1. Vanuatu, since 1980

    Vanuatu has what’s known as a “flag of convenience”, meaning its national ship registry is open to foreigners that want to avoid higher fees or stricter regulations in their home countries. A full 94% of ships registered in Vanuatu are from overseas, most notably the QE2.

    Vanuatu became independent from joint Anglo-French rule on 30 July 1980.

     
  2. Guinea-Bissau Armed Forces

    Man, once you take away those yellow and green stripes, the flag of Guinea-Bissau flag looks a whole lot more sinister.

     
  3. Russia, 1858-1883

    It’s hard to imagine (non-communist) Russia using anything but the current flag, but they actually had quite a different one for a while there in the 18th century. The black and gold colours came from their coat of arms, and the white stripe was added to distinguish it from what was then the flag of Austria. The flag was designed under German influence and never really caught on with the Russian public.

    The old tricolour (often called the “Tsarist” or “Romanov” flag) is probably way more popular now than it ever was back in its heyday. Hardline radicals and nationalists have embraced it as some kind of symbol of Russia’s glorious past or something. There’s even a proposal to restore the flag to its former status as the national flag. Probably won’t go anywhere, but it’s certainly a sign of the times.

     
  4. Amazonas Department, since 1974

    The flag of this Colombian department perfectly captures the eternal struggle of Man vs. Jaguar. There they sit, immortalized, each preparing to kill the other, but neither ever reaching their prey. What majesty. What ferocity. What grace. Also there’s a star on it.

     
  5. Chaco Province, 1995 proposal (top); since 2007 (bottom)

    The ’90s were an… interesting time for flag design. This is one of the more out there flags I’ve seen from that decade, and it came very close to being adopted. The design won a provincial flag contest, beating around 120 other proposals (I can only wonder what they must have looked like.) But as soon as it got out there, it was utterly blasted by the public. The outcry was so total that the province passed the flag off the Association of Ceremonial Professionals of the Argentine Republic, who decided in 1997 that it was not appropriate for use. A new contest was eventually arranged, which led to the adoption of a much more traditional-looking flag ten years later.

    (designer: Jorge Alberto Esquível [top], Mario Orlando Gadotti [bottom])

     
  6. Governor General of the Belgian Congo, 1936-1960

    Now this is an interesting reversal. Normally the colonizer goes on the top left and the colony goes on the bottom right, not the other way around.

     
  7. Washitaw Nation

    If you’ve ever seen this flag anywhere, there’s a good chance it was on a fraudulent document or license plate. See, the Washitaw Nation is big on the whole sovereign citizen thing — the quite inaccurate idea that any individual can declare independence from their home country and live under their own separate sovereignty. If you’ve heard of “freemen on the land”, it’s basically the same deal. 

    The Washitaw claim to be a sovereign Black (or as they say, Moorish) Native American nation, a claim that has been roundly rejected by the American court system. They also claim that they’re the world’s oldest indigenous ethnic group, that they’ve been registered as such at the United Nations, that they’re descended from the inhabitants of the lost continent of Mu, that they built the mound city of Cahokia, and that the Atlantic Slave Trade either didn’t exist or actually went in the opposite direction. But hey, at least they’ve got a nice flag.

     
  8. Southern Nationalism, since 2013

    Having decided, I suppose, that the Confederate flag was insufficiently sinister-looking for their purposes, Southern (read “White Southern”) Nationalists in the United States have adopted this stark black and white flag. According to an explanation on southernnationalist.com (a website I would advise against visiting if you don’t want to end up on a watch list), the white stands for European heritage, hierarchy and tradition, while the black stands for nationalism. The cross is obviously a reference to the Confederate flag, but it’s also said to be reminiscent of the Cross of Burgundy (which is often used as an “official” explanation for Confederate-style imagery on a flag when a direct reference to the Confederacy would be inappropriate.) It’s also supposed to represent the number 10, which has no meaning in and of itself, but is written as “dix” in French. Dix, Dixie. Get it?

    There is an interview with the semi-anonymous creator of the flag on YouTube, which is both fascinating and a little creepy. He’s standing next to his own home-made version, which appears to be a white sheet with black paint on it. He talks about how he was first inspired by the flag of Alabama (itself ultimately based on the Confederate flag), which he found striking in its simplicity. He says the design is very European and you’re not going to find it anywhere else. (“Other than Jamaica,” the interviewer quips.) The two go on to talk about how white has traditionally symbolizes “purity”, “opposition to forced equality”, anti-communism, and royalism.

    Perhaps most interesting is his comment that the flag is a “total rejection of the red, white and blue,” which he incorrectly says was borrowed from the French revolution. That colour scheme, he says, symbolizes a nation founded on a philosophy of democracy, equality, and liberty. And doesn’t that just say it all?

    (designer: Jon from Augusta”)

     
  9. Wallachia, 1848

    June 26 is Flag Day in Romania, and it commemorates the first official adoption of the Romanian tricolour as a national flag by Wallachian revolutionaries in 1848. The inscription in the centre of the flag read “Justice” in Wallachian and “Brotherhood” in Moldavian.

