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19 May 17

Croatia's Flag is One Magnificent Zoo

Borna Sor

What other country in the world would put three big cats on its flag? Have a guess.

Croatian flag. Photo; Wikimedia Commons/MaGa

Do you like animals? Well, you should, you are one. But do you like others too? Do you have pets that you treat like a family member, showing pictures of your «hairy children» to the world? Or are you just one of those millions of viewers that click on funny animal videos, share that singing goat video or use grumpy cat memes in your daily correspondence?

All of that is very normal and human. Loving and worshiping animals is an ancient tradition. From the Egyptian cat-headed goddess Bastet to America's animated icon Mickey Mouse, animals have been adored and anthropomorphized throughout history. Aesop's Fables, Lassie and Moby Dick are cornerstones of our fictional culture, while laws, political movements and education try to improve real live human-animal relations. Veganism, vegetarianism, green parties, biologist, ecologists and everyone's beloved David Attenborough are all working on the premise that we are all one.

And concerning identity of «one», nothing was more aspirational than the creation of states. The state was always trying to take «many» and create «one». Take millions of citizens and create «one country», or «one nation».  We are Rome! – yelled the consul to the plebs. No, we are the Huns – screamed Attila. We don't care, the world is so bleak – cried the Goths. A single identity for many people. A national anthem. A banner and a flag. Symbols to make people unified and proud.

Even there, our love of animals followed. Sports clubs with their bulls, broncos, narwhals, raptors and aardvarks. Go honey badgers! Russia is depicted as a bear, the US as an eagle. The French are Gallic roosters, while Scotland picked the unicorn as its national symbol. You win Scotland, OK? The Welsh have dragons, the English their bulldogs, and half of the European nations use some sort of a double-headed eagle on their flags. You really should have a veterinarian check that.

But one country has gone overboard. Quick question. What country has not one, two, but three big cats on its national flag? Not on the coat-of-arms, or as the national symbol, but on the official flag, the one in front of the UN building. The one on the World Cup and the Olympics. Let me give you a tip. It is the same country that on the same national flag also has a goat and a weasel. A biologist would correct me and say it is not a weasel but a marten. Potato potato. I just realized that last phrase must be very strange to someone who never heard it spoken out loud. Potato potato.

So, do you have the answer? No? That’s fine, it is a newer flag, and the animals are in the details. This magnificent zoo is the national flag of Croatia. Croats have decided that the famous red-white-and-blue tricolor is overused. You know when you go somewhere special and someone is dressed like you? A lot of people don’t like that. Now imagine going somewhere nice, like Eurovision,  and not meeting just one person looking like you, but finding half of the room dressed almost identically - France, The Netherlands, Russia,  Czechia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, just to name the European ones.

So, we have decided to put our coat-of-arms on the official flag. The chequerboardshield is in the recognizable red-and-white checks of Croatia. We call it the chessboard and put it on everything. On sports jerseys, uniforms, all the state logos, all the private logos, even on our skin. If you ever see a man with a chessboard tattoo, he is probably a Croat, not a chess aficionado.  But it was not enough for us.

If we were making a new flag, and are hoping this one will last for more than a century, we didn’t want to waste the opportunity. Like Scots and their unicorns. So we made a crown for our dear chessboard made up of some historical and regional coat-of-arms mixture, with no clear criteria. I guess the new government was feeling random. Hey, it was the Nineties and Baywatch was prime time television.

The five lucky little coats-of-arms that got to be the faces of the Croatian “one” were Dubrovnik’s liberty flag, with its simple stripes, the morning star and crescent moon on a blue field representing the old Croatian dukedom - and three more represented with animals. 

Istria has the goat. A male one, to be specific. With red horns and hoofs, it looks more like devil’s killing machine, a thing of nightmares and satanic rituals than a “feeding mother” of the Istrian peninsula.  Then comes the weasel, or marten. Representing Slavonia, this little critter is also the name of the national currency. Yeah, weasel economy. I’m not making this up. The weasel on the flag is all black, with the exception of its white belly.  Cos it’s cute. Deal with it. Finally, the Dalmatian coat-of-arms with three leopards' heads. Now, I know they look like lions but experts claim those are leopards. Which is weird because there are no leopards in Croatia, or ever were. And they all have crowns. Very fancy. So, a goat, a weasel, and three leopards walk into a bar. It's not a joke. It's our national flag. Can we get a Greenpeace medal please?

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