Guest Post: Connecting Mongols Between Mongolia and China Through Hip Hop

By Thalea Stokes

The Project

My time in Mongolia and China has been towards the aim of coming to a deeper understanding of Mongolian hip hop culture in both nations, and how those cultures interact, intertwine, and inform each other. Beginning in July 2018, I spent four months in Ulaanbaatar and two months in Hohhot immersing myself in Mongolian hip hop culture and history, interviewing fans, casual listeners, and industry professionals, navigating the virtual spaces of Mongolian hip hop culture, and participating bodily in gigs, concerts, dance competitions and classes, and graffiti. Doing these things had inverse difficulty levels for from Mongolia to China. I dedicated more time there simply taking in Ulaanbaatar as a city and a culture, as it was my first time in the country, which was difficult. Yet it was very easy for me to connect with people in person and virtually. Meanwhile, this was my fifth trip to Hohhot in a series of several trips to China over many years, thus understanding the area was not a challenge for me. Instead, connecting virtually and personally with fans and industry professionals was what was difficult, as people in China are restricted in terms of artistic expression. Pursuing such a line of inquiry as Mongolian identity through hip hop can be dangerous both for the pursuer and the pursued. Nevertheless I progressed as carefully and conscientiously as I could, and was privileged to have been taught a great many critical things about Mongolian hip hop culture.

What I Learned, Encapsulated

I could give an overarching summary of all that I researched—and indeed I will in the context of completing my dissertation—but instead I will share a single experience that touches upon many of the myriad themes that were manifested and consistently present through my research. During my time in Hohhot, I had very few opportunities to go to hip hop concerts or live shows, so when one presented itself, I did my best to take advantage of it. One such live show opportunity presented itself well in advance, and I immediately made concrete plans to go. On the day of the show, I got a WeChat message from one of my interlocutors that the show was happening. He wanted to make sure that I was going, and I assured him that I was, not only for the main act of interest (Alihan Dze), but because an Inner Mongolian rapper (Billy King) that I particularly like was slated to perform and I wanted the chance to possibly connect with him for an interview.

Just a few hours later, I received another message from the same interlocutor telling me that the main act was cancelled. I pressed a little, trying to find out if the entire show was cancelled or just the main act. I didn’t get a clear answer, and something in myself told me to stop pressing further. I decided, for several reasons, to stay home.

It wasn’t until later that I found out on Facebook—utilizing my VPN to stay connected with my friends and contacts in Mongolia—that the act was cancelled because Alihan Dze had been denied entry into China, and possibly even banned, for having rapped about a kind of “one Mongolia” philosophy at some point in the past. I was immediately frightened and relieved that I had decided against going to the show anyway, lest there be undercover government officials seeking to find out just who would be interested in listening to an artist who posits ideas unfavorable to the Chinese government.

What this incident showed was that: there are active artistic collaborations going on between Mongolian and Inner Mongolian hip hop artists; these collaborations can and do tend to foster amiable, even familial feelings between the two groups under the philosophy that Mongols in China are still part of the whole Mongolian family, i.e. a “one Mongolia” cultural philosophy; Inner Mongolian hip hop artists are at the mercy of a government that necessarily and severely restricts the kinds of topics they can express and the kinds of associations they can make, and yet still manage to express their Mongolian identity through hip hop culture. They strategically conceal overt expressions of Mongolian identity with generalized proclamations of self-love and respect for others, and by encouraging their audience to open their minds and “think freely.”

The Most Important Takeaway

Where these two hip hop cultures critically intersect is through the complicated relationship between the two groups of people. In the past, Mongols in Mongolia were wont to look down on Mongols in China as not being “real Mongolians” but instead being Chinese with some Mongolian cultural characteristics. Inner Mongolians have generally felt a deep pain over this perception, as they view Mongolia as their ancestral home, and longingly as a home many of them will never be able to see. But through collaboration, artistic mediums, and virtual information sharing even despite the severe restrictions in China, Mongols in Mongolia and Mongols in China have been changing that relationship from one of conflict to one of enlightenment and more understanding with a desire to be a single, connected family that is simply spread out over great distances. Mongolian hip hop culture has been part of this ameliorating and unifying project (here is just such a collaboration video done by both Mongolian and Inner Mongolian hip hop artists). As it continues to evolve and its participants continue to share and learn from each other, Mongolian hip hop culture across the two nations will continue remain unpredictable, harrowing, and deeply meaningful.

About Thalea

Thalea Stokes hails from Atlanta, GA, and is a classically trained bassist who has been invested in exploring the musics of many cultures for many years. After receiving earning a Bachelor’s in music performance, a Bachelor’s in Global Studies with a regional focus on China, and a Master’s in music research, Thalea began and is currently working toward a doctorate in ethnomusicology. Thalea’s primary ambition in life is to open a school for world music to be based in the US.

Posted in Mongolians in China, Music, Nationalism, Pop Culture, Research on Mongolia, Social Change, Society and Culture, Thalea Stokes | Leave a comment

Genuine Protests or Political Grandstanding

By Julian Dierkes

A group of MPs is clearly trying to mobilize against M Enkhbold through the organization of public protests. We saw such protests at the ever end of 2018, but they have been announced for January 10 as well with the possibility of parallel protests across aimag capitals.

