Swiss president greeted with Danish flag in Ukraine

April 14, 2014

Switzerland's Federal President Didier Burkhalter (left), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Chairperson-in-Office, shakes hands with Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (right) during Burkhalter's visit in Kiev, Ukraine, April 14, 2014. (EPA/Peter Klaunzer)

In the photograph above, Swiss president Didier Burkhalter is greeted by Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk during a meeting in Kiev. Burkhalter, the acting head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), told the Ukrainian leader that he would seek to increase the number of international observers in Ukraine.

However, if you look closely at the photograph above, you might notice something a little awkward in the picture: Burkhalter isn't standing in front of a Swiss flag – a small white cross on a red background. Instead, he is standing in front of a flag with an extended white cross on a red background that reaches the edges.

That's the flag of Denmark.

For reference, this is the Swiss flag:

A Swiss flag is pictured on the Mont-Blanc bridge over Lake Leman in Geneva March 21, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse (SWITZERLAND - Tags: SOCIETY TRAVEL)
A Swiss flag is pictured on the Mont-Blanc bridge over Lake Leman in Geneva, March 21, 2014. (Reuters/Denis Balibouse)

The two flags do look quite similar, so perhaps the mistake is understandable, but Swiss media certainly noticed.  The newspaper Aargauer Zeitung wrote that the flag mix-up was "Peinlich" (embarrassing), while Basler Zeitung wrote that Burkhalter had been greeted with a "false flag." The Swiss president, for his part, reportedly took the incident with good humor – though 20 Minuten reports he pointed out the mix-up before shaking Yatsenyuk's hand.

This isn't the first time that the two flags have been mixed up. At the height of the controversy after a Danish newspaper's publication of several cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in 2005, there were reports that some protesters burned Swiss flags in response as they could not find Danish ones.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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