Sunday, August 30, 2009
The Canadian historian Pierre Burton always used to describe Canada not as the world's second-largest country, but rather a long and thin country located right next to the border with the United States, shaped kind of like Chile but running east and west instead of north and south. And in terms of the Canada that most Canadians know, this is very true. Take a look at this population density map from Stats Canada.
Canada is basically a densely populated area in the east, a fairly populated area in the west, and a bit of space in between them when you hit western Ontario. Very few have actually been to the north. When you look at the map in this way it makes sense that Canada has a population so much smaller than that of the US, which has large populated centres in every corner of the country in spite of its slightly smaller size.
Russia is the same way, except that it lines up against the eastern border of Europe to the north and south instead of east and west. It's important to have an idea of how population in Russia works, because without it it tends to look like this:
Europe before reaching Russia is generally quite easy to understand, as each country is fairly small and they all fit together quite nicely like pieces of a puzzle. The only part where there is some confusion would be in the former Yugoslavia where new countries have been emerging left and right with varying degrees of international acceptance, and these new shapes have yet to make a strong impression. But overall it's quite easy.
Once you get to Russia though, everything gets thrown out the window. All of a sudden the borders are gone and you have now reached a country that is larger than the continent it borders upon, and everything goes out the window. When you take a look at Russia as a whole it can be easy to remember as it looks a bit like some sort of mythical auroch-like creature lying on top of Central Asia, with its head stretching out towards Alaska, front paws hanging over northeastern China and rear legs standing on Georgia and Azerbaijan.
But like the somewhat inaccurate image of Canada, this isn't really the Russia people usually mean when they think of the country - most visit major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, and its this heavily populated area in the west that Europe interacts with the most as well. So if Canada is to be compared to Chile, Russia would also end up looking something like this (very rough approximation):
That still doesn't look like any other country, but it's still easier to picture compared to Europe than the monstrous mythical auroch over Central Asia.