MP Lu Bold is among the most active organizers of these protests.

For many Mongolians, these protests seem to raise the question of whether they are “paid for” or somehow genuine and the default answer to this question seems to have become that these are opportunistic protests organized for particular political goals associated with individuals, not with a larger reform of political culture/processes. But how would we know?

Corruption, Conspiracies, and Protesters for Hire

In conversations about politics with Mongolians, conspiracy theories are almost the default, whether that is with individual voters, or with politically-powerful individuals. This, along with and as a cause of a general political apathy is preventing Mongolians from acting on the political frustration that has been building up over the past couple of years. Given the level of frustration, I do think that real change is coming to Mongolia over the long-term, but there are many different imaginable ways by which change could be brought about. Since protests are an obvious path to change, I think it is important to consider how we might evaluate protests when they do occur.

Given wide-spread suspicions about the importance of money in all things political, many Mongolians seem to look at protests through a lense of suspicion regarding the motivation of protesters, frequently asserting that many protesters are paid to protest, and thus may have no loyalty to the cause that they may be protesting for.

Paid Protests Possible?

One of the first questions that occurs to me in that context is: could individuals/groups actually organize large-scale protests by hiring protesters? I think the answer is probably yes.

I have not been able to get very concrete information on what the going rate to hire a protester is, but guesses seem to come in around ₮10,000 or so. Assuming that a crowd of at least 5,000 is needed to make protests seem significant that would suggest a required budget of ₮10,000 * 5,000 = ₮50,000,000 or around US$20,000. Certainly within the realm of the possible when there are wealthy organizers involved, though this calculation disregards the additional and potentially substantial costs that are required to maintain structures that can be used to organize protests, including logistics as I mention below.

Indicators of Paid-For Protests

So, what might be some possible indicators to identify paid-for protests?

Protests Logistics

In conversations with Mendee, we have come up with some specific aspects of demonstrations that we could look for that would indicate that these protests are orchestrated:

  • is there evidence of transportation being provided to demonstrators? Protesters who are devoted to the cause of a protest would likely organize their own transportation a protest, while transportation is likely to be provided for those who are paid to participate. Obviously, this factor is even more salient in winter-time protests when few people are going to walk a great distance for a protest. So, evidence of staged protests might come in the form of buses and minivans that can be observed dropping significant numbers of people off near a protest site.
  • is there evidence of meals being provided to demonstrators? Again, those who are paid to demonstrate might expect a meal to be provided when demonstrations might last over several hours, especially over lunch-time. So, evidence of food being handed out to demonstrators? [cold weather factor – are there any warm places/buses/ provided? protestors are taking turns to escape from the cold weather?]
  • what do signs look like that protesters are carrying? Are these largely hand-written even when they copy general slogans that have been given out or have appeared in social media for protests? Or, are they printed, with some evidence of mass production?

Obviously, all of these indicators can be faked, i.e. you could pay someone an additional fee to paint their own signs, but let’s hope that protest managers do not read our blog, so that they will not adjust their strategies accordingly.

Actors Involved

Clearly, currently active and powerful politicians are immediately “suspicious” in terms of the genuineness of their protests. For example, MP J Batzandan is clearly involved in the planning of Jan 10 protests, but he has been involved in many, many protests over the years, including the July 1 2008 riots. It will be hard to persuade many Mongolians that his involvement in protests is not motivated by some kind of political play rather than being genuine in its anti-corruption thrust, for example. The same could be said for Lu Bold as another prominent organizer of the Jan 10 protests.

On the other hand, there are some actors that would have more credibility if they got involved in protests, particularly individuals or groups who have previously not participated in party politics. By political actors I mean both, individuals, as well as parties or other movements. With their recent resurgence in prominence, for example, if the Monoglian Labour Party (XUH) joined a particular protest, that would likely add credibility of a genuine dedication an issue, at least at the moment.

At the same time, there are also participants in demonstrations that are a “kiss of death” for further involvement, like the various extremist and nationalist group who seem to be making it their habit to join protests.

Crowd Composition

Whether or not a large part of the protesting crowd might be composed of paid protesters might be clear by looking for certain groups like the elderly or students who are more likely to be attracted to payment for daytime protests than working age Mongolians, for example.

Some of that crowd composition may be visible on photographs, but the best evidence in this regard would probably come from observers/journalists walking through the crowd to pick up on different groupings or the mood and conversations going on.

Beyond the prominent of a particular group, more genuine protests can also be expected to attract a wider variety of participants, not only pensioners, but pensioners AND parents, or young people AND individuals from the countryside.

Resiliency/Sustainability of Protests

Another criteria to judge protests and protest movements by would be to look for some kind of sustained engagement. Not only would repeated hiring of protesters get expensive, even by the very simple guestimate we offered above, but if repeated events continue to attract crowds, it would seem like there is more genuine involvement in the topic that they’r protesting. With the announcement of nation-wide protests for January 10, we might also include the spreading of coordinated protests as a criterion.

Not Quite a Checklist

While this does not quite give us a list of criteria by which to distinguish genuine from politically opportunistic protests, these are some of the aspects will be looking for in coming demonstrations.

