Is Crimea part of Russia? Ukraine? Welcome to Wikipedia’s quandary.


Source: Wikipedia Commons

Far away from the conflict in Crimea, which Russia has now annexed, a different kind of argument has erupted between those who think the peninsula belongs to Russia and those who don’t.

At issue: Wikipedia’s maps of Russia and Ukraine.

As of Thursday morning, both Ukraine’s Wikipedia page and Russia’s Wikipedia page claim Crimea, and things have gotten pretty heated in the comment sections.

“I will remove the map from this article until an alternative map can be provided,” harrumped Owl In The House in one voluminous exchange. “Crimea is no longer under Ukrainian control and has formally become a part of the Russian Federation. Regardless of anyone’s personal position, it can no longer be stated as fact that Crimea is a part of Ukraine.”

“Please provide reliable sources to support your claims,” USchick replied. “What countries recognize the new Crimea?

“Russia recognizes it,” Knowledgekid87 countered.

“Russia is the occupying force,” parried USchick.

“This is getting out of hand,” bemoaned Cheesenibbles in a post headlined, “We should full lock this page.”

The cartological kerfuffle taps into an issue that has long bedeviled map makers. When borders are disputed, what happens to the map? Who has final say over changes? And who has the authority to make alterations stick? But in this technological epoch of Wikipedia and Twitter, that jurisdiction may no longer belong to diplomats and politicians or to any high priests of geography — but to the crowdsourced masses.

It’s an imperfect science. Take the Western Sahara. Over the last half-century it has been claimed by Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania. “Countries such as the United States and Russia have taken a generally ambiguous and neutral position on each side’s claims,” according to — yes — Wikipedia.

So how did the Wikipedians, who control the largest repository of knowledge in human history, handle the matter? They compromised. They striped the territory to signal it is disputed.


(Wikipedia Commons)

Wikipedia has been equally ambiguous with China. Both Taiwan and a disputed region in Tibet are shaded a lighter hue of green.

(Wikipedia Commons)
(Wikipedia Commons)

Update: National Geographic will recognize the area as disputed, according to a statement published Wednesday on the National Geographic site.  The statement notes that disputed areas “receive special treatment and are shaded gray as ‘Areas of Special Status.’ with accompanying explanatory text.”

Rand McNally has demurred. “We take our direction from the State Department,” spokesperson Amy Krouse said.

The Wikipedians, meanwhile, continue their deliberation. They finally agreed on Wednesday to shade Crimea light green to reflect its disputed status.

Though this hasn’t happened yet with Ukraine’s Wikipedia map.


Source: Wikipedia Commons

“It is a shame that Wikipedia suffers from propaganda from both sides,” Cheesenibbles mourned. “Wikipedia should remain the biggest free encyclopedia, not the fight scene between different views and tensions.”

Terrence McCoy writes on foreign affairs for The Washington Post's Morning Mix. Follow him on Twitter here.
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