Russian flags

The Complete History of the Russian Flag

We often see the old Soviet Union red flag during some protests in Russia, but little do most people know what this flag actually stands for. Today, we are diving deep into the history of the Russian flag and the events behind the different changes that were applied to this interesting Russian symbol.

When did Russia get its first flag?

In the 1600s, a giant traveling ship commissioned by Tsar Alexis started to use a flag so the captains of other ships and harbor crews know what country the frigate was representing from far away.

This flag didn’t really have a name at the time, it had a simple blue cross in its middle with 2 red squares and 2 white squares. The Oryol (the ship in question) was one of the most prestigious ships of the Russian Royal Navy.

When did the Russian tricolor flag appear for the first time?

A couple of decades later, the flag’s design was changed to something different and easier to see from far away. Indeed, it is in the 1700s that the first appearance of the now famous tricolor Russian flag occurred, simply named the Merchant flag.

To better understand what this flag was meant to represent, here are brief descriptions of each color:

  • White stripe at the top
    First, the white line at the top of the tricolored Russian flag represents nobility and frankness.
  • Blue stripe in the middle
    Second, the blue in the middle is supposed to symbolize faithfulness and honesty.
  • Red stripe for the bottom
    Third, the red color at the bottom of the flag represents the color of love and courage.

Then, the 3 horizontal fields design was decreed by Alexander II in 1858. In other words, this meant that not only the flag would be used at sea, but also on land as the official flag of Russia.

What happened during the Russian Civil War?

In 1917, there was a civil war between the White Army and the Red Army. The Red Army was planning to take over Russia, fighting alongside Lenin’s Bolshevik government. The Reds were known to use a lot of propaganda to help their cause and were introducing fear in the mind of the Russian people.

On the other hand, the Whites were trying to fight the Reds, as they were totally against what the Bolsheviks were standing for. Unfortunately, the Whites lost the civil war in 1922. This was the last time Russia’s tricolored flag would see the light of day, as it was, from there on out, forbidden to ever use the blue-white-red Merchant flag.

The rise of the Soviet Union golden hammer

So you may have heard of the URSS in some history classes or seen the famous red flag with a golden hammer in a war movie, right? The thing is, people just know the name and the flag but don’t really know what actually happened after the Red Army won Russia Civil War in 1922.

From there, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (URSS) was created and was governing Russia. Its flag, which you often see in some student protests and war movies, is easily distinguishable by the following traits:

  • The background is completely red. The tone of the red color though is more on the ketchup side than anything else. That said, sometimes you will see the flag with a clearer red-tone background. We can assume that this color was representing the victorious Red Army.
  • Then, in the top left corner, you have a gold-bordered red star which is the emblem of the communist party of the Soviet Union.
  • Finally, you have a golden hammer crossed by a golden sickle which is supposed to respectively represent the workers and the peasants in their union for the revolution of the communist party.

Fun fact: the original design of the Soviet Union flag had a sword instead of a hammer and sickle. Lenin objected to the design because he deemed the latter too violent.

What happened to the Soviet Union during World War II?

In 1945, there was a historical event that happened in Berlin. You can see a painting with 3 soldiers raising the Soviet flag on top of the Berlin Reichstag after a huge victory against the Nazis. This iconic moment has been shown in books, paintings, and movies ever since.

However, despite this glorious moment, the people of Russia were tired of living within URSS government rules, and many wanted to overthrow the government and reinstate the previous tricolor flag. The years that followed the end of WWII were met with a serious economic crisis, to a point where it was just a question of time before the Soviet Union loses its place.

1991 was the year where the Soviet Union attempted its last coup against Gorbachev. This politician was basically one of the main reasons the Soviet Union was dissolved. Gorbachev demilitarized and disarmed eastern Europe while pushing for complete democratic reform.

What happened after the Soviet Union got dissolved?

Since the Soviet Union was out of the game, a new constitution needed to be put in place. Between 1991 and 1993, the new Russian Federation (RSFSR) was using the old flag’s colors but with a slightly different format. It is only in 1993 that the original Merchant Flag design came back to life. To this day, the tricolored flag is still used as Russia’s official emblem across the world.

Why does the Russian military still use a red star?

The red star is more a symbolic and nostalgic continuity of the old Red Army communist rise to power. Whether we like them or not, it is undeniable that the Reds and the URSS played major roles in what shaped today’s Russia, especially during the Second World War. The military red star is a symbol of that.

A final word

This was the history of the Russian flag, or at least, a big part of it. There are also a couple of other designs we didn’t mention, like the white-black-yellow flag of the Russian Empire in 1865, for example. Nevertheless, at least now you know a bit more about the amazing history of the Russian flag and the historical events related to it.

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