The Mapping Stereotypes is project is the work of Yanko Tsvetkov, a graphic artist who also goes by the name Alphadesigner. Tsvetkov has lived all over Europe, but back in 2009 when he got the idea to produce maps charting prevailing stereotypes, he was still in his native Bulgaria.
There is nothing quite as obsolete as an out-of-date map: untrustworthy, suspect, politically incorrect. An atlas that still has Czechoslovakia on it may be historically interesting, but it illustrates a world that no longer exists. Change is constant: new countries spring into being, population centres shift, capitals are shunted from one place to another. With every adjustment, another map is rendered useless.
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Why not map ignorance instead? In a fast-changing world, national stereotypes remain remarkably stable. View the globe from an American perspective and you can still get away with labelling the whole of Russia “Commies”. If nothing else, it saves you having to spell Tajikistan.
“There was a gas crisis, a pretty harsh winter, and we were a little bit cold,” he says. His first map posited a Europe made up of competing interests and reductive presumptions. Russia is simply labelled “Paranoid Oil Empire”. Most of the EU comes under the heading “Union Of Subsidised Farming”. Turkey has been renamed “No YouTube Land” and where Georgia should be it says “Armed Winegrowers”. He titled the map Where I Live and put it up on his website.
“People started leaving comments about it,” Tsvetkov says. “People I didn’t know. And then, by the unknown laws of the internet, it got quite popular.” Tsvetkov realised this could be the beginning of a larger project. He made a map of “The World According To Americans”, with Kazakhstan renamed “Borat”, the Falklands marked “British Riviera” and all of North Africa summarised as “Fucking Desert, Dude”. His map of Berlusconi’s worldview is both hilariously vulgar and, one suspects, not far wide of the mark. No matter where you’re from, you should be able to find something here to offend you.
To add to his growing collection, Tsvetkov has created two new maps for the Guardian, one titled The Arab Winter and the other Crystal Ball View Of Europe In 2022. In the former, Algeria has been renamed “Gaddafi’s Sperm Bank” (“Because most of his family ran away to Algeria,” Tsvetkov says, “so it’s like a sperm bank for the preservation of his legacy”). In the latter a smaller territory in northern Italy has been coloured orange and labelled “Gays”. “The region around Rome will be under gay occupation,” he says, “because at some point all gay people will get tired of Pope Benedict’s homophobic remarks and will invade the city to shut his mouth for ever.” Most of the references are self-explanatory, although a working knowledge of geography (or, in my case, an old atlas with Czechoslovakia on it) comes in handy.
Tsvetkov himself is nowhere near as narrow-minded as his maps. He speaks several languages, currently lives in Spain and feels comfortable throughout Europe. “I have friends in most major European countries,” he says. “I work as a designer, so we are a big community. We’re like the European ideal.” Has his cosmopolitanism also made him an expert on local prejudices and stereotypes? “Yes, there are things that you can only perceive when you are among the people, but the internet helps.”
Tsvetkov has also lived in London, and in his Europe In 2022 map the UK (minus Scotland) is called Passive Aggressive Kingdom, a nickname that stems from David Cameron’s recent refusal to sign an EU treaty. “It refers to the British way of thinking about Europe,” Tsvetkov says. “It doesn’t want to have much to do with the continent, but it wants to have a say. It’s about wanting to achieve something by not doing anything.”
Arguably these maps could do as much to reinforce stereotypes as ridicule them, but their primary purpose is to entertain. “If there is a serious problem, I prefer to present it in a funny say,” Tsvetkov says. “I think there is enough serious coverage, and loads of people who can analyse it way better than I can.”
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