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Flag Flying in Scandinavia

Last modified: 2012-03-31 by zoltán horváth
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[Summer houses in Sweden] contributed by Martin Karner

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Slowly, as time permits, I am studying the works published in the XIX ICV Stockholm Proceedings. I was reading Tom Bergrot's report on early Finnish flags when I came to a paragraph that made me think. Namely, we are all accustomed to the fact that the general population flagging in all the Nordic countries is very popular and a matter of of course. The early adoption dates of the national flags of these countries make us think (at least I felt so unconsciously until now) that it was a normal practice accustomed for ages in these region. However it was not. I am quoting Tom:

In Denmark and Sweden the national flags were considered belonging to the king and the authorities. In Denmark efforts were made in the early 19th century to introduce flagging as a common people's right but this was prohibited in 1834 and then again permitted in 1854. In Sweden the national flag[s] were seen as a distinction of the navy, the castles and the fortresses and only in 1870's the Royal Castle and the Parliament began to fly the flag. Yet at the end of the century the national flag was rather unknown in the countryside Sweden. Both in Sweden and in Finland it is remarkable that the increased use of flags in the late 19th century in both countries is in some way connected with the summer traditions and thus used as a national manifestation on summer houses.

I would guess that the same goes for Norway in the same period - Norway was ruled by Danish until 1814 and by Swedes afterwards in that period. Also similar is true probably for Iceland and other places using the Scandinavian cross flags in the region.
Željko Heimer, 8 October 2004

The above photo which seems to confirm this, at least for Sweden. It shows summer houses on the sea coast in Sweden, each one with a flag on pole.
Martin Karner, 8 October 2004

This is indeed so. The civil use of flags started at earliest in the late 19th Century in Sweden and became very popular around 1905, following the patriotic feelings at the time of the breach of the union with Norway. I suppose it was about the same in Norway too, especially after the Norwegian parliament (Stortinget) had enacted the "clean" flag in 1890 (I think it was that year), i.e. a Norwegian flag without the Swedish-Norwegian union mark.

In Finland, there was no national flag until the independence from Russia in 1917, and the Russians wouldn't have let any Finnish flag to be adopted. In spite of this, many people in Finland used "Finnish" flags of different kinds to make a small but distinct opposition against Russia, and this was mostly done at summer houses. Anyway, the Finnish flag (adopted after the independence) has perhaps its blue Scandinavian cross on white from the flag of a yacht club in southern Finland which was very similar, white with a blue Scandinavian cross and a club sign in the upper hoist square - this club flag was adopted before the independence and was both distictly Finnish/Scandinavian but also in the colours of the Russian naval flag.
Elias Granqvist, 11 October 2004

In Norway, the spread of flag use followed the politization of the flag and the union issue over the 1800's. At the beginning of the century, flag use in Norway was a maritime practice: Flags were flown from ships and in harbours. Given Norway's long coastline, many harbours and active maritime enterprise, this meant that flags were a common sight along the coast. But inland, the flag was less well known. Gradually flag use spread from ships and harbours to other areas on land near maritime cities and towns. This was pushed on by the liberation of the flag in 1838 as France had conquered the North African states that had been the reason for limiting the use of the Norwegian flag of 1821. When in 1844 Norway got a war ensign of its own, attention to the flag grew even stronger. However, it was the issue of the pure flag, first launched in 1879 and then relaunched and made into the hottest political issue in 1893, that finally brought flag use inland. Mattisgaard [mgd46], for instance, describes how the first pure Norwegian flag in the inland community of Oystre Slidre in Oppland county was a painted wooden flag made in order to demonstrate to the locals what the flag looked like. This flag was made in 1879. Only in the years afterwards farmers (the richest of them) raised flag poles and started using flags. At this stage flags also became mass produced and more inexpensive. So, the real breakthrough for flag use all across the country in Norway came in the last decades of the 19th century.

I would expect popular and widespread flag use to have started some decades earlier in Denmark as nationalism there was closely connected to the struggle and wars over the duchies.
Jan Oskar Engene, 11 October 2004