And, whether or not a specific protest is genuine or staged, any large protest surely creates opportunities for more mobilization and for new political actors, voices or leaders to emerge.

Posted in Politics, Public Opinion, Social Change, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

Embassies in Ulaanbaatar on Social Media

By Julian Dierkes

A recent post about the Twitter accounts of foreign embassies in Ulaanbaatar proved to be more popular than I had anticipated, so I’ll turn that into a blog post below.

Tweeting Embassies in Mongolia

Having checked in with John Langtry (outgoing Australian ambassador), I have also added his account to this listing as representing the embassy of Australia.

In the initial listing, I had missed the Kazakh embassy in Ulaanbaatar.

With that, there are currently (early Jan 2019) 11 embassies in Ulaanbaatar who maintain active Twitter accounts:

There are a number of ambassadors who maintain a personal presence as well (Jiri Brodsky, Czech ambassador may currently be the most active, the UK’s Philip Malone, Italy’s Andrea de Felip and the EU’s Traian Hristea are also represented), but these are more difficult to track. Of course, there have been some stand-out communicators in the past, most notable perhaps the UK’s Catherine Arnold who set the standard for engaged and engaging ambassadors from 2015-18 and recently received an O.B.E. for her diplomatic contributions.

What are they Tweeting?

For the most part, these accounts are fairly staid in their social media use. Most of them look very corporate, i.e. they follow design prescriptions from their ministries with the possible exceptions of the Russian embassy which uses a hard-to-see photograph of their not-so-striking-but-very-large embassy building and the Australian embassy which features a photo of the ambassador.

The Australian ambassador is also the only of these accounts that gets a bit more personal at times and also more active, while all the other accounts typically send out a fairly standard press-release-like diet of photos of ambassadors shaking hands (but not telling us what they might have spoken about with various Mongolian interlocutors) or promotion of activities of their embassy.

Embassies on Facebook

A number of these and other embassies also maintain a presence (often more active) on Facebook:

Posted in Australia, Canada, Digital Diplomacy, EU, Foreign Policy, Germany, India, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and ..., Russia, Turkey, United States | Tagged | Leave a comment

Blogging in 2018

By Julian Dierkes

Mongolia Focus is in its 8th year of existence.

We’ve continued to blog pretty steadily in 2018 with a total of 65 new posts this past year. Since July 2011, we’ve published at least one post every month for a total of over 570 posts.

Here are some highlights from Google Analytics:

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Energy Independence and Internationalism: Oil Extraction and Refining in Mongolia So Far

By Marissa J. Smith

As Julian penned his request for a study on renewable energy potential to members of Mongolia’s cabinet and other relevant policy-makers two weeks ago, London stock exchange-listed  Petro Matad continued its campaign of exploration drilling in eastern and central Mongolia.

As part of concerns about energy, development, and independence guaranteed by proper international relations, oil exploration and refining have been long-term interests for the Mongolian state and Mongolians more broadly. They have so far, however, been realized only on a small scale and with partial control of Mongolians themselves.

In the 1950s and 1960s, oil was discovered, extracted, and refined in central Mongolia at Zuunbayan and Mongolians trained as petroleum engineers in the Soviet Union and Romania, only for the drilling to be suddenly stopped (Sanders 2017, 671), and these engineers apparently retrained (Purev and Purvee 2006, 15 and back cover). In the early 1990s, American petroleum geologists and engineers were quick to enter Mongolia. The New York Times reported that President George Bush was “intrigued” by President Ochirbat’s apparent invitation to drill at Zuunbayan in 1991, and suggested this may have influenced Mongolia’s being granted “most favored nation” trade status. Drilling by American-owned, British-listed company SOCO commenced at Tamsagbulag in the Matad soum, Dornod province in the 1990s (Sanders 2017, 671) but the site was sold to a PetroChina subsidiary in 2009, and tensions have since arose around the issue of the company’s Chinese ownership (Nielsen and Pedersen 2015, Pedersen and Bunkenborg 2012, Pedersen and Nielsen 2013). Recently there have been renewed concerns from Mongolians on the predominance of Chinese rather than Mongolian professionals among employees.

Reports of negotiations to construct a refinery with Japanese, and then Indian, “partners” near Darkhan have surfaced regularly in past years. Funding and expertise for a refinery are the most tangible result of Modi’s widely covered diplomacy vis-à-vis Mongolia and China circa 2015. In June, Mongolian news outlets reported that ground had been broken for a refinery at Altanshiree near Sainshand; just yesterday it was announced through state press agency Montsame that the refinery is thirty percent complete and Mongolian-Russian joint stock company Ulaanbaatar Railways is involved in construction (the photo, however, leaves room for skepticism about the progress of the project).

During fieldwork in Mongolia, I have found that the price of gasoline is a regular cause for comment on the ability and legitimacy of the current government, and taxi drivers bringing me to the center of Ulaanbaatar from the airport will often comment on the price of gasoline (and red meat) as soon as it has been established I am a Mongolian-speaker who has been away for some time. In the past two years, Battulga’s government, and particularly fellow wrestler-politician D. Sumiyabazar, Minister of Mining and Heavy Industry, has emphasized that oil and gas extraction would be pursued with renewed vigor (as I discussed in a previous post, at Davos, where he named Kazakhstan and Norway as nations to emulate), and the drilling by Petro Matad and (reported) construction of the Altanshiree refinery seems to be being framed at least as delivering on that promise.