    The tricolour was actually already in use before that date; it had been used on military flags since 1834. And it continued being used even after the revolution was quashed. A similar flag was adopted by the United Romanian Principalities in 1859, and it eventually evolved into the plain vertical tricolour we know today.

     
  10. Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan

    the IRPT is the only legal Islamist party in Central Asia. There are two versions of its flag online, and I don’t know which one came first or what. The colour scheme from the second is also associated with the much less legal Islamic Movement of Tajikistan.

     
  11. West Virginia, 1905-1929 (front and back)

    The West Virginia flag actually used to be a lot more distinctive than it currently is. The front had the coat of arms and a scroll reading “State of West Virginia”, while the back had a sprig of rhododendron, the state flower. And outside the blue border was an even smaller carmine red border. I’m not aware of any surviving drawings but it would have looked something like the images above.

    The flag had the same problem most double-sided ones have. It was expensive to produce and the colours bled through to the other sides, turning the whole thing into a big jumble. The state legislature simplified the design in 1929, having just one side with the coat of arms surrounded by rhododendrons. This left Orgeon’s four-year-old flag as the only double-sided one in the country.

     
  12. West Virginia, since 1929

    Far the most inventive state flag, but at least it’s a half-step up from the typical seal-on-a-bedsheet you see across half the country.

     
  13. Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

    The flag of ISIS has been all over the news since the group took control of Mosul on Tuesday, driving out over half a million refugees. The militant jihadist organization is now effectively operating like a government, with its own courts, schools, and local administrations. Like Al-Shabaab in Somalia they fly what they refer to as the Flag of Islam, a back square with the shahadah on top and the purported ring seal of the prophet Muhammad below.

     
  14. Telangana Rashtra Samithi

    Hyderabad was awash in pink on Sunday night as the new state of Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh. This was a big win for the TRS Party, whose leader K. Chandrashekar Rao becomes the new state’s Chief Minister. Telangana is home to 35 million people (around the same population as Canada), making it the 12th most populous state in the country. Indian states are pretty friggin’ big you guys.

     
  15. Canada, 1904 proposal

    I first saw this 110-year-old flag on a vintage postcard with the bewildering caption “Canadian Union Jack. Drapeau National Canadien. Registered in the Department of Agriculture, 1st October 1904.” I mean, where to begin, right? Who designed this thing? What’s with the all these weird pseudo-Masonic symbols? What is HLDP? And why of all things was it registered with the Department of Agriculture?

    That last question turned out to be simple. The Deparment of Agriculture used to have a very broad portfolio which included among other things, Immigration, Healthcare, the Census, and Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents. But the rest was a mystery, and the only thing online was speculation about the symbolism. But searching for HLDP eventually led me to a 1908 book called Canada et Canadiens by Adrien Loir. On page 346, in his chapter about Flags, he gives the following explanation, which I have clumsily translated from French:

    A French Canadian named Léger, living in Ottawa, deposited a modified Tricolore with the government. Last year I attended a conference at a political club where this flag was presented by its inventor. Here is how it’s described in the official document deposted with the Trademark Office.

    This Canadian national flag consists of three colors: blue, white and red.

    Canadians say they haven’t chosen this flag because of its French colors, but rather because they are the symbols of their aspirations. They explain further in the official document recorded in Department of Agriculture, Ottawa, 1 October 1904:

    "The blue part is placed nearest the flagpole. Blue, a natural color — The sky, the sea.

    "The white part is placed in the center. — Spotless, Noble, Loyal, A subject nation. — This is the color of purity.

    "The red part is placed at the flying end of the flag. Challenge injustice. Protect our rights. It is the color of defiance, of protection. The eye of God is placed on it, leading us along righteous paths to a glorious destiny for our country.

    "The crosses of Saint George, Saint Andrew, Saint Patrick. The most promient badge on the British flag, commemorating the union of Ireland and Scotland with England, is borrowed in order to perpetuate in our country the acquired freedoms that we enjoy in common.

    "The Tree of Confederation. — The Maple emblem of Canada. The stump and the two main leaves represent the two Canadas. The upper leaves each represent one Province.

    "The globe is divided into six parts, each colour representing one nationality.

    "The beaver — Industry.

    "The two hands. — Brotherhood. We are Canadiens. 

    "The four letters: H. L. D. P. — Honneur, Liberté, Défense, Patrie. [Honour, Liberty, Defense, Country]"

    The illustration on the postcard was done in 1909 and doesn’t quite match the original description. The tree for example has one big leaf for Confederation instead of two for English and French Canada, as well as leaves for Alberta and Saskatchewan, which weren’t yet provinces in 1905. And the globe the tree is growing out of is split into four sections instead six.

    With all that complicated symbolism, this is the type of flag proposal that you would expect to have been ignored and forgotten. But amazingly the damn thing was actually manufactured. There are photos of two surviving examples on the Flags of the World site, one of which is missing the eye of God. That suggests that quite a few of them were made.

    (designer: M. Léger)