The Norwegian Flag: Europeanisation or Globalisation?

Andreas Føllesdal April 22, 1999

The Norwegian Flag Law of 1898 states that the flag shall be

høirødt, med et mørkeblaat, og af en hvid Kant indfattet Kors, i fire retvinklede Firkanter.

The colours of the flag raise methodological difficulties that may easily be expressed in a two-by-two matrix, and hence worthy of scholarly attention.

Firstly, does Europeanisation or Globalisation offer the best explanation for the development of national identity? Secondly: are the mechanisms positive, such as modelling, or negative such as aversion and yearning to express difference?

The case study on flag colours also illustrate how a sound empirically grounded theory must deconstruct these general questions, and instead seek to explain “why blue rather than green?”, “why this hue of red rather than others?” The case also suggests that the alleged conflict between realist and idealist motivational and justificatory assumptions (another two-by-two matrix) may be misconstrued.

Two main issue areas illustrate the research challenges of this visio-aesthetic subject: selection of the colours – red, white and blue – and specification of these colours.

Selection: why Blue?

The Norwegian Flag Committee of 1821 chose the colours red, white and blue for the flag. The Committee claimed that red had always been the national colour of Norway. White was chosen as a colour included in the arms of several Norwegian kinds. Moreover, white was the colour of innocence:

denne Farve forudsætter Begrepet om Uskyld, som medfører Oprigtighed og ærlig Fremfærd, hvorpaa Nordmænds Bestræbelser bør være henvendte.

These two colours, red and white, were initially suggested, but rejected due to the similarity with the Danish flag. Blue was included instead, over the allegedly more “neutral” green. Why? One reason offered by some (neo-neo-realist?) scholars was the strategic need to placate the Swedish king Karl Johan by indicating affinity to the Swedish colours blue and yellow. The government apparently presented this reason to the king, who accepted. The (post-post liberal-ideational?) Flag Committee offered a somewhat different reason for endorsing this combination, namely that it illocutionarily expresses freedom. With red, white and blue

opnaaer man tillige at see andbragt de 3 Farver, der nu betegne Friheden, saaledes som vi have seet det i det franske Friheds Flag, og endu see det i Hollændernes og Americanernes Flag, og Engellændernes Union.

Note the appeals to both European and American models.

Specification: Which Red?

The definition of colours in the Flag Law of 1898 are unsatisfactory, particularly “høirødt” (strong red) and “mørkeblaat” (dark blue). The particular shade of red used in the Norwegian flag is darker than that of the older Danish flag. The Norwegian shade of red was first made from the cochineal insect (bladlus), found on cacti on the European Canary Islands and in Mexico, presumably brought to Norway through global trade patterns.


Cappelen, Hans, and Peter Beck. 1987. Fakta om flagget Oslo: Schibsted.

Hegge, Liss. 1994. “Fargesprakende på folkemuseet” Aftenposten, October 6.