Several features of Petro Matad bear further comment as they reveal a status quo regarding Mongolian state-corporate relationships and their international character. Mongolia currently imports around ninety-five percent of its petroleum products from Russia, via rail and truck; discussions about pipelines have repeatedly stalled (Sanders 2017, 673-674). Across Mongolian society, national “energy independence” (guaranteed by relations with third neighbors) is regarded as a worthy goal. How this independence is managed, however, is a point of potential controversy. During my fieldwork in 2010-2012, I was also told that the import of Russian petroleum products is conducted through Petrovis – the same company that is now a part owner of Petro Matad, and evidently transforming itself into another example of the familiar Mongolian multi-sector, partly internationally-owned company, with subsidiaries in construction as well as oil, natural gas, and coal extraction, processing, and energy distribution.

While associated with American and British third neighbors through part-ownership and listing on the London stock exchange, no doubt a huge point in its favor as far as establishing its legitimacy as manager of Mongolian energy, Petrovis is also of note because of the role of family members of the former General Director of Erdenet, Sh. Otgonbileg. His son, O. Sodbileg, currently member of parliament for Orkhon aimag (comprised of Erdenet city and a single neighboring soum, the fomer negdel collective established to supply food for Erdenet) was formerly deputy director of Petrovis (Sanders 2010, 803), and the family connections with Petrovis were emphasized to me by Erdenet Mining Corporation employees during the 2012 parliamentary elections. For voters then, at stake was Sodbileg’s connection with the Erdenet – if this connection to the community were strong enough, Sodbileg’s connections with Petrovis would be a plus, but if not, these could be a drain on the community.

To summarize, the distribution of petroleum products in Mongolia has already revealed concentrations of power through exclusive control over resources, but may prove an interesting area in which to observe how this is held to be legitimate management informed by expertise from the “developed” third neighbors versus stealing from the Mongolian nation by extracting and exporting without obtaining a “fair world market price” through collusion with Mongolia’s neighbors by Mongolians less fully bound to the state based in Ulaanbaatar, as has long been key to controversy about Erdenet.


Nielsen, Morten and Morten Axel Pedersen. 2015. “Infrastructural Imaginaries : Collapsed Futures in Mozambique and Mongolia.” Reflections on imagination: human capacity and ethnographic method. Ed. Mark Harris and Nigel Rapport. London: Ashgate. p. 237-262.

Pedersen, Morten Axel and Mikkel Bunkenborg. 2012. “Roads that Separate: Sino-Mongolian Relations in the Inner Asian Desert.” Mobilities 7.

Pedersen, Morten Axel and Morten Nielsen. 2013. “Trans-temporal Hinges: Reflections on an Ethnographic Study of Chinese Infrastructural Projects in Mozambique and Mongolia.” Social Analysis 57, 1: 122-142.

Purev, O. and G. Purvee. 2006. Mongolian Shamanism. Ulaanbaatar: Munkhiin Useg.*

Sanders, Alan J. K. 2017. Historical Dictionary of Mongolia. Fourth Ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

  1. Historical Dictionary of Mongolia. Third Ed. Lanham: Scarecrow Press.

* Gurbaadryn Purvee, a Darkhad Mongol and brother of shamanism specialist O. Purev, writes in the preface to this volume of his attempts to publish earlier versions of the manuscript in Romania when he was a student studying petroleum engineering in the late 1960s. Purvee later trained in Ulaanbaatar and Moscow as a labor economist.

Posted in China, Energy, Foreign Investment, Foreign Policy, India, Oil, Russia, Trade | Tagged | Leave a comment

Getting it right: Preventing Conflicts in Company-Community Relations

By BYAMBAJAV Dalaibuyan

Conflict with host communities is a major business risk for mining companies in Mongolia. Though we can cite many specific issues causing local opposition to minerals exploration and mining projects, recent research suggests they all can be related to two dimensions of unfairness—procedural and distributional.

Procedural unfairness

Procedural unfairness—decision-making regarding any resource project made without inclusive and informed consultation— has instigated protest and conflicts in many places, especially in case of green-field projects. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a good example. Inadequate consultation during EIAs have resulted in uncertainty and opposition among local community members in the next phases of a project. In Mongolia, local, rural communities—may seem to fragmented and remote—have much higher public participation compared to urban citizens. For example, social surveys have shown that their attendance of community meetings is high.

Having better access to information and more lessons learned compared to the situation in ten years ago, local communities have now stronger concern about whether they will be better off as a result of the presence of resource development projects.

Another example is local level agreements (LLAs) between mining companies and local governments regarding collaboration, social responsibility and local development contribution. Recent research from Natural Resource Governance Institute shows that the content of agreements has attracted much attention in contrast to the adequacy of agreement-making process, including preparation, research, and public consultation. Despite good intentions of companies, LLAs can go wrong if procedural fairness is not ensured. One reason why the negotiation of Oyu Tolgoi`s Cooperation Agreement with Umnugovi aimag took 4 years was a challenge to develop and agree on governance mechanisms that can ensure procedural fairness in a long run (30 years!) and in the context of short-termism in local government (4-yearly elections!).

