The aim of chapter is to understand how the Argentine State designed nationality through the use of the flag. In order to do that, the chapter is structured as follows: In the first section, a brief history of the social importance and role of the flag in history is developed in order to understand how flags became an important symbol of recognition of a national state. Then, in section two the role flags play in promoting certain national sentiment on behalf of the Ideological State Apparatus will be analysed.
In the third section, the semiotic analysis of the Argentine flag will be developed following the same methodology used to analyse the Argentine shield and the one described in chapter two of methodology. First, a textual transcription of the constitutional character of the flag was put in a matrix and used as guide, as well as the initial reproduction of the flag which is the one that further samples will be compared with (see Flags-Tables 1-97). Then, all collected images of flags issued by the state were ordered according to the historical classification used in the chapter of the history of the Argentine Ideological State Apparatus and the historical components of the Argentine flag such as its colour, the sun, the sun expression, the rays, if it has incorporated objects and legends and the use of the flag were deeply analysed.
After that, in section four, a history of the changes of used colours and the sun in the Argentine flag and its meaning made in different Argentine historical periods is developed. They become the evidence of the state’s intentions to design specific nationalities that respond to the hegemonic dominant ideology.
Finally, some conclusions will be given and then a list of illustrations and tables are shown.
Section 1. The historic importance and role of flags
The most ancient record related to the use of flags for social representation comes from Egypt. It states that “every territorial district [in Egypt] had its standard which was used both as point of muster for its military forces and as a device by which its authority was recognized” (Friar, 1997: 1). Other records describe metal flags in Iran in 3000 BC. For instance, “Persians portrayed golden eagles on their banners” (Cirlot, 1992: 92) and there were silken flags about that time in China (Smith, 1975). Besides, in the bible, flags are widely mentioned immediately after the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, where each tribe had a different flag of a particular colour (Kashani, 1998: 107). However, the Romans adapted the meaning of the flag to the contemporary one. As defined by Whitney Smith, this kind of flag was called “vexilloid” and was used by Roman legions during the classical era, made of a post or pole bearing a solid symbol or symbols. In fact, this word comes from a Latin word which means “guide” (Smith, 1975: 276).
During the Middle Ages, flags were used in battles in Europe, China and Japan by knights and warriors and in the Crusades, the group organization was maintained “by the use of mustering flags bearing the personal devices of commanders, and it is clear that these were sufficiently distinctive to be recognized, even in the heat of the battle” (Friar, 1997: 28). In the 17th Century, knights were replaced by the army (Perrin, 1922), and those armies also used flags for their own identification and that of the units to which they belonged. By World War I flags were withdrawn from the battlefields because of the implied risk of carrying them.
Since the first flag to the present one, colours, figures and meaning have been added and several symbols have appeared on flags. For example, a white flag meant a negotiation request or surrender; a red flag signalled a general warning; a black flag signalled sinking or flood alert and a red cross (or half moon) meant a site of neutral immunity (Polanyi and Prosch, 1977: 74, 1998). Now each nation has its own flag symbolizing their national identity.
According to Connell, the flag of Denmark is the oldest national flag of the present day state. He points out that “tradition holds that the flag was adopted in 1219″ (Connell, 2004: 131). However, the flag that can be said to have greater influence is the three coloured French flag, given that the French Revolution ruled history, language and the western political symbolism, until the period after the First World War. Therefore, according to Hobsbawn, “the three-coloured French flag was used as a model for most of the states that achieved independence or unification after a long century and a half” (Hobsbawm, 2002: 57-58). Within this context, most national flags were formally adopted in the 20th Century. Nowadays when a new nation is born, it must be publicly defined through the symbolic resource as it is the flag which contributes to distinguishing one nation from the other nations of the world.
According to Perrin, the word “flag” is derived from the old Saxon word “flakken” which means “to fly or to float in the air” (Perrin, 1922: 18). The Spanish term bandera derives from the Germanic voice band (or banda) and the Latin bandum or bandus (Wedgwood and Atkinson, 1872: 44), being the word linked to the sense of “partiality” or a group of people that follows a political party. Likewise, the very same sense of the word can be thought to derive from the words “band” or “bandit” original from the European feudalism to refer to those who used to invade and rob under their own flag (Curtis, 1839: 456).
Besides, a flag can be defined as an insignia made of a rectangular piece of cloth, usually taffeta or silk, fastened to a stick called a flagpole. Likewise, a flag is an intentional combination of colours and shapes in a fixed and ordered pattern governed by design rules based on Heraldic principles. The distribution of colours, disposition of stripes, ornaments and other messages indicate the nature of the entity to which the flag belongs, being a political or social communication media between its users (Smith, 1975: 124). In that way and as Hoffman noted, “the flag continued to be a vehicle of non verbal communication (Hoffman, 1996: 30).
As we have seen before, modernity requests nations to have emblems to identify and differentiate one from each other and to articulate and integrate all its inhabitants. This demand calls for flags to be such an emblem, because of its simplicity, its capacity to speak for everyone and for allowing the immediate recognition of its users. But beyond that, flags also became emblems of the meaning people placed on them, such as love, hatred, veneration and passion. As a consequence of that, flags became an object of reverence, reaching the status of being an emblem which people fought and died for and an object to be conquested as if it were endowed with greater value. Thus as Durkheim pointed out, “the soldier who dies for his flag, dies for his country; but as a matter of fact, in his own consciousness, it is the flag that has the first place…the soldier loses sight of the fact that the flag is only a sign, and that it has no value in itself, but only brings to mind the reality that it represents; it is treated as if it were this reality itself” (Durkheim, 1975a: 183).
