Power, silences, and production of space. New map of Russian State, 2023.

The new map of the Russian Federation includes not only annexed Crimea, but also the Donetzk and Lugansk regions, as well as Kherson – areas that are (or have been) occupied by the Russian State during the full-scale invasion in Ukraine.

In January 2023 the discussion on the new law, which would classify any maps that “question the territorial integrity” of the Russian State as the extremist materials, has started in Russian Federation. That action is just one of the examples, of how the Russian state have been setting the monopoly on the production of the geographical knowledge as well as the spatial historical narratives in Russia, in the recent decades. The revival of the Russian Geographical Society in 2000s (with Vladimir Putin Sergey Shoigu on the leading positions in RGS), the governmental control of the public geographical education are other events in this row.

In parallel to that the new map of the Russian Federation, which, presumably, sets the standard of mapping was issued. This map includes not only annexed Crimea as part of the Russian State, but also the Donetzk and Lugansk regions, as well as Kherson. These areas are the spaces of the active warfare and are (or have been) occupied by the Russian State during the full-scale invasion in Ukraine.  

Maps are one of the most powerful media to produce and impose the spatial imaginaries, and the ones produced by state represent the official view of the state and land by the government. The new map of Russia opens up several directions of the scientific curiosity and inquiry, which deal with the cartographic representation of the conflicts, and, more broadly, with the relationships between maps, power, state, state sponsored violence, and conflicts, specifically in post-Soviet Russia. Among those one the most intriguing are the continuity of the Imperial and Soviet place production, and the discursive techniques which are used for those.

By simply including the areas of the active warfare in Ukraine, as well as occupied Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine as part of the Russian Federation, the map first erase the conflict from the readers-viewers perception, but also it normalizes it, stating the Russian “new order” as the matter of fact. This discursive method is well known as one of the methods of imposing myths in the society, and was firstly introduced by Barth, and then taken further by Svetlana Boym regarding the production of the cultural silences in late Soviet period. “Stating things as the matter of fact”[1], especially in the maps – in the medium, which is perceived as “scientific” by wide audience and therefore has high level of trust – is a very powerful way of legalization and normalization of the war and violence, by, I repeat, just not showing it. That technique is also connected with another trend in Soviet cultural production and cartography, which is to develop and reproduce the spaces which do not exist (yet) but will be developed by the Soviet State. The construction of the future socialist utopian, be that the famous album “Moscow faces reconstruction”[2], not showing the “blank areas” on maps[3], or showing the socialist cities “how they will be in future”[4] are the common discursive practice in Soviet cultural production.    

The cartographic tradition of development of the “cartographic silences” and mapping the “Soviet space” by showing Soviet projects which has not yet been necessarily developed in practice (“mapping of intentions”, as I would call it) is well known by the scholars of Soviet cartography. It was a technique of the Soviet state to impose its power, to show how the places that has not yet been constructed. However, what we see now in the official State Russian cartography is that the similar methods are used to impose and strengthen the “Russkyi Mir” (Russian World) ideology through the maps. We witness how this method of dealing with conflicts (ignoring them, imposing the Russian perspective as a matter of fact) is used in the school textbooks and atlases, for example, in relation to other regions as well. However, what is also important to notice, is that during this war, maps have not been actively used as the source of Russian propaganda (we do not see photographs of Putin with the new map of Russia in media, for example).

Among many constellations on how these areas of research, and theories that stand behind them, could relate, this map presents an example of one particular way conflicts could be represented on the maps – they can be ignored. On the landscape of all possible ways of mapping wars and conflicts, is omitting it them at all, the most powerful way of representation? To some extent this might be true. While other maps acknowledge the war, the conflict and show the active warfare, the Russian State shows the “Russkyi Mir” order as something that has been already established, as the outcome of the war.         

So, to conclude this brief note, the new map, issued as the “official” map of the Russian State as for 2023 pose a lot of questions, that needed to be answered. Would we witness even further monopolization on the production of the geographical knowledge in Russia, where the spatial dimension of the Russkyi Mir would be the only legible cartographic representation of the Eastern Europe for the internal consumption? Did the Russian Government consciously not put the maps on the spotlight during this war, but still normalizing the Russkyi Mir spatial order through them? What is the role of the Soviet cartographic tradition in silencing the places in the post-Soviet Russian map production? How do these new silences relate to the production of the patriotic narratives in Russia? And finally, what does this normalization and this silence tells us about the relationship between state sponsored violence, conflicts, wars and maps?

Dr Sofia Gavrilova is a member of the Geovisualisations Research Team at the IfL.

[1] Barthes, R. (1957). Mythologies. Paris: Editions du Seuil.

[2] «Moscow faces reconstruction» is the album of diagrams, maps, and photos of Moscow being under reconstruction in 1938.

[3] Gavrilova, Sofia. „Learning About the Soviet State: The Establishment of Soviet Educational Cartography in the 1920s and 1930s.“ The Cartographic Journal (2021): 1-16.

[4] Ibid.

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