Flags: As Swiss as Fondue and Federalism

The OLMA is in full swing. Visitors from lands near and far, have arrived in droves to the canton of St Gallen. The buses in the city are proudly flying the banner of canton and flag bearing the logo of OLMA festival. This has led one vexillologically-minded author of the prisma to a trail of thoughts on Swiss flags.

Outside of the vexillological and heraldry enthusiast circles in the English-speaking, Switzerland is more known for its cheese, fondue – the famous dish made of cheese, and its federal political rule. As a flag enthusiast, I find it quite an injustice. Spanning centuries of con-sociational nationhood, the Swiss possess a very rich and highly colourful tradition of flags and coats of arms. Steeped in tradition of decentralized political rule, with vast powers vested in cantonal governments, each and every canton proudly displays its banners of arms alongside the Swiss national colours, one of only two square flags in use by sovereign entities (the other square flag being that of Vatican).

Hailing from Australia, with roots in New Zealand and Myanmar (Burma) – all three having had British influence, it surprised me to find the use of national flags by private citizens of Switzerland is more comparable to the vexillological outliers of the anglophone world, namely Australia and United States. In general, these are two countries where national flags serve equally to decorate front lawns and living rooms of private, and to signify the authority of the respective states in front of the government administration buildings. By and large, in the rest of the British-influenced world disregarding the sporting events national flags are more commonly seen fluttering unceremoniously and somewhat obscurely in front of sterile government buildings than in front of someone’s house or in the dorm room of a student. In other words, unlike in Switzerland, Australia or America, flags more often denote more of a bureaucratic presence and political authority of the state than conveying a sense of shared identity, belonging and pride in one’s nation – all of which are more or less evident to visitors, in uniquely Swiss ways, as one walks through streets of cities and towns above which the national and cantonal flags flutter from buildings, apartments and houses of the state and of private citizens alike.


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