For Hoffman, the flag functions as a sign, a sign from where to organize and visualize totemic forms of belonging to the part of a reference group. That means that the flag, through the mere combination of its colours and shapes, can achieve the immediate identification of a person or something’s origin with its sole presence. As he said, “flags are like bits cut from clouds, nearer and more varied in colour, tethered and given permanent shape. In their movement they are truly striking. Nations use them to mark the air above them as their own, as though the wind could be partitioned” (in Hoffman, 1996: 5). For instance the instantaneous recognition of friends and enemies, as Hoffman noted “to identify themselves in the total confusion of a battle (Hoffman, 1996: 36) while the flags are flying when nations are disputing something.”
Likewise, for Durkheim the flag is also a totem of each clan (Durkheim, 1975a: 183). As he highlights “it is its flag. It is the sign by which each clan distinguishes itself from other clans, the visible mark of its personality, the sign which is borne by everything that is in some way a part of the clan” (Durkheim, 1975b: 124-125).
Apart from that, it is important to consider the practical and economical aspects of this communicational resource, which can express many things from just a piece of coloured cloth and carried by anyone anywhere. Besides, it can be located in the most relevant areas of the State. For instance, in Argentina it can be in the presidential sash (figure 1 to 12), in the house of government (figure 13 and 14) or it can be flying in the most relegated places of the country (figure 15 to 21). Likewise, it can be held by the high bourgeoisie, the state representant, an anonymous mass or by each individual of the nation. It can wave alone or be waved by millions. It can reach great heights or be pinned close to a heart. Hence, the simplicity for both its production and distribution has caused the flag to be socially accepted as the most efficient emblem, generating thus its “metaphorical omnipresence” (Hoffman, 1996: 23).
In this sense, flags become expressive mechanisms that characterize a national group. Then, a flag is above all a symbol, a material expression of other things. Among them, the most important of these things is that the flag symbolizes and is seen as the nation in itself, because, as Wuthbow noted “the national flag is an image which the nation-state projects of itself” (Wuthnow, 1992: 112). Accordingly, when a new nation is born, its flag starts to embody complex ideas, feelings, attributes and experiences from the society it represents. In that manner, a flag can then suggest symbolic characteristics of the group of reference. Thus, some people believe that “symbols have the mythical prestige of relics. They are born to be eternal and to represent their homelands. Nations condense into visible signs the idea of unity, love and civic duty, as well as the collective idea of nation, a principle that becomes the sign that we take to battles and that acquires an ideal existence in the popular belief” (Corvalan Mendilarasu, 1942: 241). In that way, and as result of its signal, symbolic and practical value, the flag achieves the role of being the emblem per excellence belonging to a clan and to a nation.
As Donnan and Wilson pointed out, “each of the symbols of a ritual may serve to condense many meanings into one object, such as a nation’s flag” (Donnan and Wilson, 1999: 66). Thus, a single flag can condense many meanings, allowing people to project on it what they consider relevant about their relationship with the nation. In that manner “the national flag today performs a symbolic function, being a ‘condensation symbol’ and a focus for sentiment about society” (Spenser and Wollman, 2005).
This act of signifying condensation of the nation into the figure of the flag, can be observed quite openly as a metaphor (Lacan, 1988 :247 and Lacan, 1997: 61). This metaphor condenses not only people’s feelings and personal experiences about their nation, such as the incorporation of national sentiments into the citizen´s symbolic structure.
Section 2 The role flags play in promoting national sentiment
The role flags play in promoting certain national sentiment on behalf of the Ideological State Apparatus is based on the flag being a symbol of attachment for different dimensions of nationality. Among these dimensions it is possible to highlight religiousity, social organization, membership and differentiation dimensions.
First, it can be said that the flag is the best resource that a nation has for incarnating the religious dimension. As Baumann said, “religions are, after all, concerned with the seemingly absolute matters of life and death, good and evil, merit and failure-in other words, the meaning and morality of life” Baumann, 1999: 21), and is in all aspects connected with the national performance of the flag. The religious dimension of the flag can be easily found. For instance as Marvin and Ingle point out, “in its male aspects the flag on its pole sits at the outermost point of its staff. This is a border, the point of crossover from human to divine, from profane to sacred, from centre to periphery. The flag soldiers carry into battle signifies their willingness to go to the border between life and death and also signifies sacrificial willingness, and recalls the origins of European nation-states within the sacrificial system of Christianity. The myth of the sacrificed Christ who dies for all men makes every sacrificed soldier a re-modelled Christ dying to redeem his countrymen” (Marvin and Ingle, 1999: 69).
The idea of offering life for the flag’s sake can be interpreted as believing that flags mean more than death (Hoffman, 1996: 24). The flag questions and involves people into the national doctrine and into the practice of sacrifice and death. Thus, as Hoffman noted of a flag “on days of national mourning it stands at half mast. At state funerals it is draped over the coffin to show that the deceased has been accepted into the immortal community of the nation. It is a symbol that is understood throughout the world like no other” (Hoffman, 1996: 4).
