Old flags, new meanings

Twenty-three years and two days ago, on August 19, 1991, people started flowing to the square by Moscow’s “White House”, the seat of Yeltsin’s Russian government, to show support for the recently elected president and prevent the Communist hardliners who had seized power in the Kremlin from storming the building. Three defenders died on the night of August 20-21 trying to block tanks around the White House. By August 22, the restorationist coup d’état had been defeated, clearing the way to a dismantling of the Communist party dictatorship and the USSR.

At that time, the old Russian tricolor was a symbol of a new, free, post-Communist Russia. The flag was apparently used by Russian merchants in pre-Petrine times, in the 17th century, and Tsar Peter flew it as early as 1693 during his voyage to Solovki in the White Sea. It was the flag of the short-lived Russian Republic (March-November 1917) and the Volunteer White Army in 1917-1920.

Fast forward to 2014. The official Russian flag represents Putinism while the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag has come to symbolize anti-Putinist resistance. Yesterday morning, Russian activists hoisted a Ukrainian flag on one of the seven “Stalin” towers in Moscow, painted the top blue to make it look like the Ukrainian flag, and parachuted (!) down. Police have detained two men and two women aged 25-35, who could be charged with “vandalism”, which carries up to three years in prison.


  1. The Russian tricolor was a calque of the Dutch flag, or have I got that wrong?

    BTW The selfie those activists took at the top of that tower was unbelievable.

    • One theory is that the Dutch captain of the first Russian military vessel, the Eagle, created a Russian navy ensign by rearranging the stripes on the Dutch flag. If true, it was in 1668-9. The Eagle was either burned down or badly damaged by Cossack rebels around 1670 – in Astrakhan. It’s only a plausible theory. Peter had not yet been to Holland in 1693.

      I’m afraid it was the worker sent to take down the flag who took the selfie.

Comments are closed.

Discover more from Winterings in Trans-Scythia

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading