Alphadesigner Explorer of Details Sun, 17 May 2015 01:59:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Encore une fois, Atlas of Prejudice 2, in French Sun, 17 May 2015 01:21:11 +0000 Mesdames and messieurs, encore une fois, the Atlas of Prejudice 2 comes out in the language of love, adultery, and posh agriculture!

Yanko Tsvetkov

Atlas-des-prejuges-2-de-Yanko-Tsvetkov With 35,000 sold copies in less than five months, the first volume of the French edition of the Atlas of Prejudice (Atlas des préjugés) exceeded my wildest expectations. Added to the numbers from the other editions and volumes, the Atlas of Prejudice series reached 70,000 copies sold worldwide!

This leaves me incredibly confused because, being finally super famous, I have difficulties to determine if I should start snorting cocaine immediately or wait until the counter passes 100k?

The French edition climbed to number 6 in the official Top 10 bestseller books list of Amazon France! And this is for all the books available on the site, not a mere genre-dependent subcategory. It was featured on one of the most popular French TV shows, Le Grand Journal, and the way it was welcomed by the French public completely destroyed the old Anglo-Saxon stereotype about how self-absorbed and humorless they can be.

Come to think of it, few of us (who don’t speak the language) were aware the French had such a vibrant satirical tradition until that horrible terrorist act exposed it far and wide. It’s a shame that it took a tragedy to catapult Charlie Hebdo’s comedic brilliance over the Channel. Several days after the attack, I experienced one of the most surreal moments in my life when randomly looking at the TV screens in my gym I spotted a couple of objects that looked familiar during a report about the premiere of the special Charlie Hebdo editions in the bookstores. Right on the counter there was a pile of my Atlas of Prejudice. I felt complemented and embarrassed at the same time. On one side there was the satisfaction about my recognition. On the other, the idea that the book sales may have been boosted by this horrible nightmare felt like a dagger through my heart. Bittersweet doesn’t even come close to describe it.

Making fun of people can be a dangerous job and contrary to common belief, the risks are not necessarily determined by the author. There are hordes of touchy people on this planet who take themselves and their holy ideas far too seriously. This realization was the main theme of the second volume of the book, which was published in France on April 8. You can get it from Amazon France, Fnac, or from your nearest bookstore. French-speaking Canadians can order it through their regional Amazon store. Here’s the official blurb, in the language of Voltaire and Piaf:

Nous n’en avons pas fini avec les stéréotypes nationaux !

Après le formidable succès de l’Atlas des préjugés (tome 1), l’auteur a poursuivi sa chasse aux idées reçues en imaginant 40 nouvelles cartes et infographies qui stigmatisent nos préjugés.

le monde vu par les Vikings ou Christophe Colomb ; les plus grands stéréotypes européens ; l’Europe vue par les conservateurs britanniques ; la carte des plats immangeables…
Comme l’humour est parfois plus efficace que les longs discours, l’auteur a imaginé des cartes satiriques, souvent décalées et toujours drôles sur nos préjugés nationaux.
Un livre à mettre entre toutes les mains.

Yanko Tsvetkov

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Atlas of Prejudice 1 (French Edition) Out Now! Mon, 29 Sep 2014 20:48:30 +0000 Mesdames and messieurs, the Atlas of Prejudice Volume 1 is finally available in the language of love, adultery, and posh agriculture!

Yanko Tsvetkov

Atlas des préjugés de Yanko Tsvetkov Attention s’il vous plaît! The French edition of Atlas of Prejudice (Vol. 1) is available for preorder on Amazon and will be hitting the bookstores on October 8, 2014!

To say I am pinching myself would be an understatement. After the German, English, Russian, and Spanish editions, my first book is finally available in the language of love, adultery, and posh agriculture!

It’s also the language I always wanted to learn but for some reason never managed to. Like every fluent Anglo-Saxon speaker, I excel at finding excuses to be busy with something else. Maybe this book is a chance for a change. What about you? How good is your French? Pick this up and let’s find out! :)

The book is published by Les Arènes and was and translated by Jean-Loup Chiflet.

Here’s the official blurb, in glorious, seductive French:

Depuis l’Antiquité jusqu’à nos jours, les préjugés ont la vie dure. Pour la première fois, ils sont cartographiés ici. 40 cartes inédites portent un regard satirique et sans concession sur les stéréotypes nationaux, 40 regards croisés où l’on rit aussi bien des autres que de nous, 40 caricatures hilarantes qui nous en apprennent plus que de longs discours. Best-seller en Allemagne, L’Atlas des préjugés est un livre plein d’ironie qui permet de mieux comprendre les cultures nationales.

Yanko Tsvetkov est né en Bulgarie. Il a fait ses études en Allemagne, a travaillé en Grande-Bretagne et vit aujourd’hui en Espagne. C’est un européen de la génération « Erasmus ». Des clichés et des préjugés, il en a entendu des centaines. Cet atlas leur rend hommage.