Furthermore, the flag is just a piece of something, just “something flapping in the air” (Perrin, 1922: 18) and one of the central attractions of the flag may consist of the apparent visibility of the invisible, produced by the wind. As Canetti expressed, “flags are wind made visible (Canetti, 1984: 2). The wind thus is the counterpart of the flag, it is what gives its life, and produces the sensation that the flag is alive to spectators as if it were saying something to them. After the flag is taken by the wind, it is expressing its voice and gesture and generating a kind of song and dance. Thus the wind’s possession of the flag seems to incarnate life and death or even the nation’s soul awakening, a national soul that catches people’s attention by the absorption and theatricality of the dance the flag produces. As Hoffmanm noted, “the flag blowing in the wind, as a sign of movement: the optical opium of the people, forests of flags as a psychological field of force” (Hoffmann, 1996: 13).
However, as Durkheim noted, “everything depends upon the circumstances which lead the sentiment creating religious ideas to establish itself here or there … therefore, the sacred character assumed by an object is not implied in the intrinsic properties of the latter: it is added to them. The world of religious things is not one particular aspect of empirical nature; it is superimposed upon it” (Durkheim, 2004: 116). Therefore, the supposed mute discourse of that soul of the nation is a consequence of each participant’s desires and beliefs, as Theweleit pointed out, “a flag can be seen as containing and displaying the tamed instinctual life of the men who are its followers; its colours are those of their desires” (Theweleit, 1987: 261).
The second dimension transmitted by the flag is a symbolic structural mandate as if the nation were part of the structural signified of the personal identity. That mandate is closer to “the Law of the Father” (Lacan, 2001: 166) than can be represented by the flags´s metaphor and whether the figure of the nation acts as a father as the signifier. As Lacan highlights, “a father who makes the laws or whether he poses as the pillar of the faith, as a paragon of integrity and devotion, as virtuous or as a virtuoso, by serving a work of salvation, of whatever object or lack of object, of nation or of birth” (Lacan, 2001: 166).
Besides, this mandate helps project the idea of a common national identity. Laclau, referring to the flag, pointed out that “if the main goal to be achieved is the welding of the nation into a unified whole, the creation of a nation, then it is tempting to conclude that a single dramatic symbol can achieve this more effectively than a whole legislature of representatives” (Laclau, 2005: 160). Hence, the flag does in effect do so in helping to structuralize the social and political experience of their users, by offering them the experience of participating in the political event and being part of the nation just by holding the nation flag. In that way, for Hoffman “as in every other area of political life, signs, symbols, and rituals play an important part in structuring political experience, especially in establishing collective identities” (Hoffman, 1996: 28).
In that way, Laclau points out that a representation, in terms of visibility, gives the sense of unity to a discoursive totality (the people/the nation), in a process where social experiences are always mediated by such symbolization. For Laclau, “representation becomes the means of homogenizing of what I called a Heterogeneous mass into a single representation that contains a wide range of diversity” (Laclau, 2004: 159). Then, politically speaking, the flag becomes a tool for social integration and unification.
Last, as Hoffman pointed out, a flag is an imperative, an object which heightens the sense of fellowship. As he refers, “psychologists teach us how easy it is to fill an emotional vacuum by forming a powerful affective bond with a leadership figure or a flag” (Hoffmann, 1996: 13). Thus, this piece of cloth that represents so much for the state and for its people, is understood as a symbol that may stimulate the membership to the national group, bringing cohesion and the emotion of being part of something, even on dissidence. Thus, from its positive aspects and the tacit agreement to see the symbol as representative of the group, it is possible to find that potentially the flag has or is an element that allows the articulation of vast amount of areas and activities related to the nation, as Zizek suggested, “the enjoyments” of the citizens (Zizek, 2006: 246).
In the Argentine case, the flag is an object with an intense political use along the history. Historically speaking, the abusive use of the flag in extreme life and death situations (figure 58 to 61), the recurrent presence of the flag as background of any dictatorship´s discourse, the appropriation by the Army or the military government of this symbol, as well as the subsequent attempts to associate it to different sectors (figure 62 to 73) led the flag to be a resourse from where different representations of Argentina have been struggling for control. As a result of that, this flag has abandoned its immaculate and idealized character of the past to be spoiled and bastardized. So, as Belgrano wrote “when words become empty and meaningless they prostitute themselves, and the same happens to symbols” (in Eloy Martines, 2001: 25).
However, even though such association of the flag endures in people’s mind, it is possible to find still the flag inside almost any social expression of the Argentine people. Nowadays the flag is found in schools (figure 74 to 81), where standard-bearers carry it proudly, where it is hoisted at the beginning of the day and folded and put away at the end of the day, while everyone sings in its honour. Otherwise, we also see flags in football stadiums and it is on the streets after each victory. We can see flags in political and even religious meetings, in product packaging that resort to the “Made in Argentina”, in taxicabs, in homes of high and low socio-economic levels (figure 82 to 89).
Apart from that, in Argentina the flag is not only the incarnation of the nation, but also of a nation that gives solutions to the problems Argentine people face. Thus, people resort to the flag as a coat to protect them. As Eloy Martinez pointed out, “in the middle of the crisis, the flag appeared as a protective shield for the neglected, a lifejacket for that sinking boat that Argentina was” (Eloy Martinez, 2001: 25). As a consequence of that, it is possible to see flags and pennants flying along the country in the middle of any crisis (data collected during fieldwork). Therefore, the flag can be seen in the front line of almost all social claims. Claims for something that should be but is not, claims against the power’s insensitivity, claims for inclusion, or for being part of the nation (figure 90 to 96).
