Friday, 19 September 2014

'Flagtastic' result! Thanks Scotland!

Phew! They’ve pulled through, and with a little bit more to spare than it looked immediately beforehand. A huge section of Colombian society can breathe easy once more. The ‘right’ decision has been made. Scotland is staying in the UK.

The Union Jack hung proudly from a Bogotá city bus.
Why bother with the Colombian tricolour when you can fly the Union Jack?
You see had our Tartan friends voted to leave, one of the possible changes made to a streamlined union would have caused a big headache here in Colombia.

I’m referring to a modified Union Jack, minus Scotland’s cross of St Andrew and the accompanying blue colour. This is because the most popular flag in Colombia is, it appears, not their own national tricolour but that of the UK.

The Union Jack colours on display in Bogotá. What a surprise -- not.
'Jack on the back.'
It’s everywhere. Taxis, buses, shop windows, pubs, clothing, dogs – the works. It’s a safe bet that the majority of those here who have this strange affinity with it have no real idea of the place it represents. For one, you’ll meet Colombians who think that London is a country, if they’ve actually heard of the place before that is.

In some ways I can see the attraction that this mixture of white and red crosses on a blue background has. As flags go, it’s aesthetically impressive. Plus, it did represent greatness and endeavour in the not-too-distant past.

Yet, at the same time, for others the flag is – or at least was – a symbol of repression and subjugation.

As an Irishman born into and brought up on the nationalist, separatist tradition, that latter interpretation was the one I was destined to follow. Nowadays, with what I hope is a more balanced, worldly view of things, I tend to be more relaxed when I see the good old Union Flag. Well during my sober, right-thinking moments that is.

Sure isn’t it just three colours put together in a particular pattern after all? At times, though, it’s not just bulls that can have adverse reactions to flags and how they’re flown, or not flown as the case may be. (Check out the video below or click on the following link for an example of that: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HkyokhX9Ag.)


In weaker moments, I do question Colombians who display the flag or wear it on their jeans, T-shirts and such like. A lot of them, as alluded to above, don’t know its origins. Plus they tend to be a bit bemused why it should bother me. Fair enough; as I said, I’m learning to let it go.

However, when I don my Venezuelan football shirt – the country that is now Venezuela being the birthplace of Simón Bolívar, the chief liberator of South America from ‘old’ Spanish rule and thus a Colombian hero – it doesn’t go down too well with some here. Come on guys, the two peoples and national flags are practically the same, right?*

I guess we could all do well to retract from this rather abstract symbolism and focus on more concrete, practical things. Now where did I put my Union Jack briefs?
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*For a more general piece on Colombian (and others') independence, read Whose land is it anyway?

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