How Romania got its flag

Romanians are really crazy about their flag. The blue-yellow-red banner hangs from every lamppost, in front of every building, in bakeries, doctor’s practices and in liquor stores. Because that is not enough, there is even a public holiday to celebrate the flag.


With all this pomp, I should have guessed that the real purpose is to hide something else, something bigger, something sinister. In the typical convoluted Romanian way of thinking, the constant display of oversized flags is supposed to prevent people from wondering about the origin of the flag. Because the sad truth is that the Romanian flag was stolen.

In the late 19th century, the King of Romania kept being reminded by his British and German royal and imperial cousins, friends and girlfriends that his kingdom was the only one in Europe without colonies. “Even tiny Holland has colonies,” Emperor Wilhelm used to tease King Carol, who was a rather mild-mannered man and wasn’t really interested in conquering other countries. Also, “Bessarabia” sounded exotic enough, so what did he need places like Sumatra or Madagascar for?

There was no need to go after resources either. Romania had gold, silver and salt mines. It had enough timber that even the Austrians came across the border to cut down the forests illegally in order to supply wood to the Schweighofer piano factory in Vienna. (Back then it was easy for Austrians to cross the border because the fence-building nation of Hungary was still an Austrian colony, although the Austrians in an untypically canny move made the Hungarians believe that they had their own country.)

Unique among European nations, Romania even had slavery. Perhaps out of ingenuity, perhaps out of lack of sea-faring skills, Romania hadn’t gone to other continents to enslave Africans or Indios, but had simply used part of its own population.

All in all, there was really no economic need for colonialism. Yet, the constant prodding finally convinced the king to give in and to dispatch a small military contingent of 120 soldiers deep into the heart of Africa. It took the troops a few months to get to Africa because due to lack of funds, Romanians only travel by hitch-hiking (examples in defense against possible allegations of stereotyping are Dumitru Dan and Timotei Rad). The problem (and the allure) of hitch-hiking is that you sometimes end up where you didn’t want to go, and the Romanian soldiers found themselves in Chad.

Tasked with taking whatever they could find, the colonial force began to look around, but found only sand (hard to carry back home) and camps full of Sudanese refugees. Less in a conquering and more in a humanitarian mood, the Romanians asked the Sudanese if they wanted to come to Romania with them. “Romania? No, no, no!” the refugees exclaimed in horror. (The Sudanese had a feeling that Romania would not enter the Schengen zone anytime soon and were hoping to be colonized by Germany, not having heard of the Hereros’ fate.)

So, things dragged on, the Romanians got drunk, they got into fights with the Chadians (about women, of course), and, as always happens in these stories, one day one of the Romanian officers killed the son of the Chadian Prime Minister. At that time, Africans were used to a lot of mistreatment by Europeans, but that murder was the straw which broke the camel’s back (this figure of speech may only be used legitimately in stories set in Africa). The government of Chad gave the Romanian force an ultimatum to leave the country by sunset the next day.

chad-flagSuddenly in big haste, the soldiers remembered their king’s orders to “bring home as many exotic and colorful items as you can carry”. They grabbed a hapless elephant for the zoo in Târgu Mureș, but because it was grey, they still had to find something colorful. So they ran up and down the main boulevard and removed all the flags from the buildings. The flag of Chad is blue-yellow-red.

And that’s how Romania got its national symbol. The next time you walk past the tri-colored flag, you won’t just ignore it, but you will remember your country’s history, from slavery to almost-in-Schengen and everything in between. Or at least you will remember this story. And if you ever make it to Chad, please return one of the many flags to them.

“We won’t even put up real flags anymore. We are afraid the Romanians will steal them.”

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in History, Hungary, Romania and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to How Romania got its flag

  1. j. rup says:

    You know absolutely nothing about the history of România or how it got it’s flag.
    Your rantings make you look like an naive idiot. LOL do you have any education at all?

    • Your insults and your lack of humor on the other hand make you look like, well, you said it yourself.

    • Horatio says:

      He was right. There’s no sense of humor when saying and bold writing “the Romanian flag was stolen” or at least no normal human being would see it funny. Why don’t you simply google it and find out few facts about Romanian flag and when was it officially adopted and than raise the question ” Where was Chad at that time?” .
      Surprise, it dates back to 1848 and officially adopted for the first time in 1866…….

    • I don’t think Google was around at that time either.

    • Horatio says:

      If that’s how you reply to history facts, I’m already feeling sorry for you…. Yeah go on with “lacking sense of humor” bullshit….

    • There are actually a lot of facts in my article. Just follow the links in the text.

    • chill mate … you said right .. for us, our flag and history are very important .. j.rup is romanian .. ‘ i hope’ you can’t joke about our flag … it happens to take a bottle in your soft part … we don’t see a joke in our tradition ,our culture, our life day by day chill and take a seat …. you can just don’t mind us when we get upset … it’s part of our tradition .. don’t let anyone joke about you or your country =)) i just look for some news and i took a stroll further .. ..but trully next time pls google it before posting.. we get very upset when you post something you don’t even know .. it’s part of our life so you will also learn we can be a nuisense for one that take a joke about our history, tradition and values ‘ in some parts, maybe just becouse we know how our ancestors lived day by day and how our country change century after century … if you goggle it you will learn =)) just chill don’t mind them, we just respect our values to much to let it slide sometimes ..

    • I did actually google a lot to find out all the details in this story.

      And coming from a country with almost no flags, it was also a bit funny to move to Romania where there is a flag on every lamppost. :-)

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  3. ZaCook says:

    I’m Romanian and I think you do have a great sense of humor! Also, apologize immediately for calling us flag thieves!!

    • Thank you! :-)
      Don’t worry, I don’t think there is a collective responsibility because it was done in a time before you were even alive. And as far as colonialism goes, it was still a minor thing because Chad still has the same flag. So they got off much better than the countries ransacked by Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal and the UK.

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