As Oscar Landi said, “people establish dialogues with symbols” (Landi, 2000), thus the dialogue with the flag is talking about the idea of belonging to a given community; where people believe and await their own answers, but use the flag as a mediator of their collective identity.
In summary, it can be said that in Argentina, the use of the flag was mainly associated as a military device, especially from 1810 to 1862 while the flag started to be incorporated in government use and during the last military dictatorship. From 1880, it was more common to find flags used by governmental actions and also by civic activities, especially during the time of Peronism. From 1955, the use of the flag for posters and advertising in general was increased by democratic and military governments. For instance, during the 1976 – 1983 dictatorship, the Alianza in 1999 and Kirchner period of 2003 to 2008, the flag was used frequently as graphic resource to deliver their message in different propagandas.
Section 2. Semiotic analysis of the Argentine Flag
The Argentine two-coloured flag is light blue and white. It is divided in two equal light blue horizontal stripes with a white stripe in the middle. In the centre, there is a figurative sun with a human face in golden yellow with thirty two rays: 16 blazing rays that “rotate” in clockwise direction and 16 straight rays alternatively placed, according to an already existing design in the first Argentine minted coin prior to the flag.
School curriculum considers that the Argentine flag’s origin is traced back to the creation of the light blue and white cockade of May 1810. Around that time, the patriots, led by Domingo French and Antonio Luis Beruti, gave away a number of ribbons to revolutionary supporters (De Gandia, 1960: 157). It is believed that those ribbons were red, white and light blue, inspired by the French Revolution’s colours. However, a number of historians reject this official version on the colours’ origin, claiming that the ribbons were only red and white. Anyway, what is widely accepted by all Argentine historiography is “even when no contemporary mentions Belgrano as the flag’s creator, history owes him that merit” (Scanna, 1968: 89).
In that sense, on the 13th of February, 1812 Manuel Belgrano proposed to the Government the initial creation of a national cockade, since the military forces used varied badges during their fight against Spain. Thus, five days later, The Triumvirate approved the use of the white and light blue cockade that Belgrano had proposed, declaring that this would be the national cockade of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata (Scanna, 1968). Enthusiastic about this approval, Belgrano designed a flag using the same colours, raising it for the first time in Rosario, on the coast of the Paraná River, where now the National Monument to the Flag is placed. On the 13th of February, 1813 Belgrano made the troops swear allegiance to the government of the 1813 Assembly using the light blue and white flag.
After the oath, Belgrano sent a letter to the central government to inform them of this act but they ordered him to put the flag away and reproached him for his presumptuous actions, since it was not believed to be diplomatically appropriate. As researcher Prof. Ruffo (National History Museum) and the President of the Argentine History Academy, Prof. Cresto pointed out in field work interviews, both considered than the flag found in Macha (Bolivia) was the original one hidden by Belgrano there (figure 22).
Finally, in 1816, the Congress accepted the light blue and white flag as the country’s official flag. Around the same time, in 1815, the Province of Santa Fe adopted its own flag using the same colours crossed by a red stripe and with no sun on it. It was called the Artigas’s flag, “the flag of freedom or the flag of the Federation” (Ferro, 1991: 62 and Canepa, 1953: 73) and remained as one of the permanent symbols of federalism.
In 1818, the Congress of Tucumán (transferred to Buenos Aires) added the sun emblem “as central hieroglyph” (Ferro, 1991: 86). This sun is called the “Sun of May” in reference to the May Revolution of 1810, which marked the beginning of the independence from Spain.
The colour of the Argentine Flag
In the Argentine flag there are both religious and military aspects. According to traditional Heraldic rules, the white colour on the flag would represent peace and honesty; the light blue colour attributes such things as vigilance, truth, loyalty, perseverance or justice (Woodcock and Robinson, 1988 and Smith, 1975). However, the election of the colours could be considered to be a consequence not only of such traditional rules, but even more so of colonial and religious issues, since as Jacob suggests “the flag was not conceived under pure Heraldic criteria” (Jacob, 2002: 34).
Nevertheless, as Zakia points out, that even seeing colour is a subjective experience (Zakia, 2002: 138), the attention to colour “becomes an additional way to achieve an identity” (Zakia, 2002: 136). More precisely, there are different criterias for evaluating colour´s social use. Authors such as Arnheim consider that particular colours have fixed meanings in every culture (Arnheim, 2004: 331). In this regard, those authors consider it possible to analyse the Argentina colour combination in such a way. As Zakia points out, “blue stands for everything that is proper. Indigo blue represented the desire for colour without the presence of it…white is the colour of the absolute. Committed and uncommitted, ambivalant in its richness and simplicity…white is the color of objectivity, beyond subjectivity” (Zakia, 2002: 137). Besides, for Mazower, “light blue, representing the sea and sky, and white, symbolizing the purity of the nation. Their blending in the form of a dual symbolism, entwining national sentiments with religious convictions” (Mazower, 2000: 226).
However, for other authors such as Baumann, “colour identities, like all other identities, are a matter of situation and context” (Baumann, 1999: 58). Based on this position, it is neccesary to go deeper into the Argentine context for analysing the initial sense of the colour of the nation. Concerning that choice of colours, there are a number of historians whose opinions hold the following hypotheses.
