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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 May, 2005, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
What are the rules for national flags?
Georgian flag in Freedom Square
A new start, a new flag
Georgia's new national flag - perhaps strangely familiar to the English - was proudly unfurled throughout Tbilisi for the visit of George W Bush. So who devised it and did they have to follow any rules?

The historic occasion of the first visit of a serving US president to Georgia was an event which showed the world the country's new leader and its new flag.

About 100,000 people packed Tbilisi's Freedom Square, where George Bush praised the country's peaceful Rose revolution at the end of 2003 and its architect, President Mikhail Saakashvili.

After 30 years of rule by Eduard Shevardnadze, during and after the Soviet era, the parliament voted for a new national flag to mark a new start. It was a debate they had held in 1999, but any change was rejected by the former president.

They chose the five-cross flag which is an elaborate version of the flag of St George, the country's patron saint. It had been used on banners by Mr Saakashvili's opposition party so it held special political significance.

Each country can choose whatever flag it wishes
Michael Faul
Flag Institute
The country's first use of it is thought to lie in medieval times, under the celebrated rulers David the Builder or Queen Tamar, who may have adopted it from the city of Sivas (Sebastea) during her conquests in Turkey in the early 13th Century.

But the world is a more formal place 800 years on, so did any international body have to be consulted before the Georgian parliament went ahead with its creation?

No, says Michael Faul, fellow of the UK-based Flag Institute. "There are no international guidelines. Each country can choose whatever flag it wishes."

There are three factors which usually decide a national flag, he says - history, culture and politics. The Georgian example seems to encompass all three.

"It's usually a matter for national parliaments to decide," says Mr Faul. "In earlier times it was the ruler, the king or the prince, and they tended to be banners used on the coat of arms. The first flag to be adopted by an elected assembly was the flag of the United States."

Complaints

The lack of any rules on this means there is potential for diplomatic clashes. When Indonesia became independent in 1949, it chose a new red and white flag.

"Monaco complained bitterly about it because it's exactly the same as their flag derived from the royal family," says Mr Faul. "But Monaco was not a member of the UN and was small enough to be ignored."

Indonesia/Monaco flag
Indonesia......... or Monaco?
Unhappiness can also arise from public unease over the flag. In Australia, there is some disquiet about the presence of the Union flag on its flag, which was devised before independence, and many believe the Aboriginal colours should be incorporated.

Iraq's US-appointed Governing Council considered a new national flag but rejected the proposed design after criticism that it looked too much like Israel's.

There can also be a distinction between state and civil flags, says April Grundy of United Flags in Manchester.

"In Spain, for instance, there is an emblem in the centre of their flag. That's called the state flag and it's an official stamp which goes on government buildings. But the flag flown outside Spain is usually without the emblem."

So it may be considered strange that in a world where brand identities are proudly protected more than ever, some of the best-known symbols fly free.




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