Yanko Tsvetkov

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Atlas of Prejudice 2 (English Edition) Out NOW! Thu, 20 Feb 2014 03:25:29 +0000 After prolonged labor and a messy Cesarean, I'm happy to announce that I just gave birth to Atlas of Prejudice 2, the sequel to your favorite book.

Yanko Tsvetkov

Atlas of Prejudice 2 by Yanko Tsvetkov


The success of Atlas of Prejudice Volume 1 surprised even the most optimistic people around me. In less than a year, the book was published in German, English, Russian, and Spanish. Several other foreign language editions are in the works. The combined worldwide sales already reached 20,000. I bought a private jet and a house in California.

Well, the last sentence wasn’t quite true. Probably because I declined a $25,000 offer from an established company that wanted to publish the English version under a different title and with a different cover. I thought the demand was outrageous, and said no. Then I self-published the book with CreateSpace and started promoting it without the marketing backup of an established publisher. Freedom has its cost.

The idea about a sequel came almost immediately after I finished the first volume. However, due to the complications with the English edition, I had to postpone most of the work on it until August 2013. Then, in a scenario similar to the struggle with the first book, I had to break the piggy bank with randomly collected proto-ideas and start matching them together like gigantic puzzle pieces of a Jackson Pollock painting.

About a third of the book was written on my tablet, late at night. I remember once I deleted half a chapter with a simple thumb slide. That’s how I found out that Google Keep doesn’t have an automatic save function. And why should it, the app was never meant for writing books. After this high-tech fiasco, I abandoned the dream of writing the entire book on a touchscreen device and went back to Microsoft Word and the good old laptop.

Volume 1 was a collection of maps with a couple of added essays about stereotypes. Most of those maps were already complete when I started the book. Volume 2, on the other hand, is much more organic. The workflow was reversed: I started with the text and drew the new maps only after I finished writing each chapter. I consider Atlas of Prejudice 2 my first real book, in the classic sense of the word. I hope the readers will be able to sense that.

This time around, there’s much more to read. I wanted the book to have a backbone, an idea that runs almost continuously through it, like a baseline of a song. I found inspiration for it examining the generational gap between me and my grandmother. The book opens with a description of the world according to her and ends with a map according to a Facebook user. Even though I am in my late thirties and I’m not a huge fan of that particular social network, I consider myself part of the generation it defines. The self-obsessed teens shouting for attention on various social networks are not very different from what I was at their age. Whatever nuances may separate us, they all fade away when compared to the enormous gap between 2014 and 1932, when my grandmother was born.

The process of growing up and adapting to a new world is often examined in between those chapters. The first voyage of Columbus spelled the end of European puberty. It led to the worst excesses of post-adolescent Spain, an empire that behaved like a 18-year-old college boy, loaded with cash and lack of responsibility. Further to the East, the Pope and the Ottoman sultan competed who will wear the biggest tiara. The Vikings to the North, already Christianized, continued to hunt for narwhals in the Arctic, selling the tusks of those animals as unicorn horns to the ignorant people from the south.

During the promotion of Volume 1 an Austrian journalist assumed my prediction about the end of the European Union was something serious. Volume 2 contains a chapter dedicated to modern Europe and its chances for survival. Of course, Brussels was the last place I turned for inspiration. Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europa Express did a much better job. What is lacking in today’s Europe is something as inspired as this album. Something that transcends the political and economic bullshit of the day. Because, as Alain de Botton recently mentioned in his article about the contemporary addiction to breaking news, “we badly need people whose attention is not caught up in the trends of the moment and who are not looking in the same direction as everyone else”. We need more idealism. Not the naive, distracted kind; we have plenty of it on Facebook, Twitter, or any other place where slacktivism reigns supreme. We need the kind of idealism that is informed and able to reach beyond the day after tomorrow.

But most of all, we need to learn how to laugh at ourselves, and to give up the habit of frowning all the time. Atlas of Prejudice 2 is about that.

The English version of the book is already available on Amazon and it will soon appear on other online retailers. The German version will come out next month, on March 20, and can be preordered here. More information about other stores is available on the official site of the book. A preview of the content is available on Google Books.

Yanko Tsvetkov

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Contemplating Prejudice in English Mon, 30 Sep 2013 16:38:55 +0000 A short illustrated essay from the English edition of the first volume of the Atlas of Prejudice book, following the evolution of human prejudice.

Yanko Tsvetkov

The short essay Contemplating Prejudice and the corresponding illustrations are taken from the first volume of the Atlas of Prejudice by Yanko Tsvetkov. The article is also available in Russian. The English edition of the book can be purchased on Amazon from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, India and other stores.

Atlas of Prejudice: Contemplating Prejudice


Before the Italian poet Girolamo Fracastoro inven­ted the word syphilis during the Renaissance, people referred to the famous disease using a variety of other names. The Italians, the Germans and the Polish called it the French disease, while the French named it the Italian disease. The Dutch insisted it was the Spanish disease. On the other side of the continent, the Russians were convinced it was the Polish disease. The Ottoman Turks to the South weren’t as pedantic and simply called it Christian disease.

