Czech flag celebrates 85th anniversary

La bandera checa cumplió 85 años de existencia

It is 85 years to the day since the Czechoslovak national assembly passed a law approving the new country's flag, along with other state symbols. The flag adopted was a tricolour featuring a horizontal white band above a red band, with a blue triangle on the left-hand side, next to the flag staff.

Ales Brozek, photo: CTK
The traditional red and white of Bohemia and Moravia were already used in the flags of Poland and Austria, so the new state's flag also incorporated blue, representing Slovakia.

The designer is generally accepted to have been Jaroslav Kursa, an employee at the Interior Ministry's archives and the most active member of a Ministry commission set up to create the new flag. Ales Brozek of the "North Bohemian Academic Library" in Usti nad Labem is an expert on the subject.

"It seems that it was Jaroslav Kursa who had the idea of having the blue in the flag in the shape of a wedge or triangle, rather than a blue band. The sad thing is that even though he himself was an archivist, we don't have even one photo of him today. I've been trying to obtain a photo of Kursa for decades."

But Jaroslav Kursa was not always given credit for his creation. In the 1960s, for instance, artist Jaroslav Jares was widely believed to have designed the Czechoslovak flag. And many Czechs in the United States believe that it was the work of a Czech-American called Josef Knedlhans.

"He was very active in the Sokol movement, and it's said that when Tomas Garrigue Masaryk came to the US in 1918 Knedlhans welcomed him with a flag with a blue triangle. But unfortunately we only have his testimony about this and there is no photographic evidence."

Red, white and blue were considered to be traditionally Slavic colours in the 19th century, and were adopted by many pan-Slavic oriented national movements at the time. Today the flags of Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro all feature these colours.

When Czechoslovakia split in 1993, both sides agreed that each successor state would use new state flags and symbols. But that did not stop the new Czech parliament from adopting a flag which was the same as that of the former federal state.

And one last interesting fact: white has to be on top in the Czech tricolour. Some adult Czechs remember this rule by imagining a half-litre of beer with a frothy white head, while children are told that if, by mistake, they painted the red on top in water colours it would run to the bottom of the flag, leaving the top band white.