, one at a time, with appropriate commentary to point out some of their significances. It seemed like a lot when he said what he was going to do, but in fact it was quite fascinating, although no doubt will provide good fodder for Peter Orenski's upcoming talk on Vexillogorrhea. These flags have been well reported by Don Healy, but it is an area that FOTW has never really ventured. Last talk before break brought us right back to Berlin, with an extremely concise overview of the 7 bears of Berlin - hairy ones, smooth ones, big ones, small ones, bears in shields, bears with crowns, and the modern more stylized bear. His talk was excellent, but I wish he could have analyzed them a little more - it went by too fast!

After another short break in the bright sunshine we went back inside for the final session. Jelena Borosak-Marijanovic discussed the collection of flag badges in the Croatian History Museum - for many historical flags it seems they are better preserved on military badges than in fabric, and showed a tiny part of her 6000+ collection of badges, with flags of central European entities from around the time of World War 1. Many of them were AustroHungarian wartime propaganda - one with Gott Strafe England written on it got a round of chuckles from the Germans - I suspect as a Scot I'd probably have to agree, although no translation of it was provided!

Next Wolfram Mantry paraded in in uniform with five brothers holding Kyffhauser standards. Very colourful and dramatic! The Kyffhauser is a military brotherhood of marksmen, stretching back to the 18th century, with 18th century style elaborately embroidered flags, totally different on the reverse and obverse. I would describe them as magnificently intricate and colourful.

There then followed a tag-team of Arthur Etchells and Emil Dreyer who described over 500 years (well, 501 years) of Swiss Guard flags and uniforms. Not unexpectedly these have always been very intricate, but their origins are surprisingly obscure. Arthur stressed the co-evolution of flags and uniforms - and indeed the red-yellow-red combination did show up a lot in both. Emil's 500 MB presentation took a while to load, so we lost the continuity they tried to present, but revealed why so little is preserved - it seems often when a new captain of the guard (or new pope, for that matter) required a flag, they simply scrubbed the paintwork off the old one, repainted it and flew it! Graham was adamant there must be a drawerful of old bits, but it seems if so, no one knows of it.

Finally, Maria Sastre introduced a recent discovery of two books of Japanese flags, found in a university in Madrid.

August 7

Another hot sunny day in Berlin - it seems to be getting hotter every day. Also heating up in the conference room with another day of mostly interesting talks. Probably the best talk for me was the first one, by Dr Arnold Rabbow, who discussed the origin of the German colours. He presented the legend as is shown on FOTW, pretty much as I can recall, with the black uniforms of the Freikorps Lutzow, red piping and brassy gold buttons, and how the legend was picked by a later generation. An interesting twist was the association of tricolours with revolution, whereas most of the ducal flags in Germany previously were bicolours. He also noted the tendency for public opinion to overrule the facts where desired! This was a very lucid and thoughtful expose of a topic almost lost in history. It was followed by Gunther Mattern who considered the use of black-white as German colours in heraldry and flags, going back to the Crusades. One common theme seemed to be the initial use of black-gold +/- white often reduced to black and white alone through time in arms, and this was picked up on flags of German places and northern Italian places.

We then crossed the Alps and considered the origins of the flag of the Venetian republic (lion of St Mark) by Alfredo Betocchi, including tracing the origin of the association of Mark with Venice after his relics were smuggled from Alexandria in 828 CE. Continuing in an Italian theme, Roberto Breschi discussed the development of Italian regional symbols - with the range in design from traditional classics through newer regional symbols to 'bad flags' with busy designs and text - more fodder for the upcoming vexilogorrhea talk, no doubt.

Ales Brozek described flags associated with the events of 1848 - the year of revolution in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, noting that initially all colours were simply cockades, and in the rapid series of events that spring, flags did not make an appearance until the street battles in June, when the colour of white and red were well established for the Bohemian cockade.

Jaroslav Martykan then described the contributions of M. Meinecke to our understanding of Muslim vexillology. He lived until 1995, and worked in archaeology in Cairo, Damascus and Berlin, and researched Mamluk heraldry, incorporating analysis of devices, colours and forms. Many Muslim flags tend to rely on much calligraphy (more words on flags!) to praise the sultan. He also noted the extensive development of the finial in this tradition.

The last major presentation was by Sabine Sille who described the beautiful and intricate flags of the trade unions and workers guilds of Basle - good to see the flag of the textile workers is one that is in best conditions. Seems that guild knew its business.

To close the day out, we had three short presentations, one on the newly established Flag Museum in Rotterdam, in cooperation with the Erasmus University, one on the introduction of the flag of Vincennes, France, and one a note of the passing of Mr. Titman, the first designer of an alternate New Zealand flag.

