Confederate Flag Flies in Europe and South America
The flag known for its ties to the Civil War has an impact abroad too.
By MEGHAN KENEALLY
June 24, 2015, 2:46 PM
• 7 min read
-- The Confederate battle flag, viewed by many as a "deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past" as described on Monday by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, but that hasn’t stopped people outside the United States from appropriating it to their own causes.
The familiar red flag with diagonal blue stripes with white stars is a common sight at Napoli football games in Italy or even soccer matches in Northern Ireland, two countries where there is a historically significant North-South divide.
An even more surprising — though arguably more directly connected — hub of the flag is in rural Brazil, where a group of frustrated American southerners emigrated to develop their own South American South after their side lost the Civil War.
Even now, five generations later, people living near the town of Americana, Brazil, gather four or five times a year for festivals where they "dress up in rebel uniforms, the women wear hoop skirts" and they dance to old Dixie songs like ‘Turkey in the Straw’ and The Yellow Rose of Texas,’ historian and writer Ron Soodalter told ABC News.
Over the past 150 years, the Southern descendants have intermarried with Brazilians and the majority speak Portuguese but that hasn’t cut them off from their roots, as "most of them speak fluent English, some with a very noticeable southern drawl," Soodalter said.
Unsurprisingly, the image of the rebel flag is a regular sight at these events, festooned on t-shirts and cups as well as waved proudly in the air, Soodalter said.
The group, who call themselves Confederados, see the flag as a symbol of their homeland — the Confederate States of America — though the same cannot be said for the European soccer fans who have no direct connection to America, the United States or otherwise.
Alberto Testa, an associated professor and criminology researcher at the University of West London, has written about racism in football. He said that slavery specifically is not generally associated with the flag by Europeans, but the flag’s connections to the Civil War and the historical tensions within the U.S. are the vital to the point they are trying to make.
"In Italy it is used generally in the south to symbolize the defeat and the frustration of the south against a north which has, in their eyes taken wealth and political powers and moved it to the north and the capital city of Rome," Testa told ABC News. "It symbolizes Italy long running north and south divide."
That same theme could be applied to Ireland, a country who that has spent centuries fighting over religious and political differences that led to many battles and a formal division into two countries.
Testa said that while slavery is not directly connected, the flag is spotted in countries like France and Germany where immigration is a controversial issue and the symbol is used by members of the ideologically extreme right wing, "so it has a racial connotation," he said.
While jarring to see such an inherently American symbol in a bustling European football stadium or a field outside of Sao Paolo, it should come as no surprise that the flag’s meaning has been interpreted differently by different groups.
The question of applying different meanings to the Confederate flag is at the heart of the debate unfurling in South Carolina at the moment, with the governor and local leaders calling for it to be removed because the flag, as Charleston mayor Joe Riley said Monday, "years and years ago was appropriated as a symbol of hate."