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Digital Diplomacy: Russian and Ukrainian Cartographers Find Common Ground On OpenStreetMap

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, April 2 2014

Screenshot of the contentious bit of land as seen in OpenStreetMap 4/2/14

Russia “officially” annexed Crimea from Ukraine on March 21, but is Crimea really Russian now? That depends, in part, on whose map you look at. Crowdsourced sites, like Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap, have struggled alongside geography establishments to come to a consensus, even if that consensus is, for now, to do nothing.

The OpenStreetMap community, which includes both Ukrainian and Russian members, has placed a moratorium on changing administrative borders in Crimea, as well as place names.

User Zverik writes:

Until at least then [June 1] Crimea stays a part of Ukraine on our map. Every edit altering name tags or administrative borders will be treated as provoking an edit war and reverted, users who do that repeatedly will be banned. There were some cases of that already.

Digital diplomacy at work, guys.

In case you're curious, here's how other entities have decided to deal with the situation:

The National Geographic Society decided to represent it as a “disputed territory.”

The U.S. government, on the other hand, has said it will remain—cartographically speaking—part of Ukraine.

“We reject the Russian attempt to annex Crimea,” State Department spokesperson Peter Velasco told National Geographic, “therefore, we have no plans to change U.S. government maps.”

Google has apparently not made up its mind yet (for now, Crimea remains a part of Ukraine), but the Washington Post suggests they show a different border for users inside Russia than for the rest of the world. The Post says it's a way to make everyone happy and avoid controversy; I think it's more likely to make nobody happy and to cause a lot of confusion to boot. But, the Post points out instances where this is already Google's practice, so maybe it does work.

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