I bet Treponema pallidum, the bacterium that causes syphilis, cannot distinguish the ethnicity of the organisms it invades. A far more reasonable explanation for the peculiar names can be found in the political rivalries of the day. France was the main enemy of the Holy Roman Empire, a gigantic conglomerate that historically united countless small principalities in Germany and Italy. To the North, the Netherlands rebelled against Spanish rule, while Poland was Russia’s main rival in Eastern Europe. As for the Ottoman Empire, it considered the rest of the continent a pastiche of states run by infidels with questionable morals. Political propaganda is definitely not a modern invention and ethnic rivalries have always been a fertile ground for all kind of rampant stereotyping.

The notion of the foreigner as an incarnation of evil has always been the gravitational center around which the common tribal identity accreted and solidified. As tribal societies developed, these attitudes were encoded in their traditions and religious rituals. The first proto-wars had one defined objective: capturing and killing the enemy’s shaman, the person who was chosen by his superstitious brothers and sisters to be in charge of communicating with the mysterious forces of the Universe.

Those who claim that prostitution is the oldest profession forget that shamanism predated it with at least a couple of centuries. The shaman wasn’t simply a local freelance charlatan who excelled in taking advantage of his ignorant relatives. Such a depiction would be an insult to the herculean responsibility those individuals carried on their shoulders.

Shamans were in charge of making sense of the entire perceivable world. They were expected to explain why the Sun appeared on the horizon each day, why was there water falling from the sky, why did asses itch if you didn’t wipe them properly, why did the bees feast on flowers and all kind of other whys, each more awkward than the other.

No wonder the stereotypical depiction of the shaman is a man who smokes. After several questions of this sort, everybody would need an immediate chill-out.

The shamans paved the way for the first politicians, who finally mastered the art of putting the blame for all kind of disasters on neighboring tribes and their vicious gods, justifying potential wars with claims of cultural superiority. Thus blatantly egotistic military campaigns could be disguised as altruistic missions to civilize wild barbarians long before the time of George W Bush.


The Ancient Greeks considered their own civilization the pinnacle of human progress and reduced everybody else to mere observers. Their elitism was obviously not tamed by the contact with other advanced societies, like the Phoenician, from which they borrowed their alphabet, or the Egyptian, from which they learned how to build temples that could withstand earthquakes for centuries.

If cultural arrogance is possible even when there are viable arguments against it, imagine the situation in the Far East, where the Ancient Chinese Empire coagulated with geometrical precision around its geographical center without any significant foreign competition. There was no Mediterranean Sea to split the land in two distinctive parts, or countless tiny islands on which fringe thinkers could find a refuge and preach disobedience to frustrated teenagers. The Emperor was firmly in the middle of the material and spiritual world. His eye was all-seeing, his power absolute and his status no less than that of a god. If the Divine Majesty sneezed, the whole of China caught a cold, simply by protocol.


This perfect political geometry didn’t need elaborate stories to explain the origin of the barbarians along its borders. While the Ancient Greeks used mythology, the Ancient Chinese resorted to prose. They simply spoke of Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western barbarians.

A similar merge of the spiritual and geographical centers can be seen on most European medieval maps that survive to this day. Given the historical complexity of Europe, they are enchantingly picturesque. Transcending the trivial purpose of navigation, works of art like the 13th Century Hereford and Ebstorf maps unite mythology, religion, geography and history into a proto-encyclopedic collage, which center is firmly placed in Jerusalem and its top tightly fastened on the heavenly throne of Jesus.

In the space between them one can find the most exquisite selection of stereotypes, prejudices and frivolous hallucinations that the human mind is capable of, all of them carefully illustrated and annotated. The Christian world view with its holy places is intertwined with Ancient Greek concepts according to which the extremes of the Earth are populated by mutants whose physical peculiarities are a direct result of the harsh weather conditions in which they spend their lives.

Perhaps now is the best time to notice that just like medieval people, the Ancient Greeks weren’t big fans of fact-checking.


The Far East is home to the Bigfoot tribe, whose members, quite logically, use their single enlarged foot as a parasol against the harsh sunlight, thus greatly reducing the chances of developing melanoma. Africa is inhabited by cyclops and four-eyed people, probably coming from an ancient lab specialized in eye transplantations. The sons of Cain roam the frozen Siberian wasteland, trapped there by Alexander the Great, biding their time and dreaming of future massacres.

But one of the most interesting places is Northern Scandinavia, the land of the dog-heads. The existence of this strange race of humans with canine heads was highly hypothetical but nevertheless presented a palpable theological problem because medieval scholars were split in their opinions about whether or not these creatures had a soul and thus were eligible for salvation if converted to Christianity.

The hysterical grandeur of this freak show is as amusing as it is bitterly discouraging. Indulging in made-up stories as an act of escapism is one thing. Knowing people actually believed in them is a night­mare you can never escape from.