Distributional fairness

Distributional unfairness—asymmetric distribution of impacts and benefits of a resource project—does not usually cause immediate protests or opposition, but, if persists, it can have an adverse effect on the future of a project. A multi-partite agreement is one way to address this issue. An example is a new cooperation agreement between MoEnCo Company that runs Khushuut Coal Mine, Khovd aimag, and two soums. In the previous bilateral agreement with MonEnCo, Khovd aimag government took the responsibility to share benefits received through the agreement and, thus, coordinate relations of host soums with the company. That did not work well: benefits were not fairly shared and the company encountered community dissatisfaction. Now, Darvi and Tsetseg, the host soums, are a party to the agreement and, moreover, they should receive 30% of the fund.

In Mongolia and elsewhere, distributional unfairness cannot be managed or addressed by mining companies alone. Others such as government, civil society, and local authorities have their roles. The government has initiated schemes for providing fiscal advantages to mining regions in the distribution of mining revenues (royalties and licence fees), but they have been incomplete and inconsistent. The most recent scheme that the government approved in April 2015, promising to distribute 30% of royalty payments and 50% of licence fees accrued from non-mega projects, did not last a year. The government lowered the rate for transfer of royalties from 30% to 10% in response to Mongolia’s high risk of default on debt obligations in 2016, and in fact, implementation of the transfer was temporarily suspended in 2017. Surprisingly, local governments—except their frequent rejection of exploration license application—and mining companies have been silent on these reversals.

To have a consistent scheme and create certainty for local communities, concerted campaigns of local governments, mining companies and civil society are needed to facilitate informed, broad discussions about distributional fairness in mining revenue sharing.

Such discussions can also touch on the fairness of distribution of water fee. In September 2013, the government increased water use fee for the mining industry approximately 6 times (630%). The new rate had a significant impact on the amount of local budget revenue from water use fee—the right to collect it transferred from soum to aimag. While the Water Law states that the fee should be distributed for environmental purposes recent reports of the National Audit found many deviations. Importantly, soums and local project-affected areas seem to have no gains from water use fee. Companies and local communities can work together to fix this. For example, under an agreement, Oyu Tolgoi, Khanbogd soum and local herder representatives committed to collaborate on receiving a fair share of Oyu Tolgoi`s water use fee (12 billion MNT in 2015) from the aimag government to address the mine`s environmental impacts.

Business risks

Despite other factors, the reality is, however, that the cost of perception of unfairness and, thus conflicts, is higher for companies, just think of project delays, halt in production, reputational damage, government intervention, and a slump in share prices. Mining companies and professional associations need to seriously think about a number of critical questions: How should companies address local expectation about social investment if the distribution of benefits accrued from the mining industry is not fairly shared by government with local communities? How should companies improve community consultation in impact assessment? Leaving these questions to personnel in charge of community or government relations or to consultants alone is a common mistake among company executives. Some companies have lessons learned and take this issue seriously, strategizing at senior executive levels and integrating into corporate policy and operational procedures, and now it is time for others to follow.

This article was originally published in Asia Mining Magazine in February 2018.

Posted in Mining, Mining, Mining Governance, Oyu Tolgoi, Protest | Tagged | Leave a comment

New to Ulaanbaatar December 2018

By Julian Dierkes

I’ve been keeping a list of things that are arriving to/disappearing from central Ulaanbaatar: August 2018October 2017June 2017 | May 2016 | December 2015 | May 2015 | May 2014 | October 2013 | October 2011. More informal versions of these observations also appear in the /ulaanbaatar/change/ category.

I’ve copied the 2014-18 lists here and am adding to it. New items since previous posts appear in italics. Since this list has been growing, I’m also beginning to delete some items that I’ve had on the list for some time. Strikethrough means that these items will be off the next list.

What has arrived?

  • sadly: Louis Vuitton, KFC, Burberry Kids, Ugg and a Porsche dealership
  • Mini, Bentley
  • child seats
  • sidewalks
  • parks
  • farmers’ markets
  • yoga
  • dogs on leashes
  • Sunday morning joggers and bikers
  • burgeoning coffee culture
  • river walkway along the Dund River (under construction in May 2015 but looking very promising)
  • city park along the Tuul
  • sports cars
  • organic shopping
  • gated communities (virtually all the new developments towards and in Zaisan)
  • wheelchair accessibility (moved from “What Will Appear” category as ministries are now (meant to be) wheelchair-accessible)
  • the “#замчөлөөл” hastag, a city campaign to shame property owners about their infringement of public space. Seems – quietly – very successful when you look at many photos posted.
  • large-scale BBQ extravaganza on the banks of the Tuul river, particularly near the ASEM Road. On summer weekends, so many cars parked right on the riverside, BBQs planted right next to them, families camping out, some literally
  • Harley-Davidson (now seemingly endorsed by new PM U Khurelsukh)
  • drive-home service for drivers who have been drinking. You call the service, they drop off a driver who drives you home in your car and is then picked up again. Given – fortunately – much stricter enforcement of drunk driving laws, a great service!
  • bike lanes and bike parking, being shooed off bike lanes by riders (though not in December!)
  • street names and signs in the city
  • fat tire bikes
  • home air filtration systems that everyone is talking about
  • Hummer stretch limousine
  • airport road is getting ever fancier, now there’s a giant overpass under construction just before crossing the Tuul on the way into town. Lots of fancy on/off-ramps popping up everywhere on roads.
  • Canadian cold weather brands, Canada Goose and Arc’teryx are everywhere, fake or not.
  • fully electric cars (though I don’t know where they charge)
  • electronic payment systems. There are a number of apps issued by Mongolian banks. There are some QR-code based payment systems. Often credit card payment is approved via a fingerprint reader.
  • Christmas Store, apparently

What has disappeared, or at least nearly?

