Origins of the Rainbow Flag and the International Co-operative Day by Alina Pawlowska, Documentation Officer One of the questions most frequently asked and regarding the history of the international co-operative movement is the one concerning the origins and meaning of the International Co-operative Day and the Rainbow Flag. Over several years various national movements were trying to register the Rainbow Flag as a trade mark, seeking ICA help in finding out arguments to prove that the flag is a distinctive symbol, reserved to the co-op movement. For us, co-operators it is, but in fact, it has never been registered as the ICA symbol. After the Basel Congress in 1921, which was the first congress to be held after an interruption of eight years caused by the Great World War and facing the new challenges in Europe, the ICA Executive Committee decided to devote some time to Co-operative Propaganda. The membership had grown dramatically, thus, the idea was to find a point of rally which would give an identity to movements scattered from Japan to Canada. The political map, and most singularly Europe's political map, changed to such an extension that it become urgent to find some common denominator for all the different co-operative traditions. At the same time the established co-operatives suffered attacks from fascist and communist parties both of which claimed "property rights" on co-op doctrine and incidentally on co-op assets. In these troubled times, the ICA President, G.J.D.C. Goedhart, questioned himself on the causes which hinder the development of the co-op movement. He detected three: lack of information among the general public, lack of knowledge among members and finally lack of ideological commitment among managers. "What can be done to remedy these evils(..) ? The best means seems to be by general propaganda which must bring to the minds and hearts of outsiders, as in a flash, vivid pictures of the Co-perative Movement, the ideals for which it stands, the real significance of its aims, and how it must necessary give us a much better human society than that in which we live (...). (RIC p.79/1922) And already in 1922 the best support for publicity appeared to him to be a film. However, since not many societies could have supported such a financial investment, he suggested children's books, lantern slides and other means of visual propaganda such as exhibitions. "Arrangements should also be made to hold a "Propaganda Day" or "Evening" in every country, town and village on the same day in order to draw the attention of the universe to what we are doing, and also to the whole world". (p.81/1922) The Executive adopted readily the principle of the Day. At its meeting in October 1922 in Essen (Germany) it was decided to establish the first Saturday in July as the "Co-operators' Day"- " corresponding in spirit and distinction to the "May Day" of Socialism but entirely independent of it" (p.235/1922). The choice of the date was rather arbitrary : most members wished to organize outdoor celebrations and July is the best month for that in Europe. So that the first International Co-operative Day was celebrated in 1923. It is not without interest to quote the manifesto the Secretariat sent to members, since it announces all the major themes which would so frequently return to haunt in the future: promotion of the co-op movement, international solidarity, economic efficiency, peace, equality. "The International Co-operative Alliance, with the consent of the great majority of the National Co-operative Organizations in its membership, has decided to establish an Annual Festival of Celebration and Propaganda which shall have the effect of demonstrating to the whole world the solidarity of Co-operators and the efficacy of their organisation as a means of economic emancipation and a guarantee of world peace. Its great ideals of democracy, of equitable distribution and associated production of wealth, have made such progress in recent years, and, during the world crisis, have been forced into such national recognition, that it is now imperative that its resources should be consolidated, its universal benefits extended and its international solidarity demonstrated, as much for the well being of humanity as for the individual benefit of its members. A special "Co-operators' Day" is necessary for this purpose. You are, therefore, called upon to rally to the Standard of "Each for all, all for each" in a great International Demonstration on the First Saturday in July next, when the first organised attempt will be made to "broadcast" our rejoicings, our ideals, our successes, and our determination to pursue them to their ultimate goal. (...)"(125/1923) The Review of International Co-operation no. 9/1923 carries an enthusiastic report on how the Day was celebrated in different countries. By the beginning of 1923 the idea of the International Co-operative Flag, "which for some time past has been floating in the Co-operative atmosphere in a somewhat nebulous form" (p. 29/1923) materialized. "The difficulty of the moment, however, is a suitable combination of colours, and a not to commonplace design to express the spirit of International Fraternity. The seven colours of the spectrum have been suggested for the Flag.(..) Artists in every country might well bend their minds to the task of devising both the Flag and Emblem behind which the economic r=E9gime of the new civilisation will march to its triumphant achievement. Suggestions and designs will be gladly received, and every national organisation is invited to give its best aid in discovering emblems worthy of the Alliance and of truly International effect". (p.29/1923) The author of the suggestion, an eminent French co-operator, Prof. Charles Gide has been inspired by the traditions of the fourierist social utopian movement. The members of phalanst=E8re used to celebrate each 5th April, =46ourier's birthday, by organising a feast and decorating the premises with rainbow flags. The spectrum symbolised unity in diversity and the power of light - and, one can suppose - by semantic gliding - enlightenment and progress. It is interesting to notice different surfaces of the rainbow symbol. One refers to a simple meteorologic phenomenon perceptible by everybody under any climate. Everybody knows what the rainbow is, so there is no need of explanation. Is automatically recognisable and easy to identify with. The second belong to popular tradition - there are several stories where rainbow arch plays a role of the path or gate to a better world or a reward (see numerous arches of triumph). But the true nature of the rainbow is known only to the scientist, who understands the mechanism behind the marvel - what appears diversified is in fact one and indivisible. All these shadows of meanings make from rainbow a perfect emblem for a popular movement. Choosing the form of flag allowed the leaders to assembly their troops under the same and distinctive symbol. It is no wonder that after first experimentations with forms and textiles, the new flag was already decorating the Hall of Co-operative Exhibition at Ghent in 1924. Enthusiastically received by participants attending the Congress, it was adopted as an official symbol by the Executive in the beginning of 1925.