If snap judgments are so dangerous in our highly technological world, could we get rid of prejudices altogether? One might be tempted to accept them as an inevitability, as an inherent human flaw. Then again, the list of things which were originally considered inevitable but later proven to be circumstantial is longer than our DNA. Whatever seems universal and fundamental today may be exposed as superficial tomorrow.

The fathers of Athenian democracy considered slavery so fundamental to society that they couldn’t imagine one without it. Yet here we are, conveniently trying to avoid this fact every time we praise Ancient Greece for being the birthplace of Western civilization. Ideological hygiene at its best!

I obviously don’t have all the answers but neither do those who claim the human mind can be forever restrained by its contemporary shortcomings. If anything, the initiative for a change may be in the field of psychology, instead of history.

History is a strange creature. It has the amazing ability to blind us with our own reflection when we peek over its deep mysterious waters. Many of us drown in it just like the mythological Narcissus, whose infatuation with his own beauty was stronger than his survival instincts. Those who don’t know history may be bound to repeat it. But even people who know it may follow the same fate if they interpret it exclusively in their own favor.

Inevitability aside, in the end, all it takes to be less prejudiced is to exercise our brains a little bit more often. If we refuse to accept the prêt-a-penser ideas which are constantly regurgitated in endless PR campaigns and advertising agencies, and take responsibility for our own choices, we will not only minimize our snap judgments but ultimately improve our way of life.

In an interconnected global society, where information flows faster than thoughts, prejudices can turn out to be just a side effect of intellectual laziness.

Yanko Tsvetkov

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Contemplating Prejudice in Russian Fri, 27 Sep 2013 17:52:43 +0000 A short illustrated essay from the Russian edition of the first volume of the Atlas of Prejudice book, following the evolution of human prejudice.

Yanko Tsvetkov

The short essay Contemplating Prejudice and the corresponding illustrations are taken from the first volume of the Atlas of Prejudice by Yanko Tsvetkov. The article is also available in English. The book was translated in Russian by Anastasia Markelova and published by Alpina Non Fiction in Moscow, September 2013. It is available for purchase from

Атлас стереотипов и предрассудков: К слову о предубеждениях


До того как из-под пера итальянского поэта эпохи Возрождения Джироламо Фракасторо вышло слово «сифилис», люди называли эту знаменитую болезнь по-разному. Итальянцы, немцы и поляки окрестили ее «французской», а французы «итальянской». Голландцы утверждали, что она не иначе как испанская. Русские искренне считали, что это польская болезнь. А турки-османы, обитавшие на юге, решили не мелочиться и назвали ее просто-напросто «христианской» заразой.

Могу поспорить, что бледная трепонема — бактерия, вызывающая сифилис, — способна различить этническую принадлежность организма, в котором поселяется. Гораздо более разумное объяснение такому множеству названий можно найти в борьбе политических сил того времени. Франция была главным врагом Священной Римской империи, гигантского конгломерата, который объединял бесчисленные маленькие княжества Германии и Италии. К северу Нидерланды начали восставать против испанского господства, а Польша была главным соперником России в Восточной Европе. Что касается Османской империи, то она считала остальную часть континента просто смешением стран, управляемых безбожниками с сомнительной моралью. Все-таки PR и пропаганду изобрели не вчера. Этнические противостояния всегда были плодородной почвой, на которой буйным цветом расцветали стереотипы.

Представление о чужестранце как о некоем источнике зла всегда было столпом, вокруг которого формировалось самосознание обычного племени. По мере развития туземных обществ это мировосприятие становилось краеугольным камнем их традиций и религиозных ритуалов. Самые первые войны преследовали одну-единственную цель — захватить и убить шамана вражеского племени, который был избран своими суеверными братьями и сестрами как человек, призванный вести диалог с мистическими силами Вселенной.

Те, кто называет древнейшей профессией проституцию, забывают, что ее по меньшей мере на пару столетий опередил шаманизм. Шаманы были не просто вольнонаемными шарлатанами, которые занимались тем, что нагло обманывали своих невежественных сородичей. Такое их восприятие оскорбило бы этих людей, которые несли на своих плечах поистине тяжкую ношу.

Шаманы пытались постичь сакральный смысл осязаемого и воспринимаемого людьми мира. Они должны были объяснять, почему солнце каждый день появляется над горизонтом, почему вода падает с неба, почему попа зудит, если не подтереть ее как следует, почему пчелы садятся на цветы, а также давать ответы на многие другие вопросы, один щекотливее другого. Неудивительно, что шаманов часто изображают курящими. После нескольких вопросов такого рода любой бы нервно закурил.

Шаманы подготовили почву для первых политиков, которые быстро овладели искусством винить во всех возможных несчастьях соседние племена и их жестоких богов, оправдывая войны заявлениями о культурном превосходстве. Так вопиюще эгоистические военные кампании выдавались за альтруистические миссии, преследующие своей целью приобщить дикарей к цивилизации, — и это задолго до Джорджа Буша-младшего.


