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Soviet Maps Have Been Falsified, Distorted For 50 Years: Cartographer

September 3, 1988 GMT

MOSCOW (AP) _ Roads, rivers and towns were moved or removed on Soviet maps for 50 years by order of the secret police, who were trying to throw off aerial bombers and spies, the Soviet Union’s top cartographer said.

Those inaccuracies are now being corrected, said the cartographer, Viktor R. Yashchenko.

″People didn’t recognize their own homeland on maps,″ Yashchenko told the government newspaper Izvestia in an interview published Friday. ″Tourists in vain tried to orient themselves to locations.″

Yashchenko, head of the government’s Main Directorate of Geodetics and Cartography said the falsifications began in the 1930s under now-disgraced dictator Josef Stalin and continued until this year.

Stalin’s policy of revising historical records to suit his political needs has been severely criticized under Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

But Yashchenko implied criticism of every successor of Stalin in saying that skewing of maps continued even after Gorbachev took power in March 1985.

Gorbachev has promoted a policy of ″glasnost,″ or openness, that has uncovered previosly taboo subjects, known in the Soviet Union as ″blank spots.″

Yashchenko said the blank spots on maps were overwhelming and that they began when his agency was put under the control of the NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB state security apparatus.

″The atmosphere of mistrust and espionage was reflected on the production of cartographers as well,″ he told Izvestia.

Orders would come down for cartographers to remove from maps certain locations or change those of others, he recalled.

Under Stalin, airbrushing to remove the faces of purged ″enemies of the people″ was routine and references to such disgraced figures were removed from books, newspapers and magazines.

Yashchenko said even tourist maps were highly inaccurate.

Many foreigners in Moscow use a CIA-produced map of the capital because Soviet-made maps omit many streets.

″On the tourist map of Moscow, the contours of the capital are only partly true,″ the map maker said.

He said the absurdity of inaccurate maps had increased in recent times, when the Soviet Union has extremely detailed photographs taken from satellites in space.