Sunday, July 31, 2022

Deciding on Flags for Republics No Simple Matter, Karelian Republic Movement Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 7 – As ever more maps of what a post-Russia future will look like appear, many of them are illustrated with flags of the various nations that many expect will gain statehood. But too often, the flags those who compile these maps select on the basis of Google searchers do not reflect the complexities on the ground, the Republic Movement of Karelia says.

            The situation in Karelia represents an extreme form of this problem, the Movement says, with various groups favoring various flags and none yet having universal acceptance. As a result, there is often confusion about which flag should be used and repression by the authorities against any flags they think may support national identities (

            The current official Karelian flag – one consisting of red, blue and green bands – is “a fragment of the flag of the Karelo-Finnish SSR.” It was “’reborn’ in 1993 when as a result of an unpublished order from Moscow all flags of the republics within the Russian Federation were styled on the Russian tricolor.”

            But that didn’t settle the matter. Karelian regionalists have long sought to return to one of two flags that emerged in the 1920s, the Otava (“Big Dipper”) flag consisting of seven gold stars on a field of blue ( or the Scandinavian-style one consisting of a cross of colors.

            After 1945, the Soviets prohibited both; but many Karelians have continued to use one or the other, with the Otava flag becoming that of those who back a Karelian republic and the Scandinavian one favored by those who support the idea of an ethnically Karelian national movement, two very different things.

            Some in Karelia see this division as unfortunate, but the Republic Movement of Karelia says it may be “providential” because both the republicans and the nationalists have their own distinctive flags and thus are not fighting over a common one as is the case in neighboring Ingria (

            Because the Karels form such a small percentage of the population, they can never hope to be the leaders of the movement to achieve independence for the republic. Only the regionalist movement can; and its flag with seven stars is thus useful because the seven can stand for so many different things.

Among them are “seven peoples, seven historical districts, seven unique regional brands and so on,” the Republican Movement of Karelia says. Consequently, choosing the Otava flag rather than any other is a clear sign that the republic movement is not dead but only beginning to take flight.


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