First, the origin of the colors of the flag would be associated with Catholicism, since the light blue and white colours are present in Virgin Mary’s robe (figure 33 to 35), “according to what has been consecrated by the Catholic liturgy, as representative of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary’s mystery, after approving the order established by Beatriz de Silva and recognising as habit those colours. She used to offer herself during the ecstasy of the revelation: blue – light blue and white” (Corvalán Mendilharasu, 1943: 243). Among the reasons that justify this possible reading, there is the fact that Belgrano worshiped the Luján Virgin, the reason why according to Jacob, Argentina owes its colours to “Belgrano’s religious conviction and his devotion to the Virgin” (Jacon, 2002: 8).
Second, the light blue and white colours are attributed to the Band of the Order of King Charles III from Spain (figure 36 to 37), as it is portrayed in Goya’s paintings, which is perfectly acceptable and complementary to the fact that he can also have been inspired by the Virgin’s robe, since Borbon´s order were devotees of the Virgin Mary. This hypothesis could be consistent with the independentist’s political strategy of avoiding the total breakdown of all bonds from Spain.
Third, there is an association between the colours’ origin to Buenos Aires’ representation as a synonym of the country. The colours are attributed here to those already existing in the shield of Buenos Aires city, set in 1649 (figure 38), which has the colours of the sky and silver (figure 39), that is to say, the light blue and white that appear as the port’s emblem. As Ferro suggests, “the silver colour is represented in white, which resembles the river stream foam from where an anchor looms, and the blue represents the sky with a flying pigeon” (Ferro, 1991: 3). It is also possible to mention that the Consulate of Buenos Aires was created in 1794, and its shield was adopted in accordance with the old tradition of using the blue and white colours. Within this possibility, we must also include the Consulate’s flag, since according to Carlos Roberts the flag hoisted at the front of the building in1794 had the same light blue and white colours as the Virgin’s robe, patron of the Corporation (in Scanna, 1968). Besides, the first secretary of that Consulate was the lawyer Mr. Manuel Belgrano, future creator of the national flag. Likewise, the light blue and white were the distinctive colours used by the patriots and the regiments of Buenos Aires during the British invasions of Buenos Aires in 1806. According to Ferro, those patrician regiments had already worn a light blue and white crest on their hats by 1810 (Ferro, 1991).
As well as that, the initial independent groups that portrayed these colours were also from Buenos Aires. Thus, such emblems also belonged to the Patriotic Society and the Morenists, a group of pro-independent porteños later called “Unitarians”, which in 1811, even before the first hoisting of the flag, wore a light blue and white ribbon rosette for their better identification (Ferro, 1991). These ribbons were visible during “the complot that overthrew the Government Junta of 1810” (Ferro, 1991: 14).
Fourth, according to my own findings as a result of my fieldwork, the flag’s combination of colours represents the image of the seaboard, where the sky is the upper band, the horizon is the white one and the sea or river the lower one. This is also mentioned in the flag’s national song Aurora, “blue, a wing of the colour of the sky, blue, a wing of the colour of the sea” (Rojas, 1907: 160). Besides, it is also considered here as a poetic dimension of the presence of those colours in the national landscape, where the light blue and white seem to have been inspired by the sky and the clouds. According to tradition, the flag was created by General Belgrano when he looked at the sky just before the river Paraná. Thus, José María Gutierrez’s poem says “from the sky our giant parents took the white and light blue of our flag” (Ferro, 1991: 13), some of the odes to the flag that children used to recite at school. This possibility would imply a discrimination against the inhabitants of the inland of the country for most of them live in the “pampas” or in the Patagonia (figure 40 and 41) where the only colours found is in their skies.
Last, it is possible to justify the use of these colours by weaker arguments that relate the colours to ideological concepts, such as the fact that the blue was the preferred colour in court ornaments by the Incas of Peru, or that blue symbolizes the ideals of justice, truth and brotherhood, arguments with no strong testimony in the Argentine history.
The Sun of the Argentine Flag
The sun of the flag is the same sun used in the national shield but in this case it appears in the centre of the flag not just looming but in its entirety. The sun of the flag comes from the sun of the first minted Argentine coin. Thus, the coin’s and flag’s sun is a referent made of a circle and 32 rays that alternate straight triangular shapes, which make reference to the traditional idea of energy, and waving shapes, which stand for the expression of heat (Cirlot, 1992: 417). The rays’ shape can also be interpreted as the convergence of both male and female aspects, the straight and the wavy.
The number and distribution of rays can be thought as derived from the wind rose (figure 42) which indicates the fundamental geographic points essential to its direction as they appear in typical compasses of the time. Two aspects can be considered in the sun rays shape. First, the energy or light that is projecting. According to heraldic rules thick and wavy rays transmitted energy, action while thin and large rays represent light, illuminations and ideas. Second, the extension of the rays can be considered as arms of an humanized sun.
The motive for the selection of the sun as the central protagonist of the flag is unclear. Some authors sustain the official version that was an attempt to seduce natives which they considered as “sons of the sun” (Scanna, 1969: 82) (figure 43 to 45). In this position Mitre, who was one of the most influential personalities in the process of construction of the Argentine nationality, pointed out that “the heraldic sun in the national coat of arms was, undoubtedly, a form of attraction and reverence for the native “Quichua” and “Aymará” people, worshippers of the star” (Mitre, 1960: 10); This was something that, according to Levenne (Levenne, 1991) was thought of as a strategy to win their wills against the Spanish army.
