The German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees withdrew its approval for a textbook over a map showing Crimea as part of Russia. The publisher has stepped on a minefield of international politics.
Following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine has been watching closely to ensure the peninsula is still marked as its territory on maps all around the world. Its Foreign Ministry appealed to citizens to report instances where this was not the case, and this was how the public learned of the publication of a world atlas in France and geography schoolbooks in Britain and Kazakhstan that showed Crimea as part of Russia.
Now something similar has happened in Germany. At the end of March, Ukrainian and Russian media reported that a German textbook depicting Crimea in the same color as Russia had been approved by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). Ukrainians living in Germany were the first to point this out.
New textbooks for migrants
The books in question are part of the series "Einfach gut! Deutsch für die Integration," published by the company TELC in Frankfurt am Main. TELC (The European Language Certificates) has been established for almost 50 years and is a respected provider of language examinations. The map with "Russian" Crimea appears in the textbooks B1.1 and B1.2.
The new series has been on the market since July 2016. According to the publisher, it was conceived especially for integration courses, which prepare migrants for life in Germany. According to some estimates, throughout Germany there are some 200 course providers, such as language schools, using these textbooks. BAMF integration courses are part-funded by Germany's federal budget. Knowledge of German to B1 level is one of the conditions for German citizenship.
How illustrations are checked
TELC declined to comment when contacted by DW. It referred instead to the response on its website, in which the company regrets "the printing of the inaccurate map" and stresses that it had not intended to make "a political statement." The illustration had been purchased from the agency Fotolia. TELC declared that it will immediately reprint the books in question with a new map.
The agency Fotolia is a world market leader in the field of digital books. It is owned by the US software giant Adobe. "Fotolia is a marketplace for images," its representative Martin Moschek told DW. "The principle is that anyone who creates an image or a graphic can register with Fotolia and upload their images." The databank, he said, contains tens of millions of images. These are checked partly by machine and partly by employees. However, the checks address not content but technical aspects, such as resolution. They also weed out pornographic and violent images. In other words, they do not check whether a border has been correctly drawn on a map. Following the complaints about the map of Crimea, the image has been withdrawn and the provider informed.
This provider is Kartox JM, which described itself in a mail to DW as "a small start-up company in Berlin." The mail goes on to express regret that "one of our maps has led to misunderstandings" and asserts that it has been removed from their portfolio. "We would like to make clear that we did not consciously intend to favor one nationality or be disrespectful towards another."
Kartox JM has neither a website of its own nor a company e-mail address; yet many organizations use its pictures, including banks, newspapers and industrial firms.
The map of Europe with "Russian Crimea" is not the only example. In the Fotolia database, DW found two maps by Kartox JM, entitled "Chernobyl in Ukraine," in which Crimea is a different color to the rest of the country. The firm's Twitter account also had a map as its cover image on which Crimea was clearly depicted as part of Russia. Kartox JM announced that it would be removing these maps as well. The cover image on its Twitter account has indeed been deleted. "There are many regions around world that are disputed," was the Berlin cartographers' explanation. Data sets from these regions are "not always unequivocal."
Unauthorized books are still being used
The BAMF press office in Nuremberg expressed regret for the printing of "a faulty map" in an authorized book. The agency "expressly declares that this was not intended as a political statement," spokesperson Andrea Brinkmann told DW. The BAMF, she said, had removed both volumes from its list of authorized textbooks with immediate effect.
According to Brinkmann, the agency had no involvement in creating the series, either financially or with regard to content. Furthermore, the authorization was issued in June 2016 with the caveat that TELC had at that point not submitted the final print version. "In addition to a few appendices and the introduction, it lacked the map that has occasioned this criticism," said Brinkmann.
However, although they have been removed from the list of authorized textbooks, the providers of integration courses will still be able to continue working with them. BAMF says it will inform providers about the incorrect map, the forthcoming correction, and the possibility of exchanging the books.
Ukrainian ambassador: 'That is unacceptable!'
Ukraine has not turned it into a diplomatic scandal. The Ukrainian ambassador in Berlin, Andriy Melnyk, told DW that Kyiv had asked TELC, the BAMF and the Federal Ministry of the Interior for an explanation. He referred to the printing of the map as "a regrettable incident." "We were indignant when we received this information, because essentially it is deceiving - whether intentionally or not - the numerous users of these educational materials." This, he said, was "unacceptable in any circumstances." Hopefully, Kyiv now no longer has any grounds for criticism.