Slovak Municipal Flags

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Slovakia is one of the younger European countries, gaining its independence on Czechoslovakia in 1993, and yet it has one of the most complex and organised systems of municipal and regional symbolism in Europe. The speed of its ascent in the world of symbolic design cannot be illustrated better than through its flags. Consider, that a 1978 article from the Vexillological Club (today the Czech Vexillological Society) listed just 33 Slovak settlements as having flags while Slovak vexillologist Zdenko G. Alexy writes of just 25 Slovak cities having flags in the twilight years of the Czechoslovak federation, of which only some were actively in use. And yet, during its past few decades of autonomous or independent existence, Slovakia has experienced a boom of vexillographical effort resulting in the completion of flags for all 138 Slovak statutory cities and countless smaller municipalities, with a few exceptions all adhering to a strict system.

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Coat of arms of Bratislava
Flag of Bratislava

The process of re-awakening Slovak vexillography began in late 1980’s with the Slovak heraldry committee’s (Ministry of Interior) efforts to codify and design arms for all statutory cities in Slovakia (at the time there were 135). Thanks, in chief, to the efforts of Z. G. Alexy, the committee took into account the need for a more widely usable municipal symbol and conducted their own research into Slovak municipal vexillology. The resulting analysis brought about a methodology for the creation of new flags summarised by L. Vrťel (today the chief state councillor for heraldry). It made use of local flag forms and various unique regional traditions and put together a proposal for a streamlined, unified system of city flags.

It was decided that the flags for the remaining 110 cities would be centrally designed. The flag designs had to be simple and cheap to physically reproduce and could not contain a shield with the municipal arms. As per Alexy’s proposal, all city flags were to be standardised by including a “V” cut (“swallow tail”) into the flag’s fly end, extending to one third of its length.  

Several types of flag were identified and used as a basis for the new designs. Most prominent among them are flags utilising horizontal stripes of their heraldic colours, from simple bicolour designs to the flag of Kremnica using seven stripes. To ensure the uniqueness of individual flags while keeping a good design, the number of stripes was capped at nine. Other types included flags with a double cross division (once vertically, twice horizontally) which were reserved for cities whose arms include the Patriarchal cross. Several flags also included a border around a unicoloured field while a quartered field was reserved for cities with quartered arms. A common element in Slovak municipal heraldry was crossed mining hammers, signifying the prevalence of the trade in the region. Stemming from this was the next type of flag, featuring a diagonal saltire, which was to be used for cities with arms featuring crossed charges. The last flag type was and remains unique to the city of Nitra whose flag is a pure blue field.

Thus 135 Slovak cities had their arms and flags, and all were published in Erby a vlajky miest v Slovenskej republike (“Arms and flags of cities in the Slovak Republic”). And while some might expect the “story” to end there, it surely does not. The publication of the aforementioned book brought about a whole new wave of interest in arms, stemming from municipalities without city-status. The heraldry committee took on this new challenge and began working with even small municipalities to give them their own identity in the forms of arms and derived flags. To differ them from the flags of cities, the municipal flags were provided with a modified “W” cut on the fly end as opposed to the city “V” cut. Another change, which had to be made to accommodate the sheer number of new flags, was permitting for stripes of varying width to make their way into the system. In some cases, the various types of flag designs are even combined, resulting in fimbriated saltires or saltires within bordered fields.  It’s also important to note here that, thanks to the large number of varied (often horizontally striped) flag designs, some may not fit well with a standardized swallow tail design. 

For this reason the width of the individual incisions and the tail ends on the fly of the flags may differ to better “slot” into the flag’s design. A category in itself are the flags of municipal boroughs which combine the colours of their “parent” city in the hoist with those of their own in the remainder of the flag.

At the start of this article, we mentioned that Slovakia has a complex system of flags and while the system described thus far is indeed not simple, the complexities continue. Each city and municipality in Slovakia has three main symbols, the arms and a derived flag and seal (not counting a municipal anthem or city insignia such as a mayoral chain). But some have partial or full sets of up to seven other symbols. These include: Zástava– „long flag“ Koruhva – „banner“ Krátká vlajka – „short flag“ Heraldická vlajka obce – „banner of arms“ Štandarda starostu obce – „standard of the mayor“ Kombinovaná koruhva – „combined banner“ Kombinovaná vlajka – „combined flag“ All of these symbols work with the municipal flag and arms or both at once in some way and provide the municipality with a large set of symbols for various occasions and uses, allowing for a truly wide array of displays. Take a look through the gallery below showing the symbols used by the municipality of Lamač, the smallest borough of Bratislava. Note that it misses the last of the flags in the list above, the “combined flag”. For the sake of completeness we illustratively include the combined flag of the city of Zvolen as Lamač appears to lack this flag.

As we have seen, Slovakia’s system of municipal symbolism is indeed rich and colourful and as more and more municipalities continue to approach the heraldry committee for their own arms and flags, the country is likely to become more rich and colourful itself in turn.

What do you think about the strict system of Slovak municipal flags? Is the variety of flags offered to towns a boon or a burden? Let us know in the comments underneath the article or on our social media!

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