The Wall Street Journal recently spoke to our Commercial Director, Paul Noble asking for his comments on the change in demand for European national flags as a result of political and social changes therein. Here is an extract from the article, written by reporter, Valentina Pop.
In Europe, Separatists and Nationalists Are Sprouting Old Colours
Flags have become a visible sign of the fractious politics of a continent that once had a hodgepodge of heraldic symbols.
Europe, for centuries a patchwork of warring kingdoms and principalities, is again showing its colours. Today, resurgent nationalism and regionalism are evident in a mushrooming of historical local flags.
Catalan separatists are flying the nearly century-old Estelada, an unofficial flag with a white star on a blue triangle—a symbol of independence from Spanish rule—above the red-and-yellow striped official Catalan flag. German far-right protesters have revived a flag designed by a critic of Adolf Hitler. Hungary’s far right uses a 1,000-year-old standard.
Much as some from the U.S. South have clung to the Confederate flag as an embodiment of their identity, so are a growing number of political groups across Europe. It is a highly visible sign of the fractious politics of a continent that once had a hodgepodge of heraldic symbols.
“The tendency we can observe over the past four or five years is that more regions and communities in Europe are adopting flags,” says Michel R. Lupant, the director of the Belgo-European Centre of Flag Studies. Even in France, exceptional for its centralized state structure, regions like Normandy, Corsica and Alsace are bringing back their historical flags, Mr. Lupant notes.
Northern Ireland, which remained part of the U.K. when the rest of Ireland broke away in 1922, has long used flags to signify pro-British and pro-Irish communities. Flying paramilitary groups’ flags is illegal in the region so historical flags are flown, “even though everyone there at a local level know what they stand for,” says Dominic Bryan, a researcher with Queen’s University Belfast.
He says the peace deal struck in 1998 that ended 30 years of terrorist attacks and sectarian violence over the status of Northern Ireland paradoxically led to an increase—not a decrease—in flags.
“To some extent, flags can be an alternative version of war,” he says.
The trend spread notably in 2014, when Scotland held an independence referendum, says Paul Noble, a commercial director with Specialised Canvas Services Ltd., which owns Flagmakers, one of Britain’s largest flag producers. “There’s definitely a correlation between an interest in national issues and a spike in flags of that nation,” he says.
The London-based company seized on Scotland’s referendum…selling (many more Saltires) …the Scottish blue-and-white flag (through our office in Scotland).
“It was very noticeable that people were buying (the Saltire) …because they wanted to feel that they were buying a Scottish flag from a Scottish manufacturer, rather than (from) our head office, which is in England,” Mr. Noble says.
The fact that the flags were produced in England—from which Scotland ultimately voted not to divorce—went unnoticed because the flags were labelled “Made in the U.K.”
Historical flags are increasingly appearing as substitutes for Nazi and other banned symbols. In Germany, supporters of the far right ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident,’ or Pegida, over the past few years have started flying the so-called Wirmer flag.
Designed by Josef Wirmer, a lawyer executed in 1944 for participating in a plot to assassinate Hitler, the black, golden-rimmed cross on a red background was shortlisted as West Germany’s national flag after the war. Mr. Wirmer’s son, Anton, told Der Spiegel magazine in 2015 he was ‘horrified’ by Pegida’s use of his father’s flag.
Hungary’s far right latched onto a more than 1,000-year-old white-and-red striped flag used by the country’s first kings in the Arpad dynasty. In Poland, a far-right group dating back to the 1930s, the National Radical Camp movement, was recreated in 1993. Its flag, depicting a white arm with a sword against a green background is increasingly seen at anti-Muslim marches such as the one in November on the streets of Warsaw.
One flag that is meeting mixed success is the EU’s circle of gold stars on a blue background. Catalan and Scottish separatists fly it at their rallies, but most nationalist movements—including in France, the Netherlands and Poland—want nothing of it.
Britain’s Union Jack got no sales boost from Brexit, but Flagmakers’ sales of EU flags sagged there. “If anyone wants to buy large quantities of those,” says Mr. Noble. “I’ve got loads on my shelf.”