An interview with Ing. Petr Exner of the Czech Flag Data Center
Petr Exner runs FLADAC, the Flag Data Center (SVI, the Středisko vexilologických informací) in the Czech Republic. The Center maintains the website vexi.info, which includes a giant online database of thousands upon thousands of Czech municipal flags. In 2005 the International Federation of Vexillological Associations (FIAV), of which both the PFA and the FDC are members, gave Ing. Exner its Vexillon award and in 2015 made him a Fellow of the federation, to honor his contributions to vexillology. In March 2016 Scott Mainwaring interviewed him for the PFA’s online blog at portlandflag.org:
Q1. The many thousands of flags in the vexi.info Czech Communal Flag Database are all beautifully designed (unlike so many city and town flags we have here in the US). Am I correct in understanding that each represents a particular city, town, village, or other place in the Czech Republic? Are there other kinds of flags in the database as well? How do you decide which flags to include in the database, and which not to?
In fact, there are 4745 flags in the database now: flags of villages, townships (městys), towns (město), and statutory towns or cities (statutární město). Districts (obvod or část) of statutární město may also have flags. All of these places are considered municipalities (obci).
Yes, each flag belongs to one particular municipality. No other flags are in the database. Each flag is included in the database only after the Speaker of Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic has granted it to its municipality. Until 1990, only towns were authorized to have a flag, later each municipality got the same right (there are almost 6,500 municipalities are in the Czech Republic).
In fact, some towns which have a historic flag (i.e. in use before 1990) have their flag in the database as well. But there are only around 30 flags of such a kind. For completeness of the database these district town flags (OKRESNÍ MESTA) are included.
Q2. Who designed these flags, and how did they come to be? They all appear to follow a single set of design principles — is there a document explaining these?
Anyone can propose a flag and coat of arms to their municipality.
There are ten basic requirements for flag design set by the Czech Parliament’s Sub-Committee for Heraldry and Vexillology:
- The colors of the flag are based on the colors of the arms. Priority should be given to primary colors (white, yellow, red, blue, green, and black) and the adjacent fields should have colors of contrasting shade.
- The flag should conform to the principle of flying, they should be simple and expressive.
- Only figures of the arms or their derivatives and/or attributes may be used on the flag. If there is no figure on the arms used the vexillological figures (bar, wedge, chevron, cross, circular disc, etc.) are recommended. Vexillological figures should be related to the arms (for example, knotty branches and crossed hammers emblem can be simplified to the saltire, the plough-share can be simplified to the wedge or chevron, etc.). Arbitrary geometrical shapes cannot be used.
- No inscriptions, realistic pictures, or anything that reduces transparency of the flag is allowed. The arms cannot charge the flag´s surface.
- The newly proposed flag must not be the same as the already existing flag.
- The new flag should not be confused with the existing national flag.
- The width to length ratio of municipal flags is 2:3.
- The obverse and reverse of the flag must be identical. When the flag is charged with a heraldic beast, the position of the head should be mentioned in the description, if not turned to the hoist.
- The surface of the banner is always the same as that of the flag. Its proportions can be different but geometry of the surface must be retained.
- The flag should be able to be clearly described verbally so that it can be made without reference to a graphic pattern.
Q3. Have the flags been officially adopted by the places they represent? Were you involved in the adoption process? If so, what advice could you share to people who want their city, town, or neighborhood to adopt a well-designed flag?
The flag proposal must be approved by the municipal council and the council has to send a formal request for its granting to the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic. In the Parliament, the Sub-Committee for Heraldry and Vexillology assesses proposals and if they do not conform to the heraldic and vexillological requirements the Sub-Committee rejects them.
I’m involved as the member of the vexillological experts group of the Parliament’s Sub-Committee.
Make simple and distinctive flag!
Q4. Can visitors to the Czech Republic see these flying or otherwise in use as they visit these places? Where in a town would one find them? Are there places or events at which one could see many of them flying all at once?
Communal flags can be seen in the city halls of towns or villages, mostly during the national holidays. However, in many places they are flying all the year and in the cities usually in more places. With the exception of exhibits devoted to flags, several different municipal flags are not usually used together.
Q5. vexi.info is a wonderful online resource. How did it come about? How many people have contributed to its construction and maintenance?
vexi.info is a one-man project. Site design, html code, programming of the database in php and MySQL, drawing flags in a database, that all I do myself.
Q6. Last, can you tell me, how did you first become interested in flags and vexillology? And what are your hopes for the field of vexillology in the future?
My first encounter with the flags was when I received the Small Atlas of the World from my father, where the national flags of all countries were shown. That was in 1957.
Together we are – with colleagues from the Sub-Committee – preparing the Codex of Coats of Arms and Flags of the Towns and Villages in the Czech Republic, It will be published in several volumes. I hope that the work can succeed.
Here is a sampling of the many thousands of flags in the municipal flag database.