Monday, March 01, 2010

Bad Maps: RT Recognizes Georgia's Territorial Integrity

Today we introduce a new feature entitled Bad Maps. Bad Maps are posts which will discuss how map mistakes change a message the map maker or map maker's supporters try to convey either in the map or elsewhere.


State-Owned Russian press become lazy with proofing their base maps and accidentally recognized Georgia's territorial integrity when it comes to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

During the wake of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War the Russian Federation recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries. Getting other countries to do so has been difficult for Russia, though. Nicaragua quickly joined in by recognizing the de facto republics but since then only Venezuela has followed suit. In December 2009, Nauru recognized Abkhazia in exchange for aid from Russia yet it is still unclear if they extended the same honor to South Ossetia.

There has been an international effort by Russia to get geographers and neogeographers to recognize the independence of the two breakaway regions. The Commission of Geographical Names and other official Russian government agencies make maps showing the breakaway republics as independent. But in the private-world the Russians have had so-so luck. The online mapping site Yandex has South Ossetia and Abkhazia but the other major Russian online mapping site Kosmosnimki does not.

Here is where the bad map comes in. RT, previously known as Russia Today, is a state-run news agency that broadcasts in English throughout the world. As a branch of the Russian government one would expect it to follow government guidelines including the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

But human error at RT trumps its stated efforts elsewhere recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Most of the time maps are not made by geographers or properly-trained cartographers but instead graphic artists who can make something pretty but have no clue what they are drawing. Such is the case with RT which uses a base map that shows Abkahzia and South Ossetia as part of Georgia. The image, top, is taken from a segment on arts and crafts in the Vologda region of Russia. While the Georgian-part of the map has nothing to do with the story it does show that the map editing process has not gone under the scrutiny one expects from the Kremlin.

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