Древние греки считали свою культуру венцом человеческого прогресса, а всех остальных воспринимали как подражателей и обычных зевак. И им ничуть не прибавили скромности контакты с другими продвинутыми цивилизациями, например с финикийцами, у которых греки заимствовали алфавит, или египтянами, у которых они научились строить храмы, стоящие веками и выдерживающие даже землетрясения.

Если чувство превосходства возникает даже в такой ситуации, вообразите себе, что происходило на Дальнем Востоке, где Древний Китай с геометрической точностью разрастался вокруг своего географического центра, не имея сколько-нибудь значимых соперников среди других государств. Там не было ни Средиземного моря, которое могло разделить страну на две части, ни бесчисленных крошечных островков, где маргиналы могли найти убежище и призывать разочарованную молодежь к неповиновению. Император находился в самом центре материального и интеллектуального мира, его око было всевидящим, власть — абсолютной, и по положению он был равен Богу. Если Его Божественное Величество чихнуло, весь Китай должен был автоматически подхватить простуду.


При такой идеальной политической системе даже не нужно было придумывать какие-то истории, чтобы объяснить происхождение варваров за границами государства. В то время как древние греки прибегали к помощи мифологии, древние китайцы обращались к прозе. Они просто-напросто говорили о северных, восточных, южных и западных болванах.

Подобное слияние идеологического и географического центров можно наблюдать на большинстве средневековых карт Европы, которые сохранились до наших дней. Учитывая историческую сложность и многообразие Европы, они потрясающе колоритны. Такие шедевры, как, например, Херефордская и Эбсторфская карты XIII столетия, созданы не только с целью навигации — они соединяют в себе мифологию, религию, географию и историю. В результате мы видим почти энциклопедические коллажи,центром которых является Иерусалим, а вершиной мира — небесный трон Иисуса.

На этих картах можно обнаружить самую изысканную подборку стереотипов, предубеждений и иллюзий, на которые способен человеческий разум, и все они тщательно проиллюстрированы и снабжены примечаниями. Христианское представление о мире с его святыми местами переплетается с мировосприятием древних греков, согласно которому полюса Земли были населены мутантами, ставшими таковыми из-за суровых погодных условий. Тут надо заметить, что средневековые люди, как и древние греки, не особенно беспокоились по поводу неподтвержденных фактов.


К примеру, на Дальнем Востоке, по их мнению, обитало племя большеногих людей, которые использовали свою единственную гигантскую ногу в качестве зонтика, закрываясь ею от палящих лучей солнца и тем самым успешно снижая риск развития меланомы. Африку населяли циклопы и четырехглазые люди, появившиеся, судя по всему, в результате опытов, производимых в древней лаборатории, которая специализировалась на трансплантации глаз. А по пустынной вымерзшей Сибири кочевали сыны Каина, сосланные туда Александром Великим, и выжидали удобного случая, чтобы устроить кровавую бойню.

Но одно из самых интересных мест — это Северная Скандинавия, страна людей с собачьими головами. Существование этой странной расы было крайне сомнительным, но тем не менее представляло собой серьезную теологическую проблему. Средневековые ученые никак не могли решить, была ли у этих существ душа и, соответственно, могли ли они рассчитывать на спасение, если обратятся в христианскую веру.

Этот гротескный парад уродов одновременно поражает и обескураживает. Одно дело, если люди предаются выдумкам, чтобы на время отвлечься от реальности. Но ведь они действительно во все это верили!

В наш век высоких технологий скоропалительные выводы особенно опасны. Но в состоянии ли мы раз и навсегда избавиться от предубеждений? Конечно, можно принимать их как данность, как свойственный человеческой природе недостаток. Однако список постулатов, которые считались незыблемыми, а позже были опровергнуты, длиннее, чем наша ДНК. Все, что сегодня представляет исключительную важность, завтра может стать несущественным. Отцы афинской демократии считали рабовладельческий строй основополагающим для общества и просто не могли представить себе жизнь без рабов. И что в результате? Теперь мы тактично стараемся не упоминать об этом факте всякий раз, когда поем оды Древней Греции как колыбели западной цивилизации. Идеологическая гигиена в ярчайшем своем проявлении!

У меня, разумеется, нет ответов на все вопросы, но их нет и у так называемых историков, утверждающих, что человеческому разуму не под силу преодолеть свои нынешние несовершенства. И если уж на то пошло, то этим должна заниматься психология, а никак не история.

История — странное создание. Она способна ослепить нас нашим же отражением, когда мы бросаем взгляд в ее глубокие таинственные воды. Многие из нас утонули в них, прямо как мифологический Нарцисс, чья влюбленность в собственную красоту оказалась сильнее, чем инстинкт самосохранения. Те, кто не знает историю, рано или поздно наверняка повторят ее. Но даже тех, кто знает, может постигнуть та же участь, если они будут толковать исторические факты исключительно в свою пользу.

