Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.
In this issue
- This week:Flag planting
- Virtual Snacks
- Bizarre Searches
- Quotation and joke
Remember the days when intrepid explorers used to swan all over the place, sticking flags into convenient bits of land and claiming them for their country in the name of their king, queen, emperor or other head of state?
There was a bit of a reminder of those days in the news at the beginning of the month, when two Russian bathyscaphes descended to the seabed under the North Pole’s icecap and planted a Russian flag. The mission was scientific, but its aim was to back up Russia’s claim to a large chunk of Arctic territory. You might ask, “Why bother?”, but there’s a load of mineral wealth underneath all that ice – including (of course) oil as well as gold, diamonds and nickel. So there’s quite a lot at stake.
Predictably, Russia’s Arctic neighbours (and rivals) weren’t too happy. Canada’s Foreign Minister, Peter Mackay, was particularly scathing (see this week’s Quotation, below). His Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, rebuffed the criticism as overblown, saying that the purpose of the mission wasn’t to stake a claim as such, simply to prove that Russia’s continental shelf extends to the North Pole. The claim’s based on an undersea ridge called the Lomonosov Ridge, which the Russians believe may extend from their own undisputed territory. (However, they may come unstuck – there’s also evidence that the Ridge may extend from Greenland and northern Canada, in which case Denmark and Canada’s claim would be just as strong.)
You might have thought that this had been the first case of flag-planting for a long time. It’s certainly true that the last major instances of it happening on entirely new territory weren’t even on the Earth – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took a US flag with them to the Moon in 1969. (The Russians weren’t slow to draw a parallel; the spokesman for their Arctic and Antarctic Institute commented after the North Pole expedition that it was a massive scientific achievement which ranked with placing a flag on the Moon.) Even they weren’t the first to leave evidence of their presence, though; in September 1959 the unmanned Luna 2 spacecraft scattered Soviet emblems over the Moon’s surface near where it crash-landed (by design, not accident). And six years before that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay planted the flags of New Zealand and Nepal on the top of Mount Everest to mark their own achievement in being the first people to reach Earth’s highest point.
In the meantime, though, flag-planting is still used as a means of making a political point. In 1988, on the bicentenary of the first British settlement of Australia, a group of Australian aboriginal activists sailed up the Thames and planted their flag in British soil to mark their “discovery” and claim on Great Britain. It’s even been used comparatively recently to stake a claim. Infamously, 25 years ago last March a bunch of Argentinian scrap metal merchants raised their country’s flag at Leith Harbour on South Georgia, provoking a diplomatic incident which was the direct precursor to the Falklands War.
Such attempts to stake possession are comparatively rare incidents these days – after all, the “dash for Africa” (the last major colonial land grab) effectively finished in 1898, when the British and French nearly came to blows over possession of Sudan at the town of Fashoda. So there’s not really much left to claim. (All claims to Antarctica were put on ice – sorry – under the 1959 Antarctic Treaty.) But the emotional significance of planting a flag is still so strong that many countries – including the UK, though not for private citizens – have elaborate rules and protocols governing the flying of flags, including their respective heights on separate masts and their position in front of a building. And to this day many port authorities may board foreign vessels and even impound them if the crew have flown their own country’s ensign without also flying a courtesy flag for the nation of the country they’re visiting.
So if you’re thinking of flying a flag to show your national pride, think carefully about how you do it – it may be taken far more seriously than you intend…
Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?
Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:
Here’s an odd story we found about the symbolism of flags, in more ways than one: an artwork comprised of deep-fried US flags which was removed by the museum’s director.
And an interesting story about the UK’s own claim to Arctic territory…
Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:
- japanese men touching nose
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- what you should know about silk curtains
Till next time…
Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat Magazine
“This isn’t the 15th century. You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory’.”
– Peter Mackay, Canadian Foreign Minister (1965- )
A visitor to the US from the Netherlands was chatting with his American friend and was jokingly explaining about the red, white and blue in the Dutch flag. “Our flag symbolises our taxes,” he said. “We get red when we talk about them, white when we get our tax bill, and blue after we pay them.”
“That’s the same with us,” the American said, “only we see stars, too.”