As anti-Gaddafi forces advanced through the Libyan capital from three directions – east, south and west –they met no significant resistance from the loyalist troops until arriving at the city’s Green Square.
Upon reaching the square in the heart of Tripoli their first act was bloodless but aggressively symbolic. They renamed it Martyr’s Square.
Revolutionaries have long understood the symbolism of naming as a revolutionary act. Practically every Russian town and city of significance has been renamed, and renamed again since the October revolution of 1917.
Libya’s iconic square was the site of protests at the beginning of the anti-regime movement in February of this year, and counter-demonstrations by Gaddafi supporters. Gaddafi spoke to thousands of supporters there on a number of occasions.
But the deeper significance of the renaming lies in the extinguishing of the color green.
The square was built by Libya’s Italian colonial rulers and named Independence Square under the monarchy that emerged after World War II. Following Gaddafi’s seizure of power in 1969, it was renamed Green Square to mark his political movement.
Green became the national color of Libya under Gaddafi. It symbolized the predominant religion of Islam as well as Gaddafi’s “Third Universal Theory” as expounded in his Green Book, his book of political writings, published in 1975.
Gaddafi himself designed the single-color, green flag of Libya. It is the only national flag in the world with just one color and no design, insignia, or other details.
It was a potent, uncompromising statement from another of history’s despots who seem to intuitively understand the dramatic symbolism of names and color.