Оставив в стороне вопрос о неизбежности, скажу вот что: для того чтобы преодолеть предвзятость, нужно просто почаще упражнять извилины. Если мы перестанем принимать за чистую монету все взятые с потолка идеи, которые изрыгают рекламные агентства в своих бесчисленных PR-кампаниях, и возьмем на себя ответственность за свой выбор, то не только избавимся от большинства предрассудков, но и существенно улучшим качество своей жизни в целом. В глобальном мире, где информация передается быстрее мысли, предрассудки — это всего лишь один из побочных эффектов интеллектуальной лени.

Yanko Tsvetkov

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The Atlas of Prejudice, Finally in Russian! Thu, 26 Sep 2013 23:59:59 +0000 As a gay author, I can't begin to express how lucky I feel to have a book about prejudices published in Russia. Let's hope it stays that way.

Yanko Tsvetkov


I have to admit that the first time I heard someone from Russia was interested in my book I thought it was a joke. And this uncertainty never really left me until I saw my title appear in the online catalog of the publisher at the beginning of this month.

Bulgarians have a love/hate relationship with Russia. On one side there is the enormous admiration for Russian culture, the linguistic and geographical proximity, the common history. On the other side we have communism, repression, hegemony and… even more common history. People usually discard one at the expense of the other. I can’t. I feel equally fascinated and intimidated.

I remember a journalist from the Izvestiya newspaper calling me in London, days after The Telegraph featured my Mapping Stereotypes project. During the interview she asked me what was my opinion about Russia. This is what I said:

I love Russian culture. When I was a kid I was extremely influenced by Russian literature, in particular the fairy tales of Kashchey the Deathless.

Because, you know, Dostoevsky is so last week. And then of course I had to make things even more awkward, admitting that I am in love with Stalinist architecture.

Of course I shouldn’t feel embarrassed to say what I think and I was completely honest. Kashchey (along with Baba Yaga) was one of the most impressive characters from my childhood and I really find buildings like Hotel Ukraina absolutely poetic.

However, where I’m coming from, none of these things are appreciated for what they really are. There are always a couple of layers of extra meaning. My friends who had lost family members during communism detest them, they project their loss on every symbol from the communist past, from the bubble gum packaging to the space rockets. My other friends who are still dwelling in the past with its Utopian promises are using them as counterarguments for everything they don’t like about the present.

I feel caught in the middle because for me a building, a mythological character, or even the whole bibliography of a literary genius, don’t come packaged with an ideology that I have to accept or reject, regardless of the cost. There’s something incredibly sad about seeing things in black and white, in mixing politics with culture, and banalities with symbols that survived the test of time. It’s true that no artwork is created in a vacuum but dismissing its beauty because of it is just pathetic.

This year for the first time since the beginning of the 90’s I felt the unsettling spirit of the Cold War creeping back on the political scene. Perhaps it is the Syrian crisis, perhaps it’s just historical inertia but the propaganda machines seem back on track in full swing. On one side, American media delights in discussing Russia’s human rights record, conveniently marginalizing US atrocities like Guantanamo and the NSA scandals. On the other, Russian media excels in regurgitating stories about Bradley Manning, skipping the outrageous fact that the country put a dead whistleblower on trial.

And then there are the anti-gay laws in Russia, one of the most shameful things that had happened to this country in the 21st Century. Of course people like John McCain, the anti-equality Arizona conservative, were quick to criticize the Russian politicians because they “codify bigotry against people whose sexual orientation they condemn“.

Things like these make me angry. Because they force me to do one thing that I really hate – talk publicly about my sexuality. I’ve never paraded the fact that I’m gay but I feel disgusted by the people who voted for these laws, by their supporters and by the hypocrisy of bigots like McCain who try to hijack the conversation about my own rights just to suit their simple-minded political bullshit peppered with the worst cliches of American exceptionalism.

Do people really have to take this shit? From both sides? What if we just stand up and leave the room while those idiots are talking? I know how idealistic this sounds. I know it may not even be possible. But a gay man can dream.

So here’s the thing. The Atlas of Prejudice debuted in German, then got published in English this summer (so bigots like McCain can read it). And now it’s available in good old Russia so those opportunistic homophobes around Putin can take a look as well.

Job done. I’m off partying!


Yanko Tsvetkov

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Democracy, Tyranny, and Art Fri, 20 Sep 2013 20:30:52 +0000 The direct correlation between artistic and political freedom is a noble rule but there are far too may historical exceptions for it. Here's one of them.

Yanko Tsvetkov

The Battle of Anghiari

How political and artistic freedom don’t always overlap

While shooting the movie The Third Man, Orson Welles, who played the main character, decided to improvise with the dialog and added the following rant to the script:

In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace — and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

It’s an interesting thought but it definitely doesn’t do justice to the Swiss.

To begin with, the first known cuckoo clock was actually a possession of August von Sachsen, who, like many other provincial German rulers during the Renaissance, had a penchant for sophisticated eccentricities.

The most significant Swiss invention to date is a set of fonts, which is more ubiquitous than Coca Cola. This set was created by Swiss typographer Max Miedinger in 1957 and was named Helvetica, after the Latin name of his homeland.

