So Proudly They Wave ... Flags of the United Nations

By Endrst, Elsa B. | UN Chronicle, December 1992 | Go to article overview

So Proudly They Wave ... Flags of the United Nations


Endrst, Elsa B., UN Chronicle


Projecting an image of unity and hope for the future, 179 flags of UN Member States stand in an undulating row in front of Headquarter in New York City. All the flags are of equal size, except for the 180th - the blue and white flag of the UN - that is slightly larger and stands apart as if to keep a protective watch over the other.

Each day - except on Saturday and Sunday or when the weather is inclement - at approximately 8 a.m., a team of 8 to 11 security officers hoist these colourful national banners. It takes about half an hour to raise all 179 flags. At 4 p.m., the flags are lowered and stored in boxes at the foot of each flag pole. One weekends, unless a meeting takes place, only the UN flag is raised.

While Member States have wide-ranging views on political, social, cultural and other questions, when it comes to flags, they often conform to other nations' designs, patterns, shapes and motifs.

Most national flags are comprised of two or more of seven bold colours: red, blue, green, yellow, orange, black and white. Nations from the same region often choose similar combinations. For example, Latin American countries prefer yellow, blue and red; and French-speaking African countries favour red, green and yellow.

Arduous protocol

The resident UN flag expert is Michael Dulka, External Relations Officer for the UN Library and its former map librarian, responsible for many years for giving tours of the UN Dag Hammarskjold Library's map collection to new staff members, visiting dignitaries and groups of researches.

"We have files for each national flag of the world and also of flags of sub-national groups", explained Mr. Dulka, an American of Polish descent, who sometimes wryly refers to himself as the UN "Flag Pole".

"We keep official, as well as unofficial commercial information, information which often comes from periodicals and monographs. Even if we do not have an accurate depiction of a flag, we are able to provide an accurate description."

Some of the most common questions asked revolve around protocol. UN flags must comply with a specific code - last updated and published by the Secretary-General's office in 1967 - which mandates their size and the order in which they are displayed.

To promote a unified look, all national flags for outdoor display at the UN are 4 by 6 feet, while flags used for indoor ceremonies are 3 by 5 feet.

Nations are assigned a flag pole, in English alphabetical order, north to south. With only five spaces left to accommodate new flags, further additions will require some relandscaping of the UN garden.

Creating a flag for a new Member State can be an arduous process. First, the Government must provide a sample flag and/or artwork to the UN Protocol Liaison Service, which notifies all concerned departments in the Secretariat, including the Map Collection section and the Security and Safety Service. The Office of General Services is responsible for procuring the actual flag made to UN specifications.

Parade of new flags

With the rapid parade of 20 new Member States that joined the UN in the past year, there often has not been enough time to manufacture a flag with the correct dimensions.

In such instances, the UN temporarily flies a sample of whatever size is provided by the Member State. …

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