  • stationary 80s-office-phone-looking old-granny cell phone booth
  • for-pay scales (actually, they seem to be hanging on)
  • free WiFi on Sukhbaatar, er Chinggis Khaan, er, Sukhbaatar Square, er, Chinggis Khaan Square
  • open gullys/missing manholes
  • street kids (they seem to come and go. In summer 2017 there were very few of them again.)
  • packs of dogs
  • smoking
  • the sixth-floor souvenir shop at the State Department Store (though perhaps seasonal)
    oversized sunglasses for women that were so popular across Asia (?) some years ago
  • Nescafé (see above on coffee culture)
  • surprise at seeing bicycles
  • hillside Chinggis visible from the city centre as more tall buildings are constructed

What will appear in the future

  • navigation systems
  • mental maps shifting to street names/addresses instead of landmarks
  • new airport, apparently opening in 2019. I drove by there in summer 2017. Oh my, it is far from the city!
  • subway (really, I wish they had selected light rail instead, but who knows whether either will come)
  • urban renewal and historical restorations embracing district north of government house (National University of Mongolia, German embassy, etc.)
  • road signs in the countryside (and not just the very random, very occasional ones that can be found now)
  • network of cross-country riding (bike and horse) trails (though not in central Ulaanbaatar)
  • parking (meters), electric charging in parking spots/lots
  • Combined Heat and Power Plant #5 (yeah, right!)
  • hipsters discovering УАЗ (minivan and jeep)
  • Canada Goose, Arc’teryx
  • giant hole blown into Bogd Khaan mountain to “drain” polluted air out of the valley (that actually is a proposal, but it will not appear! There also seems to be a proposal to blast away mountains on either end of the valley to let bad air escape!)
  • some kind of traffic routing system with overhead displays
  • tap payment system, perhaps using the transit card
  • Mongolia-themed coffee travel mugs

What will disappear in the medium-term future

I’m going out on a predictive limb here… 2-3 years is what I mean by “near future”.

Actually, since I have been predicting this as “near future” change for some years now, I guess I was wrong with all these predictions, and have changed the listing to medium-term future.

  • stray dogs
  • stretched-out hand to signal for a car ride
  • that awkward extra half-step on most stairs
  • whitening make-up.

What will disappear in the long-term future

I mean around 7 years or so. None of these seems to be coming true quite yet, so I’ve changed the name of this category from medium-term to long-term.

  • new (to Mongolia) cars that are right-hand drive
  • the neo-classical Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, with its Stalinist (if that’s an architectural style) spire [Tough call to make as the MFA building is now dwarfed by its own annex]
  • deels in the city [actually, they seem to be making a bit of a fashion comeback among young people]
  • some of the downtown university campuses
  • buildings of 4 floors or less in the urban core
  • Russian minivans (УАЗ452) but see above
  • the Winter Palace. It won’t disappear entirely, but it is more-and-more surrounded by a very urban and very tall landscape making it look somewhat forlorn.
Posted in Change, Curios, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Political Bowl of Цуйван

By Julian Dierkes

Clearly, the second half of November into December 2018 has been an exciting time for observers of Mongolian politics. When the SME Fund scandal started gathering protest online, I was about to by an airplane ticket to join the revolution. Instead, I waited two weeks and arrived just after the Khurelsukh government had survived a vote of no-confidence.

But, I arrived seeking answers to what recent events might mean for bigger political trends, and for my expectation that we’ll see some kind of revolution in Mongolian politics in the next, oh, ten years, either in spurts, or all at once. But instead of answers, everyone presents me with pictures of political alliances, conspiracies, and party politics that looks like a bowl of tsuivan, i.e. fried noodles, it is so confusing.


It is important to note that the current power struggles among Mongolian politicians and the possible reconfiguration of the party landscape is not about ideology or policy differences. That is too bad, as it would signal genuine debate that Mongolian voters might be interested in.

Instead, the account of the current turmoil that everyone has been giving me is about a struggle for power, and even more sadly, a piece of the business/corruption pie.

Why is it worth repeating these accounts of political alliances as they are based on conjecture? Because there are implications for the overall party landscape with possible splits of the two large parties, DP and MPP, and the arrival/rise of other political movements. But I would acknowledge that I am repeating common speculation, not analysis or fact below.

