The origins of the new flag date back to the medieval times when a similar banner was used by a Georgian clan in what is now part of Turkey. Saakashvili adopted the five-cross flag for use by his political party, the National Movement. It thus became the symbol of resistance during the protests that followed the rigged parliamentary elections in November 2003. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Few back then, during the immediate aftermath of the November vote, would have predicted that when Georgia held its next parliamentary election, the five-cross banner would be the national flag.
The five-cross banner was familiar to many Georgian's long before the Rose Revolution. In 1999, parliament debated whether to change the national flag, which was then a maroon background with one black and one white stripe in the upper left corner. Ultimately, former President Eduard Shevardnadze rejected the idea of switching flags.
Today, many Georgian citizens seem to welcome the change. Asked about it, local taxi-driver Georgi says: "It's good. I like it. The white color is so much better and brighter than that old, dark red we used to have." But some are angry, feeling the attention given to the flag question by Georgia's new leadership should have spent on addressing more substantive issues, especially the revival of Georgia's economy. "They change their pants, they change the flag. But as long as they cannot change this country, I don't care much about the flag," said Irakli, another Tbilisi taxi driver.
Others express concern that Saakashvili's action could create an unwelcome precedent. "The flag alone doesn't make the country any different. And I sure hope that we don't have a new flag with every new government now," said Maya, a Tbilisi resident who works for an international organization.
Already there is another flag on display in Georgia the flag of the European Union. Outside the Parliament building, the five-cross Georgian flag flies side-by-side with the EU symbol, a circle of gold stars on a blue background. Saakashvili, in an address in front of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg last January said: "This [rasing the EU flag] was no PR stunt, but rather an expression of what all Georgians understand to be true that Georgia and Europe share a common identity."