They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but did you know that the Russian flag is thought to be based around that of the Netherlands? To understand why, we need to go back to the reign of Peter the Great. Regular readers of our blog will already know that he was a reformer and determined to remodel Russia into a modern state. As part of that process, he travelled to the Netherlands at the end of the 17th century to study its navy and learn about the advanced shipbuilding techniques that were being used there at the time.
Peter the Great was impressed by the Dutch tricolor and decided to employ something similar for his own merchant navy. The two flags differed only in order: the Dutch flag from top to bottom is red, white and then blue while the Russian one was white, blue and then red. Several theories have been put forward as to the symbolic meaning of the colours. One focuses on the characteristic associated with the three colours: white for generosity, blue for loyalty and red for courage. Another relates to who the colours belong to: white is God, red are the peasants and blue, the Tsar.
A black, gold and white flag, approved by Tsar Alexander II in 1858, was used for a number of decades in the 19th century but it was unpopular. By the end of the century, the tricolor flag had been adopted as the nation’s flag as well as that of the merchant navy. But that wasn’t to last. When the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917 following the Russian Revolution, the flag, as a symbol of the Imperial family that had been removed, had to go. A new flag was called for. A red flag, upon it a gold hammer, sickle and gold-edged red star, replaced the tricolor and became the official flag of the newly created Soviet Union.
But by the late 1980s, pressure for change was building and the anti-government protesters chose the former flag as the one they wished to raise. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the white, blue and red flag was restored. To mark the occasion three years later a new official holiday was created by Russia’s then leader Boris Yeltsin. Russia’s National Flag Day, celebrated on August 22nd since 1994, is still a working day, however, so although this important moment in Russia’s history is marked, its citizens won’t be getting a day off.