Through the afternoon we were entertained by posters on the municipal flags of Germany, state by state - you think we have had a lot? Just wait!

The afternoon closed out with the FIAV General Assembly. 40 out of 50 organizations were represented and some of the significant resolutions included:

  • the Indian and Croatian vexillological associations were admitted to membership
  • approved the 2011 congress venue as the Washington DC area (2009 is in Yokohama, Japan)
  • learned of intent to host an ICV by Rotterdam, Prague and Hyderabad (India).
  • made constitutional amendments to ensure continuity should the whole board disappear
  • established a commission to consider terminology of flag description (some Dictionary of Vexillology names were bandied around here).

Finally the evening continued with a leisurely walk along Unter den Linden, visiting some of the spectacular sights of Berlin, the haunting Jewish memorial.

August 8

Today was the 'day off' in the middle of the conference, and we were treated to a glorious day of sunshine and 30 degree temperatures as we drove in air-conditioned comfort in our coach to see interesting vexillological and historical sites near Berlin. Three buses departed from the Historical Museum at 9 a.m., the one I was on being guided by Gerd Vehres who is the main organizer of the conference (although I am not sure his wife would agree - she is always dashing around tending to little details!)

I learned today that Gerd is retired from the former East German diplomatic core - he served in Hungary - so not only is he an organizer and interpreter for the Anglophones, but also for the Hungarian speakers, and he is a fount of stories of the days of the divided city right from the end of the war.

We headed west past the embassy district (I think the Russians have the biggest flag, but was interested to see the Quebec flag flying by the French embassy, right by the Brandenburg Gate). I noticed the streets to the British and old (still in use) US embassy are closed to traffic with permanent guards, although the Russian one, being about 2 blocks long on Unter den Linden simply had a high ornate metal fence.

First stop was near the 1936 Olympic site, where we investigated the intricacies of the metalwork on the Olympic Bridge - the flags of the nations that participated are made out of metal to form the sides of the bridge. If you think about it, it's not that easy to make a tricolour flag out of metal such that it will also function as a parapet - it was an interesting exercise to put names to all the flags. The flag designs were of a later date than 1936 - the Canadian maple leaf was there, but the old colonial Dominica flag was there too.

Then on to stop 2, the Sanssouci Park and Palace in Potsdam. Immense and most impressive! Google it if you don't know it (or wait for some pictures to be posted). Beautiful terraced gardens, several palaces, grottos, mausoleums, etc. It was associated with Frederic II and his family as a summer retreat. Just paying the gardeners would bankrupt most dukes, earls, and several small countries.

From there we walked over to the Bornstedt Brewery for a lovely buffet lunch - well it was in a brewery, so it would have a hard time not being lovely! There we were also treated to a display of soldiers marching in uniform of the times (and probably paid for it with a sun burn - they at least had uniforms and wigs to cover up in!)

Third stop was at the Cecilienhof Palace and museum of the end of the war Potsdam conference. I think I found that most fascinating. The tour guide was excellent. The ground floor is set up for the Potsdam conference, hosted by Stalin, and with many subtle and not so subtle message embedded in the set up. A star-shaped bed of red flowers so Churchill and Roosevelt would have to walk past a red star every time they came to meet; a painting of a bombed out church and a bulldog in Churchill's office; a smoking room as office for the only non-smoker, and so on. It was there we saw some actual flags - an interesting one made of upright and diagonal crosses overlapping in a complex arrangement, one with multiple stripes and a plethora of stars, and a simple red flag with a yellow arrangement in the upper hoist. The point was well made that there are not many flags to be seen in Germany - at least until it caught World Cup fever, flags have not been a major feature of German life over the past half century, and the ones from before that are banned.

Our day ended with a stop at the Glienicker Brücke (the one time edge of W. Berlin) and a drive along the Ku-damm (main shopping street of West Berlin). All in all a most interesting day, where I think we all learned quite a bit of history and received context for some of the periods of the flag we show on FOTW.

August 9

The morning started with a short paper on the intentions of Gerd Vehres to compile a historical chronological record of 16 German states, and build them into a chart that summarized the entire history of the past 200 years. It's clearly a very ambitious project, and would be crucial for a good understanding of the evolution of flags through that time. Gerd, however, has been organizing the conference, and was able only to complete a sample of the project which he showed us. He then introduced Laszlo Balok from the Hungarian Flag Society, who has managed (without any knowledge of English or German it seems) to collect 6000 actual flags, at least one from every country of the world, directly from the government authorities in each case. He displays these in the Flag Museum of Budapest, so next time you are there, you know where to go.

