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February 9, 2022 – We are nearly a week away from the 2022 Winter Olympics, and national pride has completed another two-year cycle, regaining its place at the top of the global psyche. Amid considerable controversy and closely aligned with the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, all eyes are once again on Beijing.

Two years ago, the world watched in anxiety as a new virus threatened to kill millions and completely disrupt humanity’s livelihood. Now, after months of an epidemiological roller coaster, citizens are refocusing their attention once again, this time to cheering on national heroes as they vie to make their country proud.

Croatia is no exception. The European holiday paradise sent eleven athletes (seven men and four women) to compete for gold against the world’s winter sports elite. On February 4, the modest but inspired team from Croatia waved the Trobojnica alongside the colors of ninety other nations in a traditional show of solidarity and sportsmanship. With high patriotic sentiments, I want to draw our attention to arguably the most powerful symbol of Croatian cultural identity, the flag.

The modern flag of Croatia was adopted on December 21, 1990, just one day before the constitution. However, this design was not the first. Throughout Croatia’s history, many different standards have flown over Zagreb. Still, they contained many standard features that we can still observe today.

Starting with the base palace, the flag consists of a traditional tricolor (Note: Trobojnica means Tricolor), a popular scheme used by many countries across Europe. The triband consists of three horizontal bands of red, white and blue. Although these colors may seem somewhat generic at first glance, they are part of the Pan-Slavic design defined at the Prague Slavic Congress of 1848. Additionally, this specific combination has additional symbolic value for Croatia, representing the constituents history of the Kingdom of Croatia. Croatia proper is represented by red and white, Slavonia by blue and white and Dalmatia again by blue. Yellow is also historically present in Dalmatia, but I imagine it was omitted to keep the design simple. Nevertheless, this seamless arrangement depicts the intertwined identities of the Croatian nation.

The coat of arms of “grb” is the most important symbol of Croatia which is presented as the central point of the flag. The central shield is a checkerboard known colloquially as “šahovnica”. The checkerboard dates back a long way, first used in 1495 with daily use since the 10th century. So every time a fan wears a Croatia team shirt, remember they’re wearing almost a thousand years of tacky yet iconic history.

Perhaps the most misunderstood part of the Croatian flags stems from a five-shield crown that adorns the beloved checkerboard. Each shield represents the five historical regions of Croatia. From left to right, we start with the six-pointed stary crescent moon, an ancient symbol of Croatia proper. Then there are the blue and red stripes of the Dubrovnik region, conveniently akin to the three leopard heads of Dalmatia. Istria is expressed by a golden goat on a dark blue shield. Finally, the last shield represents Slavonia with another six-pointed star above the marten or “kuna” which shares its name with the national currency of Croatia. Above the šahovnica, these shields symbolize the identity of all Croatian peoples, each region being a jewel in the crown of Croatian unity.

The flag of Croatia, like its people, embodies an ancient culture with diverse origins that has been concentrated within modern borders. Whether you personally identify as Croatian or simply observe a sporting event, take time to appreciate the majestic beauty of a national symbol that took almost a thousand years to craft.

To find out more about sport in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN page.