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We called it a cold cold war flag because there were no gunfire or bombs, but the ideological rivalry of two superpowers enabled violence and tension to flare up in smaller, newer nations around the world. As traditional European empires dissolved and decolonization swept across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, many new governments struggled to find their feet. Two of the competing superpowers, the United States and Soviet Union, were eager to exert influence over these newly independent states.

The US and the Soviets had been Allied during World War II, but Americans were wary of the spread of communist ideas and of Russian leader Joseph Stalin’s tyrannical rule. In the years following the war, the US and Soviets competed to influence the emerging economies of Europe and Africa, and to expand their control in Asia.

Cold War Flags: Tracing Ideological Battles Through Symbols

As a result, the US frequently intervened in foreign countries to prevent socialist reforms. Patrice Lumumba, a charismatic young leader, led an independence movement in the Congo that brought him into conflict with the Belgian government. Lumumba had pan-Africanist ideas, but he also had communist sympathies. The conflict triggered a US-Soviet race for influence in the resource-rich Central African Republic, which today is known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The DRC’s first Prime Minister, Laurent Kabila, has a background in military service, and his leadership style has been heavily influenced by the French military tradition. The DRC’s flag is a yellow variant of the UN flag that carries the name of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC). This version of the flag has been used since the NNSC was established in 1993, but its design originally was based on the flags of Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Czechoslovakia.

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