The case for an Estonian Nordic flag

Although older in origin, the Estonian flag was officially adopted in 1918. Now, 100 years later with an important anniversary, is it time for an update?*

When broached by the geographically uncertain and the subject is Estonia, I typically explain that it’s a small country located just south of Finland. And then, with their internal globe spinning and starting to slow, my more astute conversation partners will typically identify Estonia as a Baltic country. I respond in the affirmative, for it is geographically true.

However, I go on to explain, although we share subjugated histories and current geopolitical hardships with our Baltic kindred spirits, the Latvians and Lithuanians, the Estonians are linguistically and culturally most closely related to the Finns. For indeed, among many other similarities, the Finns and Estonians have interrelated languages difficult to master, complicated folk dances difficult to steer, and curious cuisines difficult to digest.

Which brings us to a recurring debate, at least in small circles – is Estonia a Scandinavian country? Or maybe a bit more loosely and used interchangeably herein, a Nordic country? Clearly, Denmark, Norway and Sweden form the core of Scandinavia. But, if the modern definition of Scandinavian and Nordic includes Finland, logically Estonia has to be part of the club. Love for saunas, check. Wife-carrying championship medals, check. Midnight sun, check. Whatever litmus test applied, whether itchy woollen sweaters, accordion music or favourite adult beverages, Estonia is of the same acidity as their Scandinavian or Nordic neighbours.

Both Nordic and Baltic at the same time

Much like the wave-particle duality of light, Estonia is both Nordic and Baltic at the same time. Photon and wave at once; Scandinavian and Baltic simultaneously – all depending on the perspective of the observer. A Nordic wave from crest to crest, a Baltic particle from edge to edge. Call it the Estonian ethnic dichotomy.

Now, a tie that binds the Scandinavian or Nordic countries is their flags. All variations on a theme, essentially differing only in colour patterns, the flags feature a horizontal cross aligned along the latitudinal. The short side of the cross, making up the longitudinal, is oriented at the side nearest the flagpole. Some feature a solid cross, others a two-tone silhouetted cross. All are identical in the unity signified.

In addition to their flags, another shared characteristic of the Nordic countries is a tumultuous contemporary history with the Soviets. Estonia, of course, took the brunt of this all-too-recent Soviet decimation. The Soviets illegally occupied. They deported thousands to Siberia, destroying families in the process. Not as ruthless, but significant still, the red army removed the Estonian flag and replaced it with the hammer and sickle. A symbol of pride and hope unceremoniously swapped for an unwanted symbol of despair and hate.

Modernising the flag toward the north and west

A flag is an emblem of a nation state – symbolising so much more than the individual fibres woven into its multicoloured cloth. In Estonia’s case, the tri-coloured layers of blue, black and white, depending on interpretation, depict sky or freedom, soil or homeland and purity or soul. The hammer and sickle, floating on a blood red background, may have had a benign original meaning uniting the hammer of industry and the sickle of farm peasants. However, crazed by inane ideology, the Soviet flag became an anti-flag and the hammer and sickle morphed into symbols of brute force and severed liberty.

So, what would be more emblematic of Estonia’s true place among 21st century society than modernising the flag toward the north and west? Vladimir Putin is rattling his sabre in no uncertain terms. Longing for a past that must not be allowed to return, Putin is already planting his modern flag on the ancient sovereign soils of others. Luckily part of NATO and a good friend of the West, Estonia has tangible and material deterrents to its neighbour’s aggressions. But as Estonia’s flag officially turns 100 in 2018, maybe it is time to institute a symbolic deterrent.

Maybe a grand 100th birthday present is in order. Not a three carat diamond. Not a three tier birthday cake. But rather a new tri-colour flag in the form of the Nordic cross. One that holds to tradition with colours intact, but proudly proclaims Estonia’s heritage in fact.

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The opinions in this article are those of the author. Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. * Please note that this article was originally published on 4 June 2015 and lightly edited on 13 November 2018.

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About the author: Andres Simonson

Andres is first generation American of Estonian descent. An enthusiastic estophile, he is an environmental consultant holding a bachelor's degree in environmental science and a master's in city and regional planning, concentrating in environmental planning. He resides in Red Bank, New Jersey, with his loving wife and three darling daughters.