A Nation is looking for a Flag


New Zealand’s future flag? A suggestion handed in by Jesse Gibbs

Until today it’s red, white and blue, it contains the Union Jack and four stars. It looks in some way similar to other countries’ and reminds too much of the former colonial power, as PM John Key states. New Zealand is searching for a new flag currently and options are plenty.

A state’s flag is an important item. French sociologist Emile Durkheim called goods like this „totems“ in his works: A thing on which collective feelings can unify. A thing that reminds of higher, transcendental ideas such as a state structure. A thing representing citizenship and sometimes even a feeling of home. And it is nothing to make fun of: Flags are burnt during riots or wars and many countries protect their’s legally against all kinds of disfigurement.

The Kiwis – as New Zealand’s inhabitants refer to themselves – in contrast seem to see this a little more relaxed than big parts of the rest of the world. Their current flag was firstly flown in 1902 and until now didn’t really make it to become an appealed national symbol. With a quarter of it occupied by the Union Jack it reminds too much of the countries’ colonial history, critics say. And the four stars symbolizing the Southern Cross do not represent a unique feature of New Zealand, they add.



New Zealand’s current flag

Until now there were different attemps to establish a new flag in the Oceania state every some years. Primeminister John Key has started another one now to find new symbols representing the around 4.5 million inhabitants. In March 2015 he announced a new and remarkably democratic referendum process lasting until 2016.

In the first step Kiwis were asked to hand in propositions for the new flag design – and more than 10,000 of them acted on the suggestion. Literally every New Zealander in the possession of a drawing program and an internet connection could participate, which led to a great variety of sketches: There are sheep standing on a rainbow infront of mountains, pentagrams on a pastel-colored background, a kiwi bird with laser-eyes or a sheep next to some ice cream – „because we have lots of sheep and love hokey pokey ice cream“ as the presumably childish designer Jesse Gibbs justifies.


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Unfortunately the sheep and ice cream proposal is most probably not going to be New Zealands future flag. A jury picked the 40 most promising designs and published them now as a long list. Dominating colors are black, white, red, green and blue and more than half of the designs once more incorporate the stars of the current flag. Many use the koru, a helix shape deriving from arts of the Maori, which already Friedensreich Hundertwasser focussed on with his flag-suggestion in 1983.

The presumably favored suggestions embed another national symbol of the „Shire“-state: The silver fern leave, which is already now depicted on coins, on Air New Zealand’s plane fleet and additionally serves as emblem for the country’s national rugby team, the All Blacks.


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The 40 proposals which are on the table now are going to be reduced to four by a governmental commission during the next months. By the end of the year, Kiwis will be asked to chose their favorite design out of them. In 2016 finally a plebiscite is going to be held, where citizens will have to vote: for a brand-new flag or their good, old one.


Thomas Büsch

Filmmaker, Founding Member and Secretary General of diyalog, promotion of cultural exchange with Turkey. Since 2012 he is also project manager of InEnArt.

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