In 1920, flags were used as one of the most effective and eye-catching instruments of propaganda, in an attempt to appeal to feelings and the subconscious.
This poster, like many of the other plebiscite posters drawn by Thor Bøgelund, puts forward no arguments for voting Danish; the message is carried by irrational elements. The image shows a Danish flag (Dannebrog) descending into a field of corn – a hidden reference to the myth of the origin of Dannebrog, descending from heaven at the battle of Reval in Estonia in 1219. Many people at the time would have understood this reference, as the 700th anniversary of the event had been celebrated in 1919.
The landscape is the very essence of what was seen to be special for Denmark: a field of ripe corn with the silvery-blue sea in the background and a little house with its flagpole sheltering in the lee of a hill. Nothing could be more archetypically Danish.
Danish plebiscite poster, drawn by Thor Bøgelund. 5,000 copies. 92 x 64 cm.
An appeal to Danish mothers
This poster was printed in large numbers, both in the Danish and German text versions, in full size and in quarter size.
The poor, somewhat frightened boy is barefoot, clothes patched and worn, and all he has to play with is an empty matchbox. A heart-rending picture of a state of poverty that must not be allowed to last. And indeed, the boy asks his mother to do something: ‘Think of me, vote Danish’.
The artist, Thor Bøgelund, borrowed this motif from a German poster used in connection with the election to the Reichstag in 1919. The motif with the little boy has moreover been regularly used in connection with other elections: the plebiscite in the Saar in 1935, for example, and elections to the county council in Flensburg in 1948.
The last time it was used was in June 1992 in connection with the Danish referendum on the EC (Maastricht Treaty): the boy asks his mother to vote against.
Danish plebiscite poster, drawn by Thor Bøgelund, Danish and German text versions. 7,500 copies in all. Exists in two sizes: 46 x 32 cm and 92 x 64 cm.
This poster was the most widely used on the German side. It has a very simple design, using the three Schleswig-Holstein colours with the word ‘German’ repeated in each colour. This poster was developed as the result of force majeure: at the end of 1919, it was rumoured that the International Commission aimed to forbid flying flags from flagpoles, or using them as decorations on houses and railway wagons. The Germans therefore put in a request for the approval of this poster and were given permission to print 50,000! The flag prohibition was finally proclaimed on 6 March and on 8 March the Commission’s German advisers resigned in protest at this decision. However, the blue-white-red poster could be used unhindered. The flag prohibition was made less stringent as early as 11 March, but by this time the poster was already hanging in rows everywhere. The long, narrow format also made it very suitable for hanging in the windows of private houses – though this was forbidden.
German plebiscite poster, drawn by Johann Holtz. 50,000 copies. 60 x 40 cm.
Appeal to German mothers
‘The Boy with the red Sweater’ was drawn by Paul Haase, who had earlier done ‘The Black Rider’ and ‘The Sower’. This poster, too, was printed in a large edition, and was undoubtedly meant to counter the Danish Poster, ‘Mother, vote Danish’. Looking straight ahead, the happy boy is holding a huge Schleswig-Holstein flag that swirls around him before disappearing at the lower edge of the picture. A black-white-red bow in the colours of the old Reich adorns his sweater. On top of his pageboy haircut he wears a cap with a tassel, somewhat reminiscent of the one worn by ‘The German Michel’. The large swathes of strong, bright colours give a sense of urgency. Just as urgent is the boy himself, urging his parents’ generation to ‘be German’ or ‘remain German’, like himself. German plebiscite poster by Paul Haase as a counter to the Danish poster ‘Mother, vote Danish’. No. of copies unknown. 77.5 x 54 cm.