Stop Getting Offended by the King’s Flag

After last night’s decision to keep the hammer and sickle in King’s bar, ALEXANDER RICE argues that the flag doesn’t have the same connotations here as in Eastern Europe.

Cambridge University communism flag hammer and sickle King's College offended

On Saturday, there was a triumph for common sense. King’s students voted to overturn student Lisa Karlin’s motion to remove the hammer and sickle from the King’s College bar. Karlin, whose family is Ukrainian, had condemned the image as reminiscent of an “oppressive regime”.

Not a symbol of communist atrocities

I am deeply sympathetic to Lisa Karlin’s family who I have no doubt were the victims of an oppressive Soviet regime, a tragedy that we should rightly condemn. Yet for her to suggest that the flag which flies at King’s is an affront to her, or to the ‘’many offended students’’ she refers to belies a staggering lack of appreciation for the unique history of the hammer and sickle at King’s. At King’s the flag reflects both a controversial and proud tradition, a tapestry of radical thinkers and spy rings fit to adorn the most engaging of history books.

The hammer and sickle at King’s does not represent what it does in Eastern Europe and Russia. There is precedent in the West of symbols, especially flags, being taken out of context and reconstituted. Not least in Cuba, where the Union Jack has become a well-known mark of youth culture, entirely devoid of any connotations that it might have elsewhere, where its significance ranges from an expression of freedom to a dark symbol of colonial oppression. The flag at King’s is not the same flag that flew in Soviet Russia.

Likewise, in Cuba, the cigar is a symbol of health and longevity

At Cambridge too the flag has been rehabilitated. It is not only right, but crucial to our academic integrity that we embrace this nuanced element of our history. Moreover, to ignore a time in King’s past that was tied so tightly to the hammer and sickle surely belittles those who were victims of the period.

As Michael Gove considers his reforms to the history curriculum he would do well to look to King’s, who on Saturday night sent a message that our heritage is not a battleground but something to be embraced as unique and nuanced.

I put myself in the safekeeping of the reader when I say that the vast majority of students at King’s do not find the flag offensive. Nor should they, for to consider the flag which hangs in the King’s bar as an endorsement of the USSR would be as absurd as to say that the college itself is an endorsement of the regime of Henry VI, its founder.

He hardly represents King’s College today