January 16, 2008-Thimphu: The Gazelle 2 Bhutan shoes themed by a multi-billion designer company, Adidas, with Bhutan’s national flag on it, has generated an uproar among the Bhutanese.
A few businessmen traveling to Bangkok spotted the shoes which reminded them of something familiar about home. A closer look at the shoes chilled them – there it was, the precious jewel-holding, protective deities-representing national symbol on the tongue of the latest Adidas in town.
“It was nothing but pure insult to see our national flag on the Adidas shoe. I just couldn’t imagine all kinds of people dragging our national flag on their feet,” said a businessman who saw the shoes in Bangkok.
Sonam Kinga, the National Council-elect from Trashigang dzongkhag, who worked on a publication by the Center for Bhutan Studies, The Origin and Description of the National Anthem and National Flag of Bhutan said to commodify an emblem of national sovereignty by reducing it to a shoe design is an insult of insurmountable degree.
“It is worse than burning the effigy of a president in the streets of Kabul or someone else’s national flag in Karachi. I am sure Bhutan has given no cause to provoke Adidas to smear her dignity as a sovereign nation. This is irresponsible globalization and capitalism at its height,” he said.
Dasho Shingkhar Lam, a Bhutanese scholar, said the flag represents the whole country – that the flag itself is the Druk Gyalkhap. “Even when we carry the flag we have to treat it with respect. We don’t wrap things with the flag. For me this is shocking; it feels like our flag is being trampled under people’s feet. When I think about it I feel really angry,” he said.
Pelden Dorji, a moviemaker, was alarmed when he saw the shoes on a color printout. “I feel sad when I see our national flag on someone’s shoes,” he said. For Sonam Lhaki, 19, the shoes looked trendy but to have them on her feet was something that she wouldn’t dare.
“The shoe is not a good idea. It is the desecration of our national flag. I was even against our national flag on football shorts. Basically our traditional way of thinking is that the leg is impure compared to our head,” said Dorji Wangchuk, a freelance journalist.
“This is outrageous, how would they feel if their country’s national flag was advertised on their shoes?” said Phub Zam, the managing director of the Yarkey Group of Companies.
For high school students like Sonam Wangchuk, the national flag is a matter of immense pride and respect they have for their country. “In school the national flag is always above everything else, we sing our national anthem in front of the national flag. To see someone wearing it on their shoes will be a sheer insult to us,” he said.
Bhutan’s foreign ministry and the Bhutanese Embassy in Thailand have taken up the issue with authorities in Thailand. Officials said no government approval was taken for the production and the sale of the product by the designer company.
Foreign ministry officials said the company has used the Bhutan’s national flag as a marketing gimmick. “It’s like a pig riding on a good name,” said an official. “However, it has been agreed that the product will be withdrawn from the market.”
Observers, however, point out that the withdrawal of the product from the market in Thailand will not be enough. “Such an act needs to be dealt legally. Getting the shoes out of the market in Thailand does not solve the problem, it is still going to be sold in other parts of the world,” said another Thimphu businessman.
The supplier for Adidas in Thailand, Adidas Thailand Ltd., imported 300 pairs of shoes with Bhutan’s national flag on it, of which 200 have already been sold out.
Online search at www.adidas.com didn’t reveal anything on the product or the launch. However, www.bizrate.com prices a pair at US $ 42.
A blog with the domain name bhutan2008.blogspot.com mentions: “Recently Adidas has come up with new brand of shoes which has Bhutan National Flag color and logo in it and named the product as Gazelle 2 Bhutan. First released in 1968 as an all-round trainer, the Gazelle is back with a new look, restyled with a shiny leather upper and bold colors that celebrate the beauty of Bhutan.”
The Chief Justice, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, told BT that the national flag is a sacrosanct embodiment of virtue, source of inspiration and any violation of the sacredness and desecration of the flag is disrespect to the Bhutanese and injurious to the Bhutanese sentiments.