The national flag of Romania (above left) is designed with vertical stripes colored blue, yellow and red. It has a width-length ratio of 2:3. So does the national flag of Chad (right). In fact, they are identical. (One or the other supposedly has as slightly darker blue, indigo vs. cobalt, but I can’t see it.
Romania established the colors and the design by law in 1989, when its Communist government fell. It essentially ripped off Chad’s flag, and Chad immediately protested. True, these had been the Rumania/Romania colors forever, but not in this exact form. Do you think Romania bothered to check whether than design was, like, taken? Nah. “There were more important things to care about,” rationalized the nation’s president at the time, Ion Illiescu. More important to Chad, though? This is the essence of ethics: thinking about the other parties affected by your conduct.It is not the Romanian way, at least when it comes to flags.
What does Romania care about Chad? It’s one of the bleakest, poorest third world nations in the world. Who cares if Chad objects? Who listens to Chad? “It’s too far away,” reasons a Romanian quoted by the Wall Street Journal. Now there’s the keen logic, sense of fairness, and respect for the rest of the world we like to see from our fellow citizens of the planet.
There is no authorized body that referees flag theft. Of course, there shouldn’t have to be, as this is an act without plausible defenses. If a nation takes another country’s flag, it is either being spectacularly arrogant, disrespectful and dishonest, or incredibly negligent. There is no third explanation.
There are some legitimate disputes in the national flag area. The Netherlands and Luxembourg both stubbornly claim the same flag design, as do Indonesia and Monaco, but in both cases the competing flag-wavers have colorable (sorry), centuries-old evidence that they had the flag first. (Do you know why countries don’t go to war over having the same flag? Nobody will be able to tell which army is which!) When another nation appropriates an existing flag, however, there is only one ethical response: design a different one. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, known for events other than the oddly forgotten Great Haiti-Liechtenstein Flag Dispute, the Haitian team was shocked to find the Liechtenstein team competing under the same banner as the Haitian were. Eschewing the “Who cares? Your country is too far away” argument now embraced by Romanians, Liechtenstein adopted a new flag design within a year.
Chad has repeatedly asked the (pretty much useless) United Nations to settle the issue, but the U.N. just says in response, most recently this week, “It’s up to member states to select their own flag.” Or, in the case of Romania, to select another nation’s flag, and say “Nyah-nyah-nyah!”
The Chadian flag was adopted in 1959, while then Rumania (the nation also has had spelling disputes, unlike Chad. There is only one way to spell Chad. [Correction! I am told that it is also spelled “Tchad”!) was flying the same three stripes but with a lot of typical Commie symbols on top of them. In contrast, Chad’s choice of the stripes had meaning: a red stripe for the blood the nation’s people shed in WWII, yellow for the Sahara Desert, and blue for Lake Chad. If the colors ever meant anything to Rumania/Romania other than “gee, what pretty colors!” historians haven’t been able to ferret it out. But Romania has choices. Poor Chad doesn’t have much to symbolize, except constant famine. It was Chad that the late Sam Kineson was talking about in his memorable riff on world hunger…
I can’t imagine putting Sam on a flag, though.
Now Romania, in contrast, has lots of options. Nadia Comenici on the balance beam! Vlad the Impaler! Dracula! Romanian Traian Vuia made the first airplane that could take off on its own power: how about an airplane against that red, yellow and blue field?
Apparently when Romania rejected Communism, there was a period where its flag was the old Iron Curtain banner but with the Communist symbols cut out or it with a scissors, giving the nation a unique flag with a hole in the center. That would have been cool, and symbolic too. Unfortunately, those flags quickly fell apart in a stiff wind.
The obvious solution, at least to Romanians, was to steal Chad’s flag, for the same reason bullies steal lunch money from the smallest kid on the playground.
When a newly independent Tierra Del Fuego decides to adopt the stars and stripes as its new flag, we will see why this is a wise strategy, if an unethical one.
Pointer: The Wall Street Journal, but it’s not going to get a link because of its paywall. So there.