I think the most impressive presentation for me so far was by Jörg Majewski - a truly masterful tour of Germany explaining rules for establishing local authorities in all the states, and the various rules in the design and introduction of arms and flags. What's more I must note the incredible efforts of the translator to keep up with him for (as he pointed out) different terms have different meanings from state to state, and many of the terms really have no English translation. Still, it was clearly presented with excellent graphics, and analysis of the extent of introduction of symbols for over 12000 entities. I was especially intrigued by his analysis of a north-south gradient - the tendency to 'normal' flags in the north where the wind blows off the sea, to vertically hoisted flags in the south, where the winds are less forceful (although he did not mention if the Föhn had an effect!)

This was followed by a presentation by Klaus Günther on the municipal flags of Rhineland-Palatinate - stripes, waves and snowflakes. He showed some inventive ways to incorporate the coat of arms on to the flag, with greater and greater complexity. It's clear a designer has been at work here as the development of certain themes can be traced. Graham Bartram pointed out the problems that would be faced by anyone trying to sew these flags.

After coffee break, I had the pleasure to introduce the next four speakers. Ivan Sarajcic did a great job in explaining the Flag Identifier, and was in a good place (at the front of the room) to notice the rapt attention people had for his work. It's clearly a job that taxed several brains in the past, and Ivan seems to be the man who is making the greatest inroads to solving it. I suspect Ivan might well be pleased to have volunteers to assist in adding more flags and their codified descriptions to the database.

Alexandru Dan Mandru is a newcomer to this conference from Cluj, Romania. He gave a breathtaking presentation of an overview of the way elements of flags emphasize national principles and declare national identity. I felt sorry for the interpreter for Alexandru managed to squeeze a 30-minute presentation into 15 minutes! Look out for that name on the mailing list - he joined just before coming to Berlin.

Whitney Smith then provided an analysis of the flags of the Romani people and the process of ensignment (the acquisition of national symbols). The Romani are unusual in that ensignment postdated the establishment of a nation - usually ensignment is part of that process, or sometimes even a means to initiate the process. The Roma flag appears with several variations - always blue over green, but with a red or yellow or yellow-edged red wheel, or a chakra, or with 2-headed eagles.

Finally in the morning, Marcus Schmöger discussed the parallelism between language and flag use - he identified parallelisms in grammar where different languages have different numbers of cases, so nations have different numbers of national flags. He extended that to a parallelism with accent development - is the difference in sound of vowels significant? Is the difference in colours significant: yellow versus gold? Light blue versus dark blue? Sometimes it is, sometimes not, depending on the local situation. It was a good talk to go to lunch on - provoking discussion.

After lunch the day continued apace. Peter Orenski introduce the word vexilogorrhea as an 'American flag offence'. In his usual style, he poked fun at some of the excesses of US state flags - black on blue in Pennsylvania, three ploughs in New Jersey, twice written the state name in South Dakota, etc., and described the set of flags as the 'largest collection of words on the flag planet'. However, he presented some very well organized conclusions - many US state flags are derived from arms, which in turn are derived from 18th century seals. The seals were developed at the time of the revolution, and the arms in many cases were developed from regimental standards at the time of the Civil War. Although flags were derived from a later period (late 19th - early 20th centuries), the pattern was set. A combination of improvization during crises, inertia of retaining local traditional design, a desire for pragmatism 'Let's get it done', and ignorance of heraldry combined to make the flags as they are, words and all.

I think we will all remember Dong Lin's presentation that followed, on 20 rules for good flag design, more for his animation and keyboard thumping than content. The content was fine, although I think most of the points were well reviewed in Ted Kaye's Good Flag, Bad Flag booklet. The delivery was just what we all needed to stay awake at 2 p.m. in the dark!

We then moved to Australia, where first Ralph Kelly asked if the flag debate had ended, noting the dormancy of Ausflag since 2000, the long filibuster where debate has resulted in no progress, and wondered if the debate had peaked too early. He concluded that the flag will change, but not soon. Ausflag needs to settle on one or two designs, champion them to raise awareness and invoke concern, rather than be a clearing house for multitudinous proposals. He sees the changing demographic as sufficient cause to be sure the change will come some day. Ralph Bartlett then continued the theme of Australia, with a paper 'Good flag - bad use', looking at some of the more disturbing ways the Australian flag has been abused in the past 10 years, from compulsory raising of the flag in schoolyards, to the Cronulla riots of early last year and the 'Real Australian' phenomenon. He concluded that the flag needs to be protected from being abused, by returning to the principles invoked when it was established.

