OOPS! A Polish Joke at Indonesia’s Expense

The 2023 Southeast Asia Games, underway in Phnom Penh from 05 May until 17 May 2023, has opened with an embarrassing faux pax  committed by the Host Nation Cambodia during a pre-show ceremony streamed internationally,

The show opened with an impressive dance display featuring the national flags of the 11 nations participating in Cambodia across 37 sporting events. 

The 11 nations represented at the games are the ten member-states of the Association of Southeast Asia (ASEAN) and incoming ASEAN member Timor-Leste.

As reported by The Jakarta Globe and live-streamed on numerous international media, the Indonesian flag was flown at the pre-opening event in an upside-down position. Purposely flying the red and white Indonesian flag in such a way lends itself to several possible interpretations. Flying a national flag upside-down is universally seen as a signal of peril and distress or an act to offend the nation the flag represents. Another highly implausible explanation is that an upside-down Indonesian flag was, in fact, Poland’s flag, which is a mirror white and red banner of Indonesia’s red and white flag. 

Poland, however, is not a Southeast Asian nation and is not participating in the Cambodian games.

On Wednesday, 10 May 2023, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen met Indonesian President Joko Widodo on the sidelines of the 42nd ASEAN Summit underway in the Indonesian port city of Labuan Bajo to apologize directly for the flag mix-up.

From Labuan Bajo, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said: “Prime Minister Hun Sen apologized for the upside-down Indonesian flag incident at the start of the SEA Games’ opening ceremony.”

The flag mistake occurred during a gala musical performance at the game’s opening ceremony that featured hundreds of dancers and musicians. Dancers danced across the stage, holding the participating nations’ national flags, including Indonesia’s red and white flag, in an inverted position.

As reported by The Jakarta Globe, following the incident, Hangchuon Naron, Cambodia’s Minister for Education, Youth, and Sports, met with Indonesia’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Dito Ariotedjo. Minister Ariotedjo confirmed that his Cambodian counterpart apologized “to all Indonesians for the mistake.”

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