Monday, November 27, 2006

Happy Flag day...but which flag?

Balkans (94) (Small)Urimi Ditën e Flamurit të gjithë Shqiptareve!!  All Albanians, congratulations on tomorrow’s flag day.  On November 28th Albanians remember the Albanian flag, which has long flown over the Albanian people.  The flag, which features a black, double-headed eagle on a red field is the flag of Albanian people, wherever they might live.

180px-SkandersealThe design itself apparently comes from the seal of Skenderbeu, theAlbanian military hero who united the Albanian people for a time to fight against the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century.  The seal, which was discovered in 1634, was bought by the Danish National Museum in 1839 and remains there today.  According to Wikipedia:

The inscription is in Greek and reads Alexander (Skender) is an Emperor and a King. Emperor of the Romaic nations (Greeks) and King of the Turks, the Albanians, the Serbs and the Bulgarians. It naturally follows the inscription is laterally reversed. It is possible that the seal was made after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, since Skanderbeg is referred to as an Emperor of the Byzantines. The double eagle in the center of the seal is derived from the eagle of the Byzantine emperor, and this fact is also the most agreed upon among educated Albanians.

The devotion of the Albanians to the flag is pretty striking.  This week it will be proudly displayed where ever you find Albanians.  In the capital of Kosovo, Prishtina, you’ll see street vendors like this selling the most popular flags.


The flag itself is one of the challenges to imminent Kosovar statehood.  When you ask any Kosovar what the flag of the future state of Kosovo would be the answer is always the same…the “shqiponja” or double-headed eagle flag.  The problem is, naturally, that the state of Albania has already laid claim to that emblem.  While I’m not absolutely certain of this, I’m pretty sure that no two countries can share the idential flag

DardaniaIn answer to this question, and in an attempt to create a unique Kosovar identity, former President Ibrahim Rugova proposed an alternative.  This flag contains the black “shqiponja” on a red circle over a European Union blue background.  The word “Dardania,” on a banner across the eagle.  Dardania is the ancient name for the region roughly corresponding to modern Kosovo.  Though it was hoped that this flag would be readily adopted by the Kosovar people, it has become more commonly known as “Rugova’s flag” or the flag of the LDK, Rugova’s political party.

DioGardiFlagThen, while reading the Iliria Post today I saw another flag proposal.  This one is from former US Congressman Joseph DioGaurdi, the president of the American-Albanian Civic League.  This design really shocked me.  It places the Shqiponja on the blue field of the US flag.  The descriptions below the design reads:

“I believe that this flag represents the heart and spirit of the Albanian people from the whole world, especially to those Albanians of the new state of Kosovo.  It contains the national symbol (with the double-headed eagle) and the national colors (red and black.  The white and red lines remind us of the major role which the USA has played  in which it is known by the Albanian State after the first world war under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, under the  leadership of NATO against Slobodan Miloshevic in 1999 and the present work…”

While I have a great deal of respect for DioGuardi’s work and support for the Albanian people I am amazed to see anyone recommend that another nation’s national emblem be so subsumed by another's.  This isn’t long-term way for one nation to remember another.  I cringe, for example, every time I see the Liberian flag, which looks exactly like the US flag only with one star where the US flag has fifty.

This is probably the last November 28th, the last Flag day, the last Dita e Flamurit, that Kosova will spend without having answered the question of what flag a future state will fly.  By next November there will likely be a new flag and a new nation.


Anonymous said...

well written - thanks for the history and observations.

Anonymous said...

though we historically owe much to the Americans for our existence, i don't think that you would be ahppy if we "stole" your flag. I would like the standard flag with a D letter on top of the eagle. Simple as that because the flag has a psychological meaning.

Anonymous said...

thank you for congratulating us on our Flag Day! alien in a foreign land said...

Hey Jeff, thanks for the reminder of flag day. It brings back my memories of celebrating flag day while in Lithuania but with Albanian friends/roomies. Pretty Awesome!

Jeff said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. Urimi!

