Romanian Flag Ethics, or “Who Cares About Chad?”


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 repeated 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.) 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.


Filed under Around the World, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History

33 responses to “Romanian Flag Ethics, or “Who Cares About Chad?”

  1. Thanks for the link to on of my all time favorite comedy routines.

    “We have deserts in America but we don’t live in them” was true at one point… but where I live right now is ‘semi arid’ verging on desert. We already truck food in. If the water shuts off we will be just like Chad.

  2. Wayne

    Jack, I am puzzled by this. The flag the Kingdom of Romania had since 1867 had the same color scheme as the one you showed until the communists took over. Chad was a French colony until they gained independence from France so I suppose they flew France’s tricolor. I don’t think Vlad the Impaler would be a good choice to put on a flag unless they want to scare the Russians and anybody else that wants to mess with them.

  3. I think I’m with Wayne on this one. Chad adopted (in 1959) a flag that had been in use by Romania from 1867 to 1948. Prior to that, Romania had been using those same colors dating back to 1834 but with horizontal stripes.

    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.

    …but is it stealing when you are taking it back? If we abandoned our stars and stripes for 10 years, does that mean someone else can take the banner and we lose all rights to it?

    • Absolutely. Romania abandoned that design, and it was fair for anyone to adopt it. Romania had another flag for 40 years! That’s more than enough to create a property right for anyone who picks up abandoned property. If a US company truly abandons a trademark, another company can use it, and register it itself.

      • So…. all of the previous US flag variants are open and available for another country? “Uh, my flag has 51 stars, so it’s not the same and it’s completely different.”

  4. Other Bill

    Yo, Chad. Make your stripes horizontal.

  5. Rich in CT

    Bless me father for I have sinned: I used an emoji of Ivory Cost flag to mark today.

  6. Glenn Logan

    There can only be one answer: Fun With Flags! Believe it or not, Dr. Cooper talks about Romania’s flag:

  7. Chris marschner

    If Romania wins gold in the Olympics just play Chad’s national anthem. That may show why Chad matters.

  8. Greg

    Chad spells it Tchad.

  9. Dacia Felix

    I am curious to know why Romania is accused of stealing the flag of Chad but not Andorra who has the same flag and doesn’t make a fuss? Romania has used the three colours long before Chad existed, and was forced by Soviet occupation the change the flat. So in 1989, after communism collapsed, Romania returned to the old flag. See discution on Wikipedia:
    The idea of Romanian strealing the flag of Chad is one of the most ridiculous lie.

    • I explained the time line. There’s no “lie.” Your problem is that you can’t see, apparently. Here’s the Andorra flag—see if you can figure out how it differs from Chad and Romania. I’ll wait for you to check in Wikipedia:

      • If there is no lie, is what exactly? Romania did not steal any flag, it returned to the one it had before the communism regime. And communism was installed by Soviet occupation tanks.Romania changed its flag under duress (Stalinist regime). It was a restoration, not a steal. Are Romania supposed to change hear historical flag, just because is similar to Chad’s (not identical, blue is different)????

        • Ridiculous. Romania changed its flag. Fact. While it was changed, Chad adopted the same design exactly (the bickering about the blue is stupid: if a country duplicate the US flag with a slightly darker blue, would you make that argument?). Thus at the time Romania dumped the Communist flag (whether it was changed due to “duress” is 100% irrelevant), its old design was no longer available. FACT. Chad had it. FACT. Chad owned it. Every nation is supposed to have a different flag so there is no confusion.

          You don’t get to demand a parking space after you have left it, and another car is parked there. You don’t get to give up your seat on the subway, and then demand it back if you feel tired. If you give up your trademark and don’t use it anymore, anyone can register it, and it’s theirs. If you divorce your spouse, she marries someone else and you change your mind, you don’t get to demand that she sleep with you. If you decide to change your nations’ national anthem, and another country uses your old tune and words, its not your anthem any more.After The Beatles had changed the band’s name from “The Quarrymen,” if another band had taken their old name and had a hit record, the Beatles could not just change their name back. Need more? Is that clear? There is nothing, anywhere, that supports the principle you are claiming. Nothing. Once you have abandoned something and someone else legally takes it, it belongs to them, not you, and if you take it back without their consent, that’s theft.


          • The Romanian flag as it is now existed long before Chad was proclaimed as a country and got a flag. FACT. Romania was 50 years wronged by communism, it had every right to restore her flag after the fall of communism, namely between 1866–1948. Restoring is no theft. FACT.

            There is no patent, IPR or any other rights on flags as it is on brand names. As there is no such thing, Romania cannot be accused of stealing it. If Chad accuses Romania of theft, it has to demonstrate it in the court of Law. Chad can use the International Court of Justice to settle this issue for good. Why Chad never took legal action against Romania? What stops them taking legal redress? Maybe the tacit knowledge that they stole Romania’s flag while the country was under Communist rule?

            • Got it. You’re an idiot. The facts are simple. 1. Romania gave up the design. 2. Another country had it, fair and square, for 30 years. 3. You can’t ethically take another country’s flag for yourself while another country has it. 4. We are talking ethics, not law. I know this may be a little advanced for you. 5. I explained that there is no principle at all allowing he who has abandoned property that has been legally and fairly taken by another to just take it back 6. As I also said, why Romania adopted a different flag is not Chad’s problem, and irrelevant.

              That’s the end. There is no argument. You are just being obstinate, or stupid, but whichever it is, that’s the final word. Comment on another post, or go away. You’re finished on this one.

          • “whether it was changed due to “duress” is 100% irrelevant”

            Ooo is that one hundred percent sure though?

            If my house is robbed or I am robbed at gunpoint and someone steals my TV or guns (all with serial #s on them) and a year from now I find them in possession of someone completely unrelated to the crime, do I not still have grounds to recover my property?

            The parallel is Romania was compelled to give up its property- in this case, it’s flag, under duress, and 3rd party I associated with the original crime has now acquired that property.

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