Today, Helvetica is the de facto standard in modern graphic design, spurred by the rise of the International Typographic Style. Like most things that claim universal appeal, it is bland, neutral, faceless, inexpressive and unemotional.

This is exactly why it’s so invisibly omnipresent. Helvetica is the default font on your iPhone. It’s used in logotypes for countless popular brands like Lufthansa, McDonald’s, Gap, Orange, Motorola, Panasonic, American Apparel, BMW, Target, J.C. Penney, Kawasaki, Zanussi… Even Arial, the font family that secretaries around the world have come to love and cherish, is a Helvetica rip off, Microsoft-style.

This ubiquitous typeface and the design philosophy that underlines it have a cult following which, in its attempt to purify modern design from any unnecessary detail, has reached a level of fanaticism that could make any suicide bomber blush.

If there is a dark side to democracy, as Orson Welles implied, it must be that sometimes, in a very ironical way, the cultures that thrive under it may develop striking limitations in their blind pursuit of compromise. By contrast, societies which are run by despotic and undemocratic principles may spark unparalleled freedom of thought.

Illustration: Peter Paul Rubens’s copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Battle of Anghiari. Allegedly from left to right: Francesco Piccinino, Niccolò Piccinino, Ludovico Trevisan, and Giovanni Antonio del Balzo Orsini.

This article was first published on Medium on August 16, 2013.

Yanko Tsvetkov

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When Your Own Satire Bites You in the Ass Sat, 14 Sep 2013 02:42:19 +0000 Being a smartass is dangerous. If you get your facts wrong, you'll still remain an ass, albeit a dumb one. And that changes everything. Here's an example.

Yanko Tsvetkov

Writing satire is not easy, especially when you’re supposed to mock real people. To get a real idea how dangerous it can be, take a look at this alleged Barack Obama gem. It’s actually written by “actor, writer, filmmaker, comedian, and author” Albert Brooks, and it’s supposed to mock Vladimir Putin’s recent New York Time op-ed.

Of course Putin deserves all the mocking he can get. What he doesn’t deserve is this writer’s ignorance because it turns the entire joke on its head and leaves the reader gasping for air for all the wrong reasons. Let’s start with this epic line:

Mr. Putin, we put a man on the moon and you barely got a monkey home safely.

Did you hear this? It wasn’t a tsunami splashing. It was half of Russia simultaneously pissing on the floor laughing. You know, once upon a time, when Americans still bothered to properly fund their educational system, people actually knew that the first man in space was Russian. It was NASA who struggled with monkeys. The Russians rarely considered using those animals because, to every American’s surprise, Russia is actually not located in the tropics and monkeys aren’t freely available for space tossing.

Trashing the Russian space program and claiming America’s got the upper hand is hilariously tragic not only because historically Russians were way ahead in almost all aspects (first satellite, first dog, first man, first woman, first spacewalk) but because today America cannot send a single astronaut in orbit without relying on Russian rockets. Of course, people like the author of this tragic attempt at satire, are the same ones who let their own country’s space program deteriorate so much that when people say moonwalk, they think of Michael Jackson, not of Neil Armstrong. Funding wars around the globe is much more important than space shuttles.

It’s one thing to put down exceptionalism, but before you do that, you at least have to produce one Broadway show, or make one commercial airliner, or invent one type of salad.

This is the saddest point of the article. I know that refuting it would be useless because the author would probably never understand why. The Russian Broadway is called Bolshoi Theatre and is slightly classier. It was also founded in 1776. Russia has been making commercial airliners for ages and their salad is among the most popular ones in Europe even though it was invented by a Belgian guy.

So yeah, very funny. It would have been funnier if the author opened Wikipedia and read a few things about Russia to being with. There’s a lot of real stuff to mock but none of it is in this article.

Yanko Tsvetkov

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Atlas of Prejudice 2 Coming Soon Sun, 08 Sep 2013 19:22:11 +0000 After all the success it's time for a sequel. The next volume of the Atlas of Prejudice book is coming in February 2014 and I just finished its cover.

Yanko Tsvetkov

Atlas der Vorurteile 2 von Yanko Tsvetkov

After selling more than 10 000 copies in Germany in only 6 months and subsequently appearing in English and Russian, the Atlas of Prejudice is ready for a sequel.

In fact I have been preparing it ever since I finished the first book because 80 pages weren’t enough to collect all the ideas I had. The format was already predetermined, so I couldn’t go above it. This is one of the limitations of working with publishers. In my case it was the only one because my publisher in Germany, Knesebeck Verlag, gave me absolute freedom about every aspect of the book, front to back.

It’s easy to forget how much trust such a decision requires, especially with new authors who haven’t proven themselves commercially. Appreciating creativity is one thing but betting a significant part of the budget of your company on it is much more complicated. I am very thankful about that.