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff,

The flag doesn't come from Scanderbeg's seal (which I'm afraid is a fake one), but from Scanderbeg's flag that united Albanians in the 15th century in defending the Motherland and Christendom from the Ottoman scourge. But the flag predates Scanderbeg, since it was the flag of the principate of Kastrioti even before him. As for the 28th of November, it is a double celebration. In 28 Nov 1444, Scanderbeg returned and liberated the castle of Kruja, and from there started the struggle to liberate the whole of Albania. In 28 Nov 1912, Ismail Qemali, conscious of the symbolism of the date, raised the flag in Vlora and proclaimed Albania's independence, following a congress of delegates from all Albanian lands. Kosova, Macedonia, Cameria as well were represented in that congress, and that's why the date and the flag are symbolic of all Albanian nation and not just the citizens of the (truncated) Republic of Albania.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post! (found it through Global Voices)

Regarding nations sharing the same flag, I believe there is at least one exception: The Monegasque flag is identical to the Indonesian one. Of course Monaco is not truly independent, so I'm not sure if this qualifies - it's officially independent, but the Minister of State is chosen from a slate of French citizens nominated by the French government.

The suggestion to base the flag on the American one does sound rather.. er, typically American. I found it quite bizarre when watching the first Spiderman movie and noticing the flag-waving going on, but after moving here realized that it's actually quite commonplace. Near the town square here there's this giant flag at least 5m wide, for example. Not too surprising to find an Albanian-American feeling the patriotic pull of both his heritages.

One variation of the Rugovan idea, of course, is to do what the ex-British Dominion countries do: have the EU flag in the top-inside corner and the Albanian double-eagle-on-red in the middle.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,

I think, that it is actually NOT forbidden for two countries to have the same flag. Ireland, Italy and Mexico have the same flag. Romania and Moldova have the same flag, except Moldova's hase something added to it.

So we could have the same flag or we could have a similar flag.

As far as the origins of the Albanian flag, it is true that the symbol was used among Albanian princes before Scanderbeg. And, it is also true that Scanderbeg wanted to convey the message that Albania is the defender of Christendom after the fall of Constantinople, by choosing the Byzantine design.

Jeff said...

Anonymous and Bytycci, thanks so much for the clarifications. Anonymous, I wasn't aware of the other history you mentioned. Thank you for mentioning those things. Bytycci, you're right about other countries that have very similar or almost identical flags. I hadn't really thought about that.

Thanks guys for weighing in. I figured I was taking a little bit of a risk, writing about the flag as a "të huaj." I appreciate you correcting and expanding what I wrote.

Jeff said...

michael, thanks for stopping by as well. I hadn't stumbled upon Global Voices before.

Anonymous said...

any "të huaj" who wishes us the best is like "të shpisë"

bytycci said...

Jeff, you are welcome.
And don't feel like a 'i huaj'. You know we are not xenophobes, and we respect a lot those who pay the least amount of attention to us. Plus, you're an American, so you are definitely not a 'i huaj' :)

pelasgian said...

It is very important to have a debate like this. In fact there should be a national debate. You don't get a national flag very often. So this issue is of an utmost importance.

I didn't faviour DioGardis flag purely because I can't see Kosova being Americas 51st state.

The flag that I would vote for should contain two important elements that would define the identity of the kosovar nation, and that is double-head eagle and the name Dardania.

In the last 8 years I have learned a great deal of our past history, and I am aware of the importance of the name Dardania. With me I have numerous antique maps, dated from 1630 up to 1900, and five maps of the ancient Dardania, dated 1700?

Anonymous said...

While "Albania may have laid claim on the flag first", the Kosovars have bled more for it. So, you see the conundrum? I am from Albania myself and I have only contempt for any attempt to brand our brethren with a different flag.

Anonymous said...

well written - thanks for the history and observations....? Kosovo IS NOT an independent STATE never WAS and never WILL BE. This is NOT history this is YOUR OWN OPINION KOSOVO AND METOHIJA(METOHIJA meaning holy church land - NOT belonging to the Islamic culture!) IS NOT AN INDEPENDENT STATE. 25 000 Serbian volonteers WILL be waiting for The SHIPTAR so called "declaration" of Kosovo's independence. Serbia dares you to declare our land independent from our country! We will elliminate you like we did the Turks!

Anonymous said...

This is the problem with serbs. They have a f'ed up mentality. How do they expect to keep kosovo for themselves when they killed thousands of its civilians. You think that Kosovars will accept being a part of Serbia? And responding to the 'volunteers who are waiting when kosova declares independence,Hajde morre bre. Na jem ty prit.

tike said...

Kosovo has already accepted neighboring with Serbians and otehr ethnic groups. The new flag has six yellow stars that reprent all the differtn ethinc groups in Kosovo.