For other authors, the sun represents a discourse of the Masonry (figure 46 to 48), functioning as a symbol of clarity against darkness: “the Masonic sun of regenerative truth” (Boime, 1990: 496) and “the signature of the soul” (see Maier, 1996: 83). This interpretation may have some resonance considering that some members of the ruling class belonged to the Masonic lodges, such as Alvear, Rivadavia and San Martín (Mitre, 1960: 422).
The sun’s historical presence in the flag is also associated with the war flag and to the symbolism that the star generates which is considered in Argentina as the incarnation of state power as history shows it. To understand its power, the absence of the sun would mean the end of life. An example of this could be found in the Army’s shield, which results in a grave man’s face scrutinizing the spectator (Shield, figure 99). In this way, it can be said that the sun entertained a greater public presence during military governments where the gap between those governments and the civil society was widened by its sole presence
Section 4. An history of the changes in the Argentine flag and its meaning
In Argentina, political sectors have been modifying the national flag as a means of expression. Those expressions can be detected according to some main axes. First and foremost, the selection of the light blue or blue colour as pertaining to the flag. Second, the use of the sun and the incoporoation of other objects. Third, the sun’s expression and how the the rays of the sun are.
In the first place, the words light blue, blue and blue-light blue were used to define the colour´s flag with almost no distinction throughout the years from the creation of the cockade in 1812 until 1944 (Tables 1- Flag 1 to 31), when a decree tried to end the controversy by setting the national hue. The ideals that have been determined as a result of this debate could be understood in evaluating from the vagueness of the word chosen to determine the hue, to ignoring which was exactly the hue chosen by its creator or from questions related to heraldry, aesthetics, visibility, durability and destruction or loss of the original flag.
However, real controversy is not a consequence of aesthetic criteria. The fact is that the political dispute was among Unitarians and Federalists. The core motive of this debate was among Buenos Aires and the country’s inland, and was based on the fact that to be identified by a special hue colour involved the membership to one or another political group. Thus, for the Federals first and for Rosas later, “the national colour has changed from light blue to blue (Tables 1- Flag 8 to 15) because the Unitarians adopted the former as the party’s colour” (Canepa, 1953: 62). After Rosas’s fall “blue was identified as the colour of the confederation and light blue as the colour of the State of Buenos Aires” (Dumrauf, 2003: 16).
Moreover, the next president, the Porteño President Mitre’s interest of national validity of the light blue colour can be understood. He asked “Why is the blue colour mentioned not even once in official records, and light blue is always and constantly repeated? The fact is that the blue colour, understood as a dark blue, does not have either a historical antecedent or a military meaning. The only occasion when blue was mentioned was as a synonym of blue-light blue”.
Still, at present there are sectors which are trying to modyfing the colour of the flag, seeking to impose their political vision. For instance, the National Deputies Chamber´s draft 143/01 from the year 2003, submitted by the Peronist representative Lorenzo Pepe to restore the blue and white flag, as a clear vindication of Rosas.
In second place, the use of the flag with sun was regulated by the state. From 1818 until 1983 most of the time the sun was a property of the government and especially of the military (see civic exceptions in Tables 1- Flag 3, 8 to 11, 37 to 44, 49, 50, 52, 55, 56, 57, 70, 75, 89). Then, from 1983 till 2008, the public and civic use of the sun on the flag was popularized and the sun could be represented in a free way. As it has already been said about the flag’s history, the everlasting debates regarding the fact of having one or two flags, that is to say, first and second class Argentines, turned the sun’s inclusion or exclusion into a mere consequence of a society in conflict between representatives and the represented; in fact a debate about who is the owner of Argentina representing a historical political confrontation between the military and civil society.
Apart from that, the incorporation of objects in the flag was especially done by the replacement of the sun by shields, especially from 1817 to 1852 (see Tables 1- Flag 3, 4, 6, 11, 18 and 17). It can be the result of the interest of the State to own the Nation by marking the flag with a state symbol. In opposition, the absence of shields in national flags since 1955 can be interpreted as a State that is hiding behind the nation. Therefore, in general, the replacement of the sun by a shield shows the visibility of the state as the creator of the nation.
Another annexation to the flag is the incorporation of legends, something that can be found especially from 1829 to 1861, from 1955 to 1976 and from 2003 to 2008. That action shows the attempt to focus the meaning of the nation to a particular topic, the one that is written on the flag (Tables 1- Flag 11, 14, 16, 34, 51, 57, 88, 94, 95 and 97).
Political expressions can be found in the sun’s face and expression as well as the characteristics of the rays. Since official decrees do not regulate it, the sun’s face shows how power is exercised by such administrations, according to what its face is expressing. Therefore, the flag has had an androgenic face, a child’s face, a woman and a man’s face, and even, as it is shown by the examples, aggresive, depressed, upset and even a monstrous face. Even the current President of the Nation designed and used the sun during her political campaign and in several occasions in her term; a reproduction of the sun was designed with a similar facial expression as hers (figure 49 to 57). The different faces of the sun could show a question of genre. As a general conclusion, it can be said that in XIX century the flag showed a male face which is in accordance with the lack of female political participation (excepted Tables 1- Flag 11 and 14). Then, in XX and XXI centuries the female participation started and the sun was represented with both a male or a female face, but there is not a clear pattern of use of them in each case (female faces can be found in Tables 1- Flag 29, 31, 33 and 46). Since 2003 the presence of a sun with the face of a woman has increased (Tables 1- Flag 82, 91 to 93), a fact that allows it to be seen as a pacifist country.
