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Geography - Other

We are pretty much accustomed to the fact that geographical maps are of a universal nature. Oceans remain as wide and mountain peaks as high no matter if we look at a map published in Brazil or in France, Canada, or Japan. Although this may be absolutely true of physical maps, so called political maps, which show boundaries between countries and territories, are a different issue. Political maps reflect not so much the objective geographical reality, but the political vision (and sometimes wishful thinking) of a particular country.

Let us have a look at a few relevant examples. Antarctica is the planet’s southernmost uninhabited continent eternally covered with ice and snow. According to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, it is reserved for a demilitarized and non-commercial scientific exploration. The countries of Chile and Argentina, however - the southern regions of which are situated in relative proximity to Antarctica - both claim portions of the continent as part of their sovereign territory. This official “bicontinental” map of Argentina shows a large chunk of Antarctica as belonging to that country. A similar map of Chile boosts the Chilean territory up to over an impressive 2 million square kilometers, making Chile a larger country than Mexico or Greenland. 

Neither Chile nor Argentina actually rule or govern those huge masses of land. Rather, the maps are a statement of the claims these countries make. Obviously, maps published in any other countries in the world do not show any parts of Antarctica as belonging to Chile or Argentina. In general, geopolitical shifts do not always get reflected on political maps, following the political vision and preferences of various countries. For example, a current political map published in Russia would be quite different from one in the USA.

This recent map of Europe published in Russia (see above) differs from a U.S. map in the following four ways. Circle number 1 refers to Kosovo, a self-proclaimed state that broke away from Serbia and was recognized by the USA and roughly one half of other members of the international community. From Russia’s viewpoint Kosovo is still part of Serbia. Number 2 is the peninsula of Crimea which was incorporated into Russia in 2014 following a referendum not recognized as lawful by the USA and many other countries. Consequently, on U.S. maps Crimea would be shown as part of Ukraine. Numbers 3 and 4 are former Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These are recognized as independent by Russia and a few other countries. Most states, however, including the USA and the European Union, consider them provinces of Georgia. 

Thus, political maps may or may not reflect the de facto state of affairs. They do, however, faithfully follow the geopolitical standpoint of the country that publishes the map. The list of examples, in fact, could be quite long. Turkish maps show the northern part of Cyprus as an independent “Turkish Republic of the Northern Cyprus” while no other state recognizes it. On some maps, Taiwan may be shown as an independent state while on others it is a part of China. Of course, Israel and the Palestinian territories are a particular point of disagreement on political maps with a dozen Muslim countries not recognizing the very existence of Israel.

we see, then, that although physical maps showing contours of continents and islands and their landscape are not prone to change, political maps change quite often. Moreover, it is important to understand that political maps are not only a reflection of reality, but also a political statement. Ask us at whenever you are in doubt!


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