After break, Jonathan Dixon led off the fourth quarter, with a fascinating tale of flags in Australian territories (Papua, Papua-New Guinea in particular, but also Christmas Island, Cocos Islands, Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. I could just hear the colonial civil servants fretting about the disks, crowns, and vexilogorrhea 100 years before the word had meaning! He developed an interesting theme of use of three charges on territorial (and national) flags, with the persistent question of whether it was really advisable.

Erwin Günther then brought us back to Europe with a discussion of the complexities of East Prussia and its descendants - Poland, USSR, Russia, Memelland, Lithuania. What an amazing range of vexillology and heraldry over 200 years!

Pascal Vagnat then transposed us to the other German frontier - Rhineland-Palatinate and Saar through the 20th century. Interesting to learn of the forces that drove the use of certain colours - black-white-blue as the combination of Prussia and Bavaria, which did not go over well with the locals; blue-white-red cross flag showing French colours, could that ever be a German state? It seems the driving force to get rid of that was the inclusion of Saar in German football leagues. The black-red-yellow with coat-of-amrs declares the nation's 'germanity'. This was a truly scholarly, in depth, exposition of a very complex area.

Lastly, Željko Heimer outlined the entire history of the symbols of Zagreb from the Middle Ages or before, through the establishment of the city in 1850 to the modern day, using a wide range of sources - wax seals, old documents, the mayor's chain, coats of arms built into the design of roofing tiles in churches, stamps, as well as the usual sources. An excellent review with great graphics.

August 10

The congress has closed, the flags were serenaded with the German anthem and the FIAV March, and duly marched out of the hall. The delegates are preparing to leave - although not until after the banquet this evening.

Friday's program opened with Tony Burton recounting the history of German settlement in South Australia (the Barossa Valley), and examined the forces that at times caused them to display their 'germanity' but at other times suppress it, and instead show patriotism to an Australian flag. In his usual republican style, Tony provided many side comments about his views of Australian issues, but in particular drew attention to the similarities between the Prussian eagle and the bird on the South Australian badge, commonly called an eagle, but in fact the South Australian shrike. He concluded with a call to avoid jingoistic nationalism wrapped in the Australian flag.

Scot Guenther examined the use of the US flag in USA in the 21st century - already it seems there has been considerable evolution on the use of the symbol, from the election of 2000 and the devising of red and blue states, the outpouring of flags after the 11 September 2001 attacks, the rise of the Fox News channel which reports news from a Republican point of view, and has embraced flag-related symbolism, and eventually lampooning of the Fox News channel, resulting in some decrease in the prevalence of flag use. He did a good job of explaining the background to the images we will all see as USA enters an election year in 2008.

Jan Henrik Munksgaard examined the use of flags in religious art in Norway, especially as it related to the change of religion to Lutheran during the reformation. Earlier art on church altars, etc., showed Christ's death and descent into hell, commonly employing multi-tongued red cross on white banners. After the reformation, art was suppressed for a time, but eventually reappeared in altars, now with white crosses on red banners. The obvious question was whether this was in any way connected to the use of the Dannebrog nationally at the time. Jan Henrik concluded that artists employed stencils to make this art, and that the Dannebrog colours would inevitably the obvious choice - many may never have seen any other flag. He concluded by asking for input from other Scandinavian countries or Germany, and response from the floor indicated that even in black and white or white and blue countries white on red flags were still the most common on religious art. All three of these presentations were excellent talks, well researched and thought out.

After break, we had a series of short presentations. Kevin Harrington spent time in Northern Ireland en route to Berlin, and reported on the diminished flag use there. He displayed examples of the red hand flag, various flags with King Billy painted (well, printed!) on them, an Orange Order flag, and and Apprentice boys of Derry flag. He also reported on the disappearance of the murals, once so prevalent in parts of Belfast and Londonderry.

Sanjeev Rao then gave a review of images of historical flags of India he has drawn, and expressed his desire to establish a flag museum in Hyderabad.

My presentation then followed, where I reviewed the trends I have found in the nature of questions people ask me through the 'contact us' link on every FOTW webpage. In brief - questions seeking basic flag information, protocol, and evaluation requests have declined, although the number of contributed images and information continues at a healthy pace, and requests for flag IDs peak with street demonstrations reported on CNN or BBC News.

Andreas Herzfeld then told us of the immense collection of car flags, mostly German, that he has received after the death of Herr Rimann, collector extraordinaire. A filing cabinet, and several boxes - 25 albums of car flags - await examination. Andreas hopes to publish a book on German car flags from it, although the 15 albums of non-German flags have not been assigned a destiny yet.