Following the changes of the rays, it can be said that in XIX century, energy was more important than light (see rays in Tables 1- Flag 4 to 6, 10 to 14 and 16), something that can be interpreted as showing the active pulse of the time to create a new Nation, attract immigrants, build the infrastructure among others. On the contrary, in the XX century, light was more important than energy, showing the importance of ideas, values and credo more than actions independently of the content of them. Since 1983, the extension of the rays grew as if they were human arms, something that could be interpreted as the intention of democracy to have arms to hold on to people (Tables 1- Flag 61 to 93).
From an historical point of view, the first important historical change made to the original national flag was during Rosas’ government. As Scanna points out “Rosas had replaced the original Argentine flag by one composed of two dark blue bands and a white one with four red corners” (Scanna, 1969: 85). Rosas also replaced the golden sun for a red one, especially in his fleet. Hence, “during Rosas’ times, the blue colour became darker to be distinguished from the light blue considered as the Unitarian colour” (Jacob, 2002: 32), their internal enemies. Since then and for a century, this light blue colour has continued to divide the country and to be known as a synonym of the port of Buenos Aires.
When Rosas was overthrown, the blue and light blue flag used by the Argentine Confederation was kept as the country’s flag. However, when this government fell, the initial light blue and white flag first carried by the Unitarians and then by Mitre became again the nation state’s flag (Tables 1- Flag 16 to 97).
Afterwards, in 1869 President Sarmiento’s decree claimed “one flag, one nation” (Ferro, 1991: 96), while he authorized the use of the same flag, without the sun, by the whole citizenship and public organizations with no distinction. In 1884, President Roca decreed the use of the flag with the sun to represent the State abolishing what Sarmiento had done. In 1885, President Pellegrini decreed that the flag was blue and white and established a reduction of its size to 140 x 90 centimetres. In 1907, the flag was defined as white and light blue and not blue. During the 1930s, the light blue colour represented the sky’s colour at sunrise.
In 1933 the compulsory use of the Argentine flag in schools was systematized and the use of the red flag with the hammer and sickle was forbidden because it connoted Communism. The state also restricted citizen use of the Argentine flag. In 1938, the President Roberto M. Ortiz enacted the law 12.361 that declared the 20th of June as Flag Day and a national bank holiday as a way of paying tribute to Manuel Belgrano.
In 1944, the military government established the flag with the sun as the national flag, something that pertains to a nationalist ideology and identity. It could not be used by private individuals, who were left without a flag, even when they were granted the right of wearing the national colours as long as they did not use the sun. The Official Flag of the Nation is formally described in the National Decree 10302/1944 as “the flag with a sun approved by the Congress of Tucumán, gathered in Buenos Aires the 25th of February 1818″ (Fernandez and Castagnino, 1962: 90-91).
It is interesting to highlight that the government was very strict regarding the use of light blue and white in founding the decree of citizen usage, as a consequence that “these are colours associated with the best Spanish tradition” (in Ferro, 1991: 246).
Then, in 1978, the decree 1666/78 specified the sun’s colour and dimensions to be golden yellow, the inner diameter of the sun of 10 cm, and an outer diameter of 25 cm, with 32 rays, 16 undulated and 16 straight.
In 1983 the return of a democratic government came. As it was narrated by David Ratto during a field work interview, he encouraged President Alfonsin to modify the flag use, drafted a proposal and then, by a Congressional law, it was established that citizens and public organizations had the right to use the flag, which is the reason why the flag without the sun formally disappeared. From that time on, there is only one flag for all, something that belongs to a Republican ideology and identity.
In 1999, the then President Carlos Menem by decree number 858/99 established some changes in the flag, and demanded that it should be made from one special type of cloth manufactured by one single company in the country. However, this decree was never enforced.
Beyond its local use, the Argentine flag influenced other flags of the continent with its novel design. The 1820 Uruguayan flag, as well as the flag of the Federal Republic of Central America of 1828 are examples of such influence. That is the result of the actions of a French corsair dependent on the Argentine government, who during his adventures against the Spanish, attacked Caribbean and Pacific Ocean ports and even hoisted the Argentine flag in California, an image worthy of being portrayed in a novel. As corollary and influence of his actions, the current flags of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala bear similarities with the Argentine one (Helman, 1989).
Since the first flag found before 3000 BC, flags were stated as a device by which its authority was recognized. From the first national flag to nowadays, as soon as a new nation is born, it must publicly define its flag which contributes to distinguishing one nation from the other nations of the world.
A flag can be defined as an insignia made of a rectangular piece of cloth, insignea from where visual referents indicate the nature of the entity to which the flag belongs, being a political or social non-verbal communication media between its users. In this way, the flag works as a sign, allowing the instantaneous recognition of friends and enemies and as being a totem of each community.
