An Attempt at Fixing Name Tags in the Republic of Srpska

Posted by michalfabik on 21 March 2021 in English (English).

The Proposal

In late 2020, I drafted a proposal to introduce a common format for the name=* tag in the Republic of Srpska, a territorial subdivision of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The reasons were mainly general data inconsistency and recurring edit wars. There are two official scripts in the Republika Srpska, Latin and Cyrillic, both of which are in active use. Moreover, some mappers (as well as members of the general public) consider the usage of either or both of the two scripts a political tool and/or an instrument of nationalist propaganda. This means that it is hard to reach a consensus as to what the name=* format should be. It can be argued that a tag like name=Бања Лука is violating the On-the-Ground Rule because both scripts - not just Cyrillic - are official. It can also be argued that a tag such as name=Banja Luka / Бања Лука violates the OTG Rule because the city is not called “Banja Luka Slash Banja Luka” or because one of the scripts is “more official” than the other and should therefore be listed first. Therefore, I included several possible name formats in my proposal and invited the members of the OSM community in BiH to vote for the most suitable one with the intention to propose the winning format “officially” to the worldwide OSM community. The voting took place on the proposal’s discussion page.

The Response

I have contacted 55 mappers in total, most of whom were my saved private message contacts with whom I have corresponded over more than 4 years of consistently reaching out to BiH users, others were top-ranking mappers recently active in the country. As you can see on the proposal discussion/voting page linked above, the response was rather underwhelming, with many of the most active users ignoring the communication and the vote completely.

I have, however, received a number of messages whose authors, while stopping just short of being openly offensive to me personally, expressed strong opposition to one or more of the proposed name formats, on political grounds. They asserted that OSM users of their respective “enemy” ethnicities (to whom they did not hesitate to refer with ethnic slurs) were going to “brigade” the vote to make sure that such an “unacceptable” name format wins. In reality, the voter turnout was quite low and nothing of the sort took place.

Interestingly, one of these users mentioned that a similar situation already occurred several years ago and that in the end, the OSM community came to understand that they would incur a lot of trouble if they were to introduce a tagging policy this user perceives as undesirable, effectively saying that the OSM community was bullied into submission by BiH users with a political/nationalist agenda. I couldn’t find anything to corroborate this and I would be most grateful if the Data Working Group (or anybody else involved) could shed some light here, assuming, of course, that anything of that sort actually happened.

What Now

I’m somewhat unsure about hot to proceed at this point. On one hand, the voter turnout was low and I do realize that I wasn’t exactly rigorous in advertising the vote. (None of the communication channels established within the BiH community is frequented by more than some 10 people regularly.) It is to be expected that some will view any action based upon this vote alone as an unwarranted initiative of a few lone busybodies, if not as an outright hostile act. On the other hand, I have been in contact with mappers who agreed that something should be done about the current situation but I have never witnessed any actual attempt at bringing about a solution. Other users still have expressed indifference or explicit refusal to deal with the subject.

I’m writing this as a kind of a backstory to refer the folks on the tagging list to, if/when I officially submit the proposal for OSM-wide voting. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure whether the tagging list is the right place to go with this. Anyway, I would love to hear any input, especially from the BiH community (whom I am also contacting by other means in this matter) and people who have been involved in any disputes regarding naming, disputed territories and the like.

To keep this concise and on-topic, I would like to stress that this proposal pertains strictly to the name=* tag. The usage of the language subtags (name:bs=*, name:hr=*, name:sr=*, name:sr-Latn=*) is well established in BiH and not a matter of dispute.

Comment from kucai on 24 March 2021 at 03:02

Maybe just omit the name=* altogether. Makes everybody happy hopefully.

Comment from michalfabik on 24 March 2021 at 09:01

Yeah, that was one of the options in the vote but it wasn’t very popular. I wouldn’t have a problem with that personally but I’m a little afraid that a lot of people would see that as a mistake and keep adding the name=*. Is this approach used anywhere in the world?

Comment from kucai on 25 March 2021 at 03:17

Well, nowhere else in the world has that acute kind of a problem with naming, so I doubt it. ;)

When all effort fail, just let it be and realize that it’s out of your hands and nobody else over there honestly care that much in resolving the problem either.

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