Parties: The Big Picture

Of course, the DP has been rife with factional fights in the past, nothing new there. The MPP has been able to maintain some more party discipline in the past, but has now broken into full-on internecine struggles. With all their faults (growth of corruption, lack of implementation of politics, no renewal of leadership), DP & MPP have collectively provided some institutional stability in Mongolian politics. Yes, governments change regularly, but more often than not, there is little change in policy that goes along with that change (other than personnel turnover which often leads to newly re-invented old policies).

The assumption for the moment will be that both parties somehow overcome the challenges to their unity (that they have largely created themselves).

However, there is some chance at splits in either of the big parties and below is what seems to be roughly the configuration that splits might take.


The fact that a party who has a supermajority and 1 1/2 years left to govern with that majority, now engages in seemingly suicidal internal struggles says a lot about Mongolian politics.

The fight pits former party leader and presidential candidate M Enkhbold and his “city” faction against the “countryside” faction of current PM U Khurelsukh who has come out of the MPP’s youth organization.

These two sides are so badly divided that the city faction forced a no confidence vote against the PM which they lost. In this fight, all kinds of rhetoric, but also more aggressive ploys involving various security agencies have been deployed. There is no ideological divide between these two factions. The Khurelsukh faction can vaguely claim a mantle of party reform, but really only quite vaguely.

Following the failed no-confidence vote, the Khurelsukh faction will likely continue to oust M Enkhbold from his position as speaker of parliament. Either side could announce a split from the party, though in the event of such a split, they would certainly fight over the significant party infrastructure that exists and that also became a subject of law suits and fighting when former president Enkhbayar split the MPRP off from the MPP in 2010.

There are some powerful party figures who seem to have remained in the background of the current fight, most notably perhaps former PM Su Batbold who has played a kingmaker-role in past cabinet reshuffles.


Note that there is a widespread assumption that the DP will win the parliamentary election in 2020 simply because Mongolian voters have swung back-and-forth between the two big parties over past elections, and despite the fact that the DP has not made any attempts to renew itself following its disastrous showing in the 2016 election.

The parliamentary caucus of the DP no longer is a caucus because MPs Bold, Murat, and Batzandan have been expelled.

That development along with other (factional) splits in the party suggests that a formal split may also be coming.

In such a split, MP Lu Bold seems like to seek to form a party of some kind. He has previously run in Khaan-Uul together with Ts Oyungerel who has been on a long campaign for sanitation in Mongolia that may also double as the beginning of a political campaign. Her brother Ts Bat may also be ready to make the jump into politics at that point.

The party establishment around S Erdene would likely continue on its not-so-merry path.

Formally, Pres Battulga is no longer a party member, of course, but in any realignment, the suggestion is that he would line up with former PM Altankhuyag.

The (very) dark horse in all of this DP speculation then is former Pres Elbegdorj. Would he ally with elements of a split MPP? M Enkhbold’s faction would seem the most likely in that case.


As I’ve noted, Enkhbayar and Ganbaatar have been somewhat quiet since the #Ждү scandal broke.


XUN is clearly getting some attention in the wake of recent scandals, but it’s unclear whether they can build on that attention and how any splits in MAHAH might benefit the formation of a new party.

Posted in Democratic Party, Ikh Khural 2020, Mongolian People's Party, National Labor Party, Party Politics, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Cabinet Reshuffle: Dambadorj for Foreign Education Minister

By Julian Dierkes

With all the scandals surrounding corruption in the past month and the no-confidence vote against PM Khurelsukh failing, it’s time for a re-imagining of a previous post. I’m expanding my campaign from trying to become the foreign minister to trying to become the foreign education minister.

Warning: attempts at (nerdy Mongolian politics) humour below. Note that this is based on a Twitter thread I posted on Nov 30.


Ts Tsogzolmaa voted for the motion of no-confidence against PM Khurelsukh in parliament on Nov 30. What makes that surprising is that Tsogzolmaa is a member of PM Khurelsukh’s cabinet where she serves as Minister of Education, Culture, Science and Sports. Khurelsukh appointed her to cabinet, but she now voted against him in the no-confidence vote. Would you agree that it is unlikely that she will remain in cabinet? In addition, a number of cabinet members are tainted by the SME Fund scandal, so perhaps we are due for a cabinet shuffle or Khurelsukh II?

And if a cabinet reshuffle, why not try something new, namely me as Foreign Minister of Education, Culture, Science and Sports?

My Qualifications to become Foreign Minister of Education

Biography/My Story

I grew up in Berlin, far Northwestern Mongolia, and thus practically Khovd with its strong tradition of powerful political leaders.

I am definitely not from one of the “30 families”, so move over, Nomtoibayar.

I enjoy lactase persistence.

I don’t wear a double deel (давхар дээл), but I do like to wear my themo-deel when it’s cold.

It has always struck me as odd how important candidates’ educational biographies seem to be in political campaigns, so here are the universities that I have attended or taught at:

  • Univ of California at Berkeley (BA)
  • International Christian University
  • Sophia University
  • Free University of Berlin
  • Princeton University (MA and PhD)
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of British Columbia (Assistant, then Associate Professor).

I speak some languages fluently (German, English, Japanese) and some if need be (French). I understand a surprising amount of Mongolian, but am shy about speaking it. Becoming Foreign Education Minister would be a great opportunity to improve my Mongolian!