Besides, flags are also symbols, emblems of the meaning people placed on them and from where to fight and die for and an object to be conquested as if it were endowed with greater value. Therefore, a flag symbolizes, and is seen as, the nation in itself, by condensing all sentiments with the nation. Therefore, flags promote certain national sentiment on behalf of the Ideological State Apparatus. First, a religious dimension or sentiment can be found as if the flag means more than death, where flag questions and involves people in practice of sacrifice and death. Besides, the central attraction of a flag floating in the air may consist of the apparent visibility of the invisible, produced by the wind, expressing the nation’s soul awakening. Second, a representation of a social organization is portrayed by the flag, where the flags´s metaphor is a symbolic structural mandate of the nation which structures political experience, especially in establishing collective identities. For that reason, a flag gives the sense of unity to a nation as a discursive totality, in a process where social experiences are always mediated by such symbolization. Besides, a flag is understood as a symbol that may stimulate the membership to the national group, bringing cohesion and the emotion of being part of something, even in dissidence.
In Argentina, the flag has been used in extreme life and death situations, as a background of any dictatorship’s discourse, by the Army or the military governments that appropiated this symbol and as well as subsequent attempts to associate it to different sectors. However, even though such association of the flag endures in people’s mind, it is possible to find the flag inside almost any social expression of Argentine, in schools, in sport, in political and religious meetings, in commercial and in high and low socio-economic levels everyday life, as if Argentine flag were also the incarnation of the best of the nation.
Furthermore, the main components of the Argentine flag are the colours (white and light blue) and the presence or absence of a sun, two attributes that have been changed in different moments of the Argentine history since its creation in 1810 by Belgrano as a means of political expression.
The origin of the colors of the flag could be associated with Catholicism since the light blue and white colours are present in the Virgin Mary’s robe, could be attributed to the Band of the Order of King Charles III from Spain or could be a copy of the colours used in the shield of Buenos Aires city. Besides, it could represent the image of the seaboard where the sky is the upper band, the horizon is the white one and the sea or river the lower one. In this case, the colour and the space they occupy would represent Buenos Aires and it would be discrimination against the inhabitants of the inland of the country where the only colours found are in their skies.
In the case of the sun, it could represent an attempt to seduce native people as they considered them as “sons of the sun”, a discourse of the Masonry functioning as a symbol of clarity against darkness, a traditional idea of energy and state power
The mentioned changes made to the flag were around some main axes which were the selection of the light blue or blue colour pertaining to the flag, the marginalization of the civil society from the official flag with the sun and last the sun’s expression, the shape of the rays. Besides, a shield has been introduced in the place of the sun as well as legends.
In the first place, the words light blue, blue and blue-light blue show a dispute among Unitarians and the colour of the State of Buenos Aires while the Rosas´ dark blue flags represent a Federal government.
In second place, the flag portrayed everlasting debates regarding the fact of having in Argentina one or two flags, that is to say, first and second class Argentines, from where the sun’s inclusion or exclusion differentiate Argentine’s activity. The free use of the flag for everybody is typical of the Republican identity while a restrictive use of the flag with a sun pertains to a Nationalist identity. Third, political expressions and how power is exercised can be found in the sun’s face but there is no a clear pattern of their uses.
Main characteristics of the Argentine Flag according to different historical periods and Ideological State apparatus.
 This is the origin of the word Vexillology, which means the study of flags.
 See Fried, M. Absorption and Theatricality. The University of Chicago Press. Chicago (1980).
 For some Argentine people the flag could mean, as José Pablo Feinmann suggested, the most negative aspect of community life in the country. As he points out “that flag expressed, in the 19th century, the interests of Buenos Aires – the province–metropolis as Juan Bautista Alberdi used to call it. The Federal inland of the country, devastated by Buenos Aires internal colonialism, did not find identification with the blue and white flag. The latter was the symbol used during Paraguay’s devastation, the Conquest of the Desert, the Immigrants’ repression, Patagonia’s massacre. Colonel Varela celebrated with his British friends the triumph over the Patagonia workers under that blue and white flag, the same one used when Uriburu held office. Perón changed somehow the symbols, but kept them anyway. The “Liberating Revolution” flies the blue and white flag as a sign of the freedom and democracy “retrieved”. Onganía suppresses the “Cordobazo” with that flag. Videla held office under the same insignia, but in that case the blue and white was stained with blood. This flag becomes the flag of the Football World Cup, the one of our glorious national team. This only flag means terror, fright, the negligence of the indifference. Then, we have Malvinas’ war. Again, the flag” (Feinman, 2003) in Una bandera para el siglo XXI, Página 12 newspaper, November 15th, 2003.
 See more details in Section 2 Fieldnotes.
 Even though Mayor Tojo expressed his doubt about it, as he pointed out during his fieldwork interview (Casa Amarilla, 2000). Mayor Tojo is the representant of the Argentine Army on Military Symbolism.
 For instance, the Pink House, official seat of the National Government, is pink due to the act of integration of the light blue and red colors (Sarmiento, 1902: 189).
 “Porteño” means from the city of Buenos Aires.
 In “Revista Todo es Historia”, Nº 12, Year III. Buenos Aires, April-June, 1958: 127.
 See Fieldnotes.
 See magazine Veintitrés’s accusation, September l1, 1999. During the fieldwork carried out at the Ministry of the Interior, I had the possibility to interview the person in charge of that area. He suggest me to talk to the person who had given advice on this decree and who turned out to be the President of Belgraniana Association, also owner of the aforementioned flag company.
©Sebastian Guerrini, 2011