History, traditions

Red Russia

Red-the color of Life

On October 25, 1917 red guards, revolutionary soldiers and sailors with red ribbons on their chests had stormed the Winter Palace. On the same date of 1612 moskovites have been saluting an army of Prince Pozharsky who had freed the country with a red flag.
One side of the flag is decorated with words from the Old Testament. After Moses' death it is Jesus Navin who becomes a leader of Jerusalem. Right before Jahovah is captured, Jesus sees a vision of a person armed with a sword—a heaven's warrior. "Take off your shoes, for you are standing on a sacred land," utters the warrior. It is this particular scene that is being portrayed on the banner.
The other side of the flag is decorated with Jesus Christ from the New Testament. This statement is not as epically calm as the one on the opposite side. These are passionate, penitential verses, filled with sincere sorrow of admitting personal sins and prayers for forgiveness. "Save us sinners Oh, God Almighty…"
Everything here is of tremendous importance: the warrior, perceiving the essence of the holy mission and people, realizing their guilt in the country's distemper. The Gospel in Jesus Christ'hands contains a message resembling that of a social content. One can even recognize what appears to be a manual to a bright future in the following words, " was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a vagabond and you provided me shelter; I was naked and you clothed me."
Isn't this the idea of social justice as it has been understood in the past?! Those are golden words on the scarlet flag…                             
Every nation has its own color fetish. In a book entitled "The Russian Symbols" by N. A. Soboleva and V. A. Artamanova we read, "Yellow, White, Red, Black were Germany's primal colors. They symbolized strength, courage and great past. Scarlet was considered honorable among the Byzantine emperors, while the Chinese preferred yellow. The French openly express their negative attitude towards color black. Similar dislikes can be seen in Kurds-ezidovs' treatment of colors blue and azure. Interestingly, Chinese and Vietnamese consider white to be symbolic of death. Russians, on the contrary, have always considered black to resemble mourning, sorrow and pain."
In the course of many decades, Russians historians along with Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamsin have considered Dmitry Donskoi's banner on the Kulikov field as black. The author of "The History of the Russian Empire" has stated the following, "Dmitry raised his hands to the image of the Savior which he had spotted in the distance on the black flag of the empire…He prayed…". Only several decades later a new version appeared: the Kulikov flag was indeed red, not black. Such confusion was probably caused by misinterpreting the word “chernii” which in Russian means "black". The word "chermnii" however means "red" in old Russian.
During the same epoch there lived prince Fyodor Chermnii in Russia. However, due to an author’s careless mistake the prince's last name has turned into Chernii, meaning "black". The same happened with the flag. Still, this mistake can be traced in several versions of the books. Russian present-day historians were able to justify this mournful color in the following manner. They discovered that khan's seal from the Mongol times were in fact red, whereas Russians used black stamps to seal important documents.
Moscow, as a Horde's vassal, could have easily possessed a black flag. In addition, each warrior had a "flag" of his own, called yalovec. Each one of them carried a mother's piece of cloth attached to a helmet top. Despite the fact that the main flag was black, symbolizing Russia's subordination, warriors' helmets were elaborately decorated with bright red colors of cloth. In addition, several instances in "Zadonschina" describing the Kulikov Battle also mention red Russian shields.  

Russian writer Urii Loschits in his historical masterpiece "Dmitry Donskoi" has brilliantly described color red. "Red did not only signify beauty…This was the color of exploit and sacrifice, of victory and festival, the color of sunshine overpowering darkness. Icons usually depicted warrior-martyrs and great leaders in red, scarlet and crimson. Georgii Pobedanosec (George the Victor) for instance, is presented with a red waving cloak and a red cloth tied to his spear with which he defeats a serpent. War flags and banners were often times hand-made by women. Those handcrafted masterpieces were meant to remind warriors of their loving families. The color was capable of elevating spirits and bringing hope in times of trouble."         
Whereas the color of the Dmitry Donskoi’s flag had raised a lot of confusion among historians, the color of the Ivan the Terrible's flag of the Merciful Savior had never caused any doubts. It had been stored in the Armory Museum of the Moscow Kremlin. It is red. The Christ’s face is decorating the flag. The image is considered to be not a painter's job, but a real copy of Christ's face. It is believed that Christ had touched the cloth once and an image of the Savior's face appeared instantaneously. Interestingly, it has become extremely popular during the Communist era to portray faces of the Communist leaders such as Lenin. His image has quickly become associated with that of a new messiah.

Back in the XIX century color red was considered as the most suited for Russia. Such opinion has not been solely characteristic of the revolutionists. A short article of some enthusiast published in a journal entitled "Historic Herald" №6 of 1883 has contained the following information. "In times of existence of the Moscow State there used to be no official state colors. In XVII century however, color red appeared to be the most commonly used during various important meetings, receptions. It was believed that this color suits not only Russia but every Russian person as well."
In times of the Middle Ages, Europe considered color red as monarchist. This same color was considered the color of Tsar in Russia. In times of coronation, tsars were escorted along a red carpet leading from Red steps to the Uspenskii Cathedral. There has been a major transformation in the XIX century however, when red became associated with the revolutionary movement. An entire red wave has flooded the country.
On April 8th, 1918 during a meeting of the all-Russian Central Committee, his leader Sverdlov has raised a question regarding the national flag. "We ought to consider the only flag of the Russian Soviet Republic; it is a kind of flag we fought with and defeated the bourgeois. …We doubt that anyone will oppose to the color of national flag being red." On July 10th of the same year, the V all-Russian Convention of Unions has finally approved the color of the national flag as red. 
Climent Arkadeevich Timiryasev has momentarily supported the Great October socialistic revolution along with red flag. "I have been standing by its side while evil forces were desperately trying to crush it," wrote the famous scientist in his address to his students. In summer of 1917 Timiryasev has published an article entitled "The Red Flag", oproviding the most fascinating description of color red.
"…Among the entire spectrum of the sun's energy reaching our planet, red waves contain the most energy. It is thanks to these waves that the most vital chemical processes in plants become possible. In short, they enable life on Earth. Isn't it therefore surprising that common people have chosen this particular color to symbolize their work efficiency, just as it symbolizes the beginning of life in general?! This is the color that best portrays enlightenment…" 
The West has constantly referred to us as "Reds". English meaning of the phrase "red-blooded" carries an extremely positive connotation. Perhaps, that is why such economically developed countries as USA, Great Britain, Canada, Italy, Germany, and Japan all welcome color red as being symbolic of their active political and economic development. Not so long ago, Russia has also joined the alliance with its red, white and blue flag.
On August 22, 2001, "Radio Russia" has announced the following version of the three-colored Russian flag. An opinion has been stated that the colors indicate a symbol of the Belarus union (white), Ukraine union (blue) and Russian union (red). In this case, it turns out that the main color of Russia is red and nothing but red!


Sergey Makin
"The Hometown Notes" Issue № 29, 6/XI. 2003

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