Can a map be a tool of propaganda?

Can a map be a tool of propaganda?

Can a map be a tool of propaganda?

Presenting Crimea as a Russian land on a map is a trick of the Russian propaganda that even pro-Ukrainian people fall for.  

In March 2014, Russian troops - disguised as members of “local militia” - invaded the Crimean peninsula and Russia soon annexed it via setting up an ad-hoc, unfair and internationally unrecognized referendum. The act was instead named by the vast majority of the international community as Russian aggression and resulted in fierce economic and diplomatic sanctions being imposed on the country, and further recognition of Crimea as the legal part of Ukraine.

However, despite the legal Ukrainian ownership of the peninsula, nobody denies the fact that Ukrainian authorities exert no control over it, with Russian government having illegal, yet real, power there. That’s why Crimea should be marked as Russia on a map, right?

No. A political map with Crimea within Russian borders is not only incorrect in its essence. It’s also a small, but significant act of legitimization of international law’s violation committed by Russia, and contribution to Kremlin’s propaganda that is trying to cover it up. Here’s why.

Crimea is legally Ukraine - and it should be marked as such on a map

Now, I realize that there are certain kinds of maps whose purpose is to show zones of conflict, or territories that are subject to some sort of territorial dispute. In such circumstances, it is reasonable to show - with a proper disclaimer - Crimea as an entity separated from Ukraine and marked as an area of territorial dispute between Russia and Ukraine.  LiveUAmap, a service mapping conflict zones all around the world, does precisely that.

However, that’s not the case with most of the maps that are being published in the web, which are political maps. Their sole purpose is to present the borders as internationally recognized, not as this or that country claims them to be.

And there is no controversy pertaining to the legal status of Crimea - nearly all of the world recognizes the peninsula as part of Ukraine, with Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan, and North Korea being the only exceptions (by the way, a nice company to be in, isn't it?). Maps with “Russian Crimea” are therefore incorrect in the sense that they contradict their own purpose - showing the legal status of international borders.

The Ukrainian ownership of Crimea seems to be widely accepted, with few exceptions, by all mainstream media and businesses. Incorrect political maps with Crimea not being showed as part of Ukraine are mostly domain of memes, Twitter posts, as well as Facebook groups and pages. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned about them as well.

Map as a tool propaganda

If somebody puts the effort into changing the widely recognized legal status of the peninsula represented on a standard political map, then such map becomes less of a map and more of a tool of promoting the Russian political agenda.

Russia, being the spiritus movens of the so called “Russian spring” (a fancy word for an invasion and an infowar against Ukraine orchestrated by Moscow) that led to illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, is the party most interested in pushing the false notion that the 2014 land grab was a legitimate and legal political move, or an “answer to the peoples’ will”. It was anything but.

As I argued in one of my previous pieces for Values4Europe, we often underappreciate the importance of bottom-up social media activity, including likes, posts, comments and memes. And maps seem to be a fairly popular type of social media content, with fans of geography even having their own facebook pages and groups. The stuff that is being posted there influences users’ minds no less, or maybe even more, than content of mainstream/high reach media outlets.

The incorrect maps that are surfacing from time to time in social media are therefore adding to the Kremlin’s info-warfare against West and Ukraine in particular, by providing a supposed “visual confirmation” of Crimean membership in the Russian Federation. And let’s not forget that we are living in an era of picture, and a graphic representation of an idea is much more powerful than text.

The sneakiest part of this is that such maps rarely pertain directly to the Ukrainian-Russian war, they are also not general political maps. Most I saw were sort of a “fun-fact” maps, presenting - for example - the most popular type of food in a given country or the speed of broadband Internet across Europe - with Crimea attached to Russia peaking “innocently” in the corner. The author of such map might have even not been aware of the error - they simply took the first template they have found, which, unfortunately, happened to be have been made by apologists of the Russian vision of the geopolitical order. This way the Kremlin’s lie about Crimea reaches wider and wider circles of people not really knowing the complexity of the situation.

Maps not even consistent in their own errors

It’s quite sad that even people quite outspoken against Russian aggression in Ukraine are falling for this trick. I recently saw a person agreeing with the fact that Crimea is legally a part of Ukraine, yet refusing to reflect it on a map, falling into the “Russia-has-real-power-there” trap.

What they fail to notice, however, is that if you wanted to be consistent in presenting “real control” over a given territory on a map, you should also mark other “achievements” of Russian hybrid war and Kremlin puppet states in Europe - the non-recognized “states” of Transnistria (legally a part of Moldova), Lugansk and Donetsk Peoples’ Republics (Ukraine) as well as Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Georgia). Strangely enough, maps showing Crimea as Russia don’t mention these quasi-states even a bit, even though they are as unrecognized as Crimea. Why is that so?

It’s because it’s Crimea that is the reason for sanctions imposed on Russia by the West, and the only land which Russia had the guts to officially incorporate into its borders (unlike all the above-mentioned quasi-states). That’s why it is in Kremlin’s best interest to promote the agenda of Crimea being a legal part of Russia, and to shift the public opinion in the West towards lifting the sanctions in the future. Then, the scenario of a Russian “legal” land-grab will repeat, along with all the “perks” of it that we know from Crimea, such as persecution of ethnic and sexual minorities, political killings, illegal military conscription and deterioration of environment and cultural heritage. However, this time it might be in a country further west from Ukraine.

Maps can be a tool of propaganda. Make sure yours aren't.




Source of the picture: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine

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