The flag proclaiming “Pace” (Peace) in Italian made its way to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and Brussels, first to protest the war in Afghanistan and later the war against Iraq. A symbol of anti-war sentiment bandied about during hundreds of demonstrations, the first were seen during protests of the 2001 G8 meeting in Genoa Italy.
The peace flag, over 80 years old, has European roots.
In 1921, the International Co-operative Alliance Organization in Geneva created a seven-color flag, each stripe with a specific meaning related to peace. The concept was co-opted by Italian peace activist Aldo Capitini who used a homemade six-color flag in the 1960s. The 80s saw the flag make it to America with Jesse Jackson’s “Race Flag” and the gay pride flag.
Italy remains a stronghold: there are more flags proclaiming “pace” rustling in the wind of Milan’s main square now than a year ago.
Once sold at stoplights, street markets and given away with magazines, they are now harder to find but stocked by souvenir vendors alongside soccer team banners and the tricolor. Retailing at €8 ($10.60), both vendors in Milan’s Piazza Duomo said they are constant sellers.
“This is my second one, actually,” Rita Cassani, 37, told zoomata. “I decided to put the other one to rest, wash it and put it away. It’s nearly white now.”
Cassani, like an estimated one million Italians, supported the 2002 ‘peace from every balcony’ campaign. Nearly 70% of Italians were against involvement in the war with Iraq. Although new government has promised a quick exit from Iraq, the flags are now part of the landscape.
Other European cities have been more fickle about the flag, putting them out and then taking them back in as events develop.
“Peace flags in Switzerland became noticeable in masses in the context of the demonstrations against the Iraq War and the US policies,” Lucerne-based law student Daniela Kissling said in an email interview. “You can still see single, isolated peace flags in windows in Lucerne and Fribourg mostly displayed by students and those who can be categorized politically as “leftists.”
For some, though the peace flag may become faded and out of fashion, it marks a new era in European politics.
“It is a mosaic of opinions suddenly marking the public space on an important matter,” Eric Corijn, Professor of Urban Cultural Geography at Vrije Universititeit Brussels said in a phone interview. “When you walk through the city and its neighborhoods, you can read the political opinions in the street. What is equally important is the duration of this action, marking as such public space with lasting icons.”