Bratislava, Slovakia – National flags are an eloquent symbol of a country’s historical roots, cultural standing and political aspirations. They are, in other words, a concentrated version of a nation’s complex and changing identity.
This is why Kafkadesk decided to explore the meaning of Central European flags and shed some light on the significance of symbols you might encounter on an every-day basis.
The flag of Slovakia is made up of three horizontal stripes of white, blue and red, charged with a shield – located left to centre – containing a white double cross rising from three blue hills.
The Slovak flag: from Hungary’s coat of arms…
The current flag of Slovakia has ancient roots, and the double-barred cross was already in use in the 9th century in the Byzantine Empire. The Slovak national symbols and colours (red and white) originated from the first coat of arms of Hungary – of which Slovakia was then part of – introduced by King Bela III in the late 12th century.
Although many versions and variants of the Hungarian coat of arms existed throughout history, it usually featured a red shield with a white double cross atop three green hills.
These hills were said to represent the three main mountain ranges in northern Hungary (Tatra, Fatra and Matra), while the cross was considered a symbol of the country’s Christian faith.
… to 20th century designs
During the revolutionary days of 1848, Slovak nationalists created a slightly different coat of arms meant to symbolize their own, separate identity from Hungary and express their affiliation to the pan-Slavic world.
They changed the colour of the three hills from green to blue and added a third blue stripe to their traditional bicolour of white and red. It’s most likely that this choice of colour was modeled on the flags of Russia or Croatia, two key Slavic allies. These small alterations enabled them to differentiate themselves from the Czech and Polish national colours (also red and white).
Following the foundation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, the country initially adopted a bicolour flag with white and red stripes. Considered too similar to Poland’s flag on top of being too closely linked to the identity of the Czech people to the detriment of the nation’s other ethnic groups – including Slovaks – a new design was created in 1920.
The flag now featured an additional blue triangle at the hoist and remained Czechoslovakia’s official flag throughout most of the 20th century. With a few exceptions.
During the short-lived Slovak Soviet Republic in June and July 1919, the country adopted a plain, red square as its official emblem (similar to the flag of the Hungarian Soviet Republic).
Czechoslovakia’s flag was also banned under Nazi occupation and replaced, in Slovakia, with the plain white-blue-red tricolour which had already been in use unofficially until then. The Czech Republic – or Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia – had a different flag during that time.
The 1920 design was reinstated at the end of the war and stayed as such under communist rule.
The 1993 theft
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Slovak part of Czechoslovakia briefly re-established its original tricolour flag – without the coat of arms. The flag proved, however, too similar to Russia’s or Slovenia’s.
As Slovakia and the Czech Republic were heading towards independence in the early 1990’s, a resolution was passed forbidding both countries to keep Czechoslovakia’s flag as its own. As we all know, Czechs didn’t keep their side of the bargain and kept on using it.
But in the months leading-up to the break-up, Slovakia created a new design: it included the three horizontal stripes complemented by the shield – containing the double cross and three blue hills – located left to centre.
However, only two of the original mountains symbolized on the traditional coat of arms are still part of modern-day Slovakia – the Matra range is part of northern Hungary. To make up for that small discrepancy, some would rather claim that the three hills actually symbolize the Small Tatras, High Tatras and Small Fatras, all of which are still part of Slovakia’s territory today.