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State Symbols


Russia’s state symbols include the coat-of-arms, the national flag, and the state anthem. The Russian coat-of-arms is a golden two-headed eagle on a red shield, with the three crowns of Peter the Great above it. In its talons, the eagle holds a scepter and an orb, and on its chest it has a red shield representing St. George slaying a dragon with his spear.  


The double-headed eagle was the coat-of-arms of the Byzantine Empire. In the 15th century the Russian tsar Ivan III adopted it after he married Sophia, or Zoe, Palaeologa, the niece of Constantine XI, the last Byzantine emperor.

Following the Bolshevik takeover in 1917, this emblem was discarded and replaced by a hammer-and-sickle against the background of a globe bathed in sunrays and framed in ears of corn and red ribbons bearing the inscription (in the languages of all constituent republics) “Proletarians of All Countries, Unite!” and crowned with a five-pointed star. The two-headed eagle was reinstated as the Russian coat-of-arms on President Boris Yeltsin’s decree in 1993. 

Russia’s national flag is rectangular with three white, blue, and red horizontal stripes of the identical size. The Russian tricolor is almost 300 years old. Peter the Great introduced it in 1705 as the flag of the Russian merchant fleet. It finally became the national flag in 1883 on the decree of Alexander III. 

In the civil war of 1918-1920, the Bolsheviks adopted the revolutionary red flag and were known as the Reds, whereas their opponents - the Whites - fought and lost under the imperial white, blue, and red tricolor. The tricolor was resurrected as the national flag of Russia following the failed August 1991 coup, mainly as a symbol of the victory of the democratic forces of Russia over the conservatives in the Soviet leadership who had launched the coup as the final, and unsuccessful, attempt to reinstate centralist controls.

In 1993 the Patriotic Song written by the Russian nineteenth-century composer Mikhail Glinka replaced the Soviet state anthem on Yeltsin’s decree. However, in 2000 the tune of the old Soviet state anthem (composed by A.V. Aleksandrov) was reinstated as Russia’s official anthem on the initiative of the new President Vladimir Putin. In the following year, the anthem’s new text, written by one of the surviving co-authors of the text of the Soviet anthem S.V. Mikhalkov, was approved by the parliament. The new words, designed to appeal to the patriotic feelings of Russians, are free from all traces of communist dogmas and even include a reference to God.

As a result, Russia now has a seemingly incongruous combination of state symbols: the classic fifteenth-century double-headed eagle of the Muscovite tsars, the eighteenth-century westernized imperial tricolor, and the Soviet anthem with new words.




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