Pubdate: Fri, 04 Apr 2003
Source: Moscow Times, The (Russia)
Copyright: 2003 The Moscow Times
Author: Kevin O'Flynn, Staff Writer


All leaders wanted to do was celebrate the history of their small town by 
creating a flag everyone would be proud to see flying above the rooftops.

Instead, they have been mocked on national television for making a local 
plant their emblem. The local plant in question is cannabis.

Some 250 kilometers southwest of Moscow in the Bryansk region, a yellow, 
green and white flag now flies above the town hall. In the top left-hand 
corner is the plant more widely known for its hallucinogenic qualities and 
for being depicted on T-shirts and student posters.

For Novozybkovo, a quiet provincial town of 43,000 that suffered greatly 
from the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, the plant is a symbol of a 
long-gone glorious age when the town was a vital cog in the country's navy.

NTV television ran a gently mocking report on the new flag last week that 
did not go down well with the townspeople.

"There are those who accepted it with humor and those who were offended," 
said Valery Kharkevich, the editor of the local Novozybkovskiye Vesti 
newspaper, speaking about the program rather than the cannabis flag.

Town officials are flabbergasted at the fuss.

"We don't have people coming up and saying, 'No, no, no,'" said town 
official Lyudmila Yefremenko. "We discussed it for a whole year."

"The color is jolly," Kharkevich said.

Cities all over the country have been abuzz over what their flags should 
look like after the government ordered that they should have their own 
flags. The city of Penza stirred up controversy several months ago by 
introducing a flag that bears the image of Jesus Christ.

In the 18th and 19th century, Novozybkovo was a major supplier of hemp, the 
tough coarse fiber of the cannabis plant. A factory in the town supplied 
the Russian Navy with the hemp used for ropes, and the plant was honored 
when it was placed on the town's coat of arms in the first quarter of the 
19th century. Russia's defeat in the Crimean War in 1856 had a crippling 
effect on the industry, and the decimated Russian Navy's need for hemp died 
out, said Oleg Dunayev, who works at a local museum and helped the town 
pick the flag's design.

Hemp was cultivated until the start of the 20th century but died out 
completely with Stalin's campaign to set up collective farms.

Kharkevich denied that Novozybkovo has any particular drug problems.

"Of course there are incidents," he said. "But this is a global trend."

Indeed, the only protests in Novozybkovo, city officials said, have been 
from local Communists. They didn't like the color of the flag and wanted it 
to be red.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Alex