Now that we have not only creative ideas but also a solid financial success behind us, Knesebeck Verlag and I are going to continue our collaboration on the next version of the book, the Atlas of Prejudice 2. It’s scheduled to appear in February 2014 on the German market and it will expand the project beyond national stereotypes. The cover, which I just finished, may give you an idea about the new direction. The rest is contained in the draft annotation that describes the project at its current stage:

It’s easy to forget that each and every one of us is culturally biased. A real explorer is able to recognize this psychological flaw and steer clear of it when he gets in touch with a different culture. For the truly adventurous, the world is not a tourist destination but a stage, a platform on which nothing is certain and everything changes all the time.

People who are able to rise above their own cultural limitations often appear as weird. But this weirdness is often projected upon them by the limitations of our own minds we like to describe as “normal”.

In order to truly explore human nature we have to burst the cocoon of cultural preconceptions in which we so eagerly wrap ourselves. We have to overcome the fear of losing our own identity in the process. We have to reject the idea that we are simply products of our societies and rediscover our true roots that run much deeper than any social, cultural, or political accidents.

This book is for those of us who have both the courage and the sense of humor to recognize that.

Stay tuned.

Yanko Tsvetkov

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Atlas of Prejudice: The European Age of Incest Tue, 20 Aug 2013 15:47:01 +0000 The good old days of absolute morals and unshakable abstract values are long gone but it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves about them once in a while.

Yanko Tsvetkov

Get the Atlas of Prejudice on Amazon US | UK | Germany | France | Italy | Spain


The short essay The European Age of Incest and the map Europe According to Charles V (1555) are taken from the first volume of the Atlas of Prejudice by Yanko Tsvetkov. The book was first published on the German market in 2013 where it became an instant hit selling more than 10 000 copies. The English version of the book was published worldwide on August 11 and is currently available on Amazon.

There weren’t any iPhones in the Middle Ages and nobody today assumes the opposite. Even though we are aware of the immense technological gap between our time and the medieval period, there are some political differences which aren’t so easy to spot. One of the most significant is that the term nation didn’t actually exist. The concept of a national state emerged during the 17th Century, after the Thirty Years’ War.

In 16th Century Europe, states covered the territories owned by the aristocracy associated with a particular crown. Whole regions switched ownership as frequently as Imelda Marcos switched shoes. Royal marriages were political acts through which empires were consolidated or partitioned. Unwilling to share power with strangers, ruling aristocrats started to marry their close relatives, which along with the benefits, brought many genetic disorders.

One of the most powerful monarchs Europe had ever seen, Charles V, by the grace of God, Holy Roman Emperor, forever August, King of Germany, King of Italy, King of all Spains, of Castile, Aragon, León, Navarra, Grenada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Majorca, Sevilla, Cordova, Murcia, Jaén, Algarves, Algeciras, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, King of Two Sicilies, of Sardinia, Corsica, King of Jerusalem, King of the Western and Eastern Indies, Lord of the Islands and Main Ocean Sea, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Lorraine, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Limburg, Luxembourg, Gelderland, Neopatria, Württemberg, Landgrave of Alsace, Prince of Swabia, Asturia and Catalonia, Count of Flanders, Habsburg, Tyrol, Gorizia, Barcelona, Artois, Burgundy Palatine, Hainaut, Holland, Seeland, Ferrette, Kyburg, Namur, Roussillon, Cerdagne, Drenthe, Zutphen, Margrave of the Holy Roman Empire, Burgau, Oristano and Gociano, Lord of Frisia, the Wendish March, Pordenone, Biscay, Molin, Salins, Tripoli and Mechelen, was a product of centuries of exquisite royal incest.

As a consequence, he suffered from severe case of mandibular prognathism, a genetic disorder which develops an abnormally extended chin, a condition that colloquially carries the name of his dynasty—Habsburg jaw.

He was unable to chew his food properly, suffered from indigestion and usually ate alone. Logically, the abundance of such genetic defects also meant abundance of power, wealth and land.

There is a famous quote attributed to him: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”

Apart from letting us know that in the early 1500s horses were fluent in German, those words are a testament to His Majesty’s cosmopolitan spirit.

Being the undisputed ruler of Spain, Charles V had direct access to the immense resources of the Spanish colonies in America. Centuries ahead of his time in terms of fiscal innovation, he borrowed heavily from Genovese bankers, using the loans to finance wars and chase the French out of Northern Italy. On their way home, they famously brought with them Leonardo da Vinci who was seduced by Francois I, the king of France himself.

That’s one of the reasons the Mona Lisa is now in the Louvre but don’t blame Charles V about it. Nobody could have foreseen that a common portrait of a woman with questionable beauty could one day become the most famous painting in the world.

Francois I was the arch-enemy of Charles V. Un­­able to forget the Italian loss, the French king resorted to extreme measures. He allied himself with the only man who could rival the power of Charles V: Suleiman the Magnificent, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

For the first time in history a Christian kingdom entered into a political alliance with a Muslim power. Suleiman twice laid siege on Vienna, wreaking havoc among the Catholic world. When he retreated, probably out of negligence, he forgot several bags of coffee and a basket of croissants. The Austrians found them irresistible and stole the recipe, which was in turn stolen from them by the French, who today consider it part of their cultural heritage.

Yanko Tsvetkov

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