Flags of the Baltic Countries: Meaning and History

The flags of the Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia – represent these countries’ identities as independent states. They also tell of their history prior to and during occupation by outside sources and give us a hint about national values embedded in the symbolism of each flag.

These flags are especially important if you consider the history of the Baltics and Russia and Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia’s individual fights for sovereignty.

Let’s learn about the Baltic flags, what they mean, and when they were adopted.

Flags of the Baltic countries: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia
Photo 238592288 / Baltic Countries Flags © Liudmila Lozovaia | Dreamstime.com

Lithuania’s Baltic Flag

Lithuania is the southernmost of the Baltic countries. The Lithuanian flag (Lietuvos vėliava) is recognized by its three horizontal stripes:

  • Yellow (top stripe) – represents the sun (essential to life and an important symbol since prehistoric times) and prosperity
  • Green (middle stripe) – represents how green the country is with its great tracks of forests and fields, as well as hope and freedom
  • Red (bottom stripe) – represents the blood of those fallen fighting for Lithuania and the bravery of those who seek to protect the nation

If you’re familiar with Lithuanian folk art, you’ll notice that these three colors are often present in national clothing, for example. The individuals choosing the flag of Lithuania desired to create a distinctive, bright flag that would be easy to reproduce and not be confused with the flags of neighboring countries. Therefore, the flag includes colors important in Lithuanian culture.

The flag was first adopted in spring of 1918 after Lithuania’s declaration of independence from the Russian Empire after WWI. Though Lithuania lost its independence to the USSR after WWII, it readopted the national flag prior to its second declaration of independence at the end of the 20th century.

A Lithuanian flag flying over the city of Kaunas
Photo 170585185 / Baltic © Andrius Aleksandravicius | Dreamstime.com

Lithuania’s State Flag

Those who visit Lithuania may see another flag flying and wonder how it differs from the national flag or why it’s flown at all. This flag depicts a knight on a horse against a red background. This flag is often flown in public spaces, such as in Lukiskis Square in Old Town Vilnius.

This flag is the state flag and is called the Vytis. The flag harkens back to when Lithuania was a Grand Duchy and had conquered vast swathes of Europe. In those days, knights fought against knights for land and control, and so it’s fitting that this historic flag bears the image of a knight on horseback.

Lithuanian Vytis flag -- knight on a horse on a red background
Photo 184439265 © JaCrispy | Dreamstime.com

Latvia’s Baltic Flag

Latvia is the Baltic country that sits between Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south. The Latvian flag (Latvijas karogs) is a tricolor flag of two stripes of dark red with a thinner white stripe in the middle.

The Latvian flag is often called one of the oldest flags in the world, having been in documented use since the 13th century. This ancient flag, naturally, is accompanied by a legend that describes its symbolism.

The legend states that an admired military leader was wounded on the battlefield. Wrapped in a white sheet, the sheet grew red with his blood.

Therefore, the red is often interpreted as the red of this fallen chief or the blood that Latvians are willing to spill to fight for their country. The white hearkens back to the old legend about the fallen leader wrapped in the sheet.

The flag of Latvia was adopted a couple of years after its declaration of independence following WWI. It was readopted in 1990 before its second declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

Latvian flag of red and white flying against blue sky
Photo 199391352 © Evren Kalinbacak | Dreamstime.com

The Estonian Baltic Flag

Estonia is the northernmost of the Baltic countries. The Estonian national flag (Eesti riigilipp) is made up of three colors:

  • Blue (top stripe) – represents the sky above Estonia
  • Black (middle stripe) – represents the soil of Estonia
  • White (bottom stripe) – represents purity, hard work, and commitment

Some readings of the flag say that the white in the Estonian flag symbolizes the snow and the never-ending “white” summer nights, when the sun hardly sets. This would, as the argument goes, tie the Estonian flag to nature, which is not so farfetched given Estonians’ reverence and love for their own natural landscape.

Interestingly, the Estonian flag was originally a university students’ flag but eventually became a symbol of national identity during the national awakening period of Estonia. During this period, Estonians were becoming more interested in what it meant to be Estonian, especially given that they had, for so long, been under the leadership and occupation of outside forces.

The Estonian flag was first adopted as the national flag when Estonia declared its independence after WWI. The flag was then readopted shortly before Estonia broke free from the Soviet Union in the 1990s having regained its importance as a symbol of Estonia as a separate nation with the desire to rule itself.

Estonian tricolor flag flying against blue sky
Photo 45976187 © Vapsik662 | Dreamstime.com

When Are the Flags of the Baltic Countries Flown?

The flags of the Baltic countries are flown on national holidays and flag days. Perhaps the most notable of these national holidays are each country’s independence days.

But other days, such as those associated with national heritage or the military, are also appropriate days to fly the national flags of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

People will also bring Baltic flags with them to national events or demonstrations as a way to emphasize their loyalty or the values they feel that the flags represent.

Each country has its own flag protocols that determine how the flag can be flown. For example, flags must be flown so that the stripes show in the proper order.

Baltic Flags for Personal Use

When you travel in the Baltic countries, you’ll see the national flags of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia displayed in the Baltic capitals, in other towns and cities, on cars, and even on various merchandise and clothing.

For example, it’s possible to buy socks, scarves, and hats in national flag colors. Magnets, mugs, keychains, and postcards from souvenir shops may also bear the flag.

Of course, you can also buy a Baltic flag outright. Whether you’re of Lithuanian, Latvian, or Estonian heritage or you just want to show your appreciation for one of these countries, a Baltic flag makes an excellent souvenir.

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