Finally Nozomi Kariyasu and Yoshi Koshikawa reviewed the plans for the Yokohama ICV in 2009, showing us the highlights of this, the second largest city in Japan, and some of the facilities to be used for the conference. The conference will coincide with the 150th anniversary of Yokohama becoming one of the five port cities of Japan, and the conference will be held in the Port Opening Memorial Hall, a fine Victorian-style concert theatre, and in the modern Yokohama Maritime Museum.

From there we proceeded to the closing ceremonies as described above. And so ended an extremely well run conference, with piles of friendliness and excellent timing. I think we all came away much better informed, but thankfully not overwhelmed, with understanding of middle European history, geography and vexillology. I congratulate the organizers on a job well done.

The congress closed on Friday evening with a banquet in the SAS Radisson Hotel in a lovely location in a covered alley overlooked by the Berlin Cathedral. Everyone looked their finest as we mingled and sat down to dinner. The highlight of the evening is the announcements of honours and awards. The chief honour of FIAV, the Flag Soc. Australia-sponsored Vexillon Award for the most important contribution to vexillology during the two years preceding an International Congress of Vexillology was made to Dr. Whitney Smith for the book The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord and Conflict by Whitney Smith and Howard Madaus. We don't seem to have in our bibliography at present, but you can read of it at the Flag Research Center website. Howard Madaus died last year, but Whitney accepted the award on his behalf, with a moving tribute.

Several individuals were then announced as newly appointed fellows the Federation: Frederick Brownell, Kevin Harrington, Sebastian Herreros, Andreas Herzfeld, Ralph Kelly, Michael Krag-Juel-Vind-Frijs, Rob Raeside, Gustav Söderlund, Gerd Vehres, and Roberto Breschi (I think that list is complete, but apologies if I missed one). An award was then made for the best paper at the congress to Emil Dreyer for his paper on flags of the Pope's Swiss Guard since 1798 - a well deserved honour for an interesting and very eloquently given paper.

Finally, the events of the evening ended with the passing over of the FIAV flag to Nozomi Kariyasu for the next congress in Yokohama. Nozomi was later to be seen also brandishing the ceremonial hammer, so that must have been transferred too (important to note, for it has gone missing in the past!), but this correspondent was too busy taking notes that he did not see the transfer for the crush of camera.

This concluded the congress.

I would like to thank the German organizers of the congress for an exceptionally well run event.

Rob Raeside, 6-12 August 2007

Critique of the Conference

I must admit that visiting Berlin was quite emotional for me. This was my first visit at the former capital of the Third Reich and walking in the city reminds me, sometimes, of some old news footage of the 1930' and 1940'. However, this has nothing to do with the following notes.

There was not too many new (and young) faces in the crowd, and most of them were of FOTW members. It seems that the young generation that got passion to flags, first find FOTW and only later join their national vex organizations. No wonder that FOTW was the most represented vex organization in the ICV.

However, I was less impressed by the program of the ICV.

I know that the host was the German vex association, however I think that having third of the presentations about German flags was too much. I don't know if there were no more suggestions but having five presentations on German sub-national flags in a single day (like we had in Thursday) was too much.

I was wondering also about the time limits. There were 15-minute and 30-minute presentations. I don't know who decided about that, but giving Jonathan only 15 minutes to his very interesting presentation of Australian Territories flags, a thing that apparently limited him, and then giving 30 minutes to each East Prussia and Saarland after we already had a full morning session with three 30-minute presentations on other German sub-national flags.

All of them were well made and well presented, however, I must admit that I became bored sometimes by them.

Moreover, if you take out Central and South Europe, Oceania and USA, we are left with almost nothing. Nothing about the Iberian peninsula, France, UK, Former Soviet countries, South and Central America, Africa and almost nothing about Asia and Scandinavia.

There were good presentations and there were those that were less. I think that all the FOTW members did a very good job in their presentations.

Of course that it is a matter of taste, but I, personally, don't like the parade of flags" presentations which are trying to show the most flags available at short time, but I prefer the in-depth look on narrower subject (as Željko and Jonathan did) and the presentations on theoretical issues (such as Marcus, Rob's and Ivan's (who also suffered from the 15 minute time limitation)).

Few of the presentations were recycling of already known issues and some were unnecessarily long, but most of them were interesting.

Well, I told you that I don't gave only praises, but in conclusion it was well organized congress and I enjoy most of it.
Dov Gutterman, 13 August 2007