I do try to have a sense of humour on occasion (like here), though most of my jokes flop in English for linguistic reasons or as too nerdy.

I have dedicated myself to supporting Mongolian graduate students.


Subject Knowledge Education:
Past research on history textbooks (Japan and the Germanies), legal education (Japan), and supplementary education (Japan), democratization (Mongolia).

Administrative Experience Education:
Currently Associate Dean at a top-40 global university (UBC).

I would be willing change my adopted name from Dumbledorj to Dambadorj (дамбадорж) to demonstrate my willingness to defend Mongolian culture against the onslaught of Western pop culture.

I am resistant to bribery and corruption because I’m hoping to be so good in this life that I’ll be reborn as a Mongolian throat singer in my next life.

I am definitely a social scientist and will pursue evidence-informed policy!

I have supported the Mongolian Olympic Team as a volunteer in Vancouver and London and hope to do so again at Tokyo 2020.

I have played field hockey for over four decades, this season I even scored a goal!


  • expand and institutionalize academic freedom
  • review tuition for state universities and budgets based on tuition only
  • no political appointments to education positions
  • create Mongolian-Canadian Friendship School
  • promote field hockey as an Olympic sport
  • build up applied research capacity, focused particularly on solar power and how cold can aid carbon sequestration
  • public funding for Mongolian ethno-pop (Javkhlan will support my nomination!) and ethno-rap
  • reusable cups at all Ministry-events to reduce the number of plastic water bottles
  • commitment to bike commuting (instead of chauffeured car) for summer months

Support my Campaign

Use #ДамбадоржболовсролСайд


Posted in Curios | Tagged | Leave a comment

Camping Nomads

By Julian Dierkes

Historically, Mongolians are a nation of “campers”. While perhaps less than a third of them still are mobile pastoralists, and even they are less mobile than they once were, nomadism and the movable home still play large in the Mongolian imaginary. Even in political discourse the symbolism of the free nomad comes up often.

In recent years, on short countryside trips within a day’s drive from Ulaanbaatar, I’ve noticed that camping has become a part of domestic tourism. No, not visiting relatives and staying in their spare ger. But actual camping, like we would do in Canada, i.e. with a tent, ideally with another family, a camp fire to sit around, etc.

The Mongolian countryside is set up well for camping. Except for the climate, of course, which restricts comfortable camping to the summer months. But otherwise, nature is very accessible, with relatively few unsurmountable obstacles like rivers and mountain ranges. There’s grass everywhere, though it is rarely a soft carpet of a lawn, more interspersed individual plants with rocks peaking through. Surface water can be hard to find, but Mongolians are more accustomed to life without ready access to unlimited amounts of tap water, so this seems like less of an obstacle.

Catering to Campers

And so it seems that businesses are catering to Mongolian campers.

Ger camps are the main infrastructure catering to foreign travellers in the countryside as they offer the experience of sleeping in a ger and they are set up only for the summer, as custom is very unlikely in other months in any case. Even in early June it can be hard to find an open ger camp as their business is so seasonal and also dependent on students on summer holiday for help.

But ger camps increasingly seem to be targeting Mongolian travellers in addition to foreign visitors. Often they have added small a-frame houses or cabins. Since they typically offer food to their patrons, they can easily extend restaurant services to nearby campers. More and more, they are offering electricity and running water, making them attractive for visits by campers as well.

They tend to be located near tourist spots that are as attractive to Mongolians to visit as they are to foreign tourists.

Tourism Business

Eco-tourism is often touted as a possibility for economic diversification. Unspoiled landscapes (if it wasn’t for the trash floating around in so many places), the eternal blue sky, life among animals, great accessible hiking… these are all features that are touted for these businesses. But, tourism remains underdeveloped as most travellers who will have some frustrating experience during their travels will know, and that is part of a critical mass challenge. You need some critical mass, but it should’d be so big that the “eco” aspects recedes.

Perhaps domestic tourism will give the business a boost? As incomes are on a longterm upward trajectory, more leisure activities are likely and foreign travel remains cumbersome other than to the large cities of Northeast Asia. Visits to Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo are exciting, but they are generally not relaxing.

Domestic tourism certainly seems to be growing in Mongolia. Here’s an example of one of our favourite Mongolia analysts modelling the 2017 domestic Mongolian tourism look.

Хархорины орк

A post shared by Mogi Munkhdul Badral Bontoi (@mbbontoi) on

A Changing Relationship of Mongolians with the Land

Even Ulaanbaatar residents often talk about summers spent with relatives, learning to ride horses, helping with animals, etc. Their relationship with the land is built around these experiences, I think.

But the growth of domestic tourism may be changing that. Some Mongolians at least are travelling across the country like Canadians travelling to national and provincial parks, i.e. in appreciation of the amazing resources and opportunities for recreation that the country offers. The same attitude can be observed on the banks of the Tuul River in the summer with hundreds of cars parked right on the river with BBQs and kids splashing in the river.

Along with this appreciation for recreation comes a different view of the land as a resource, one that is focused on the pristine beauty of the countryside. Well, not so pristine as many Mongolians have been noting in tweets from their summer travels this year.


Dissertation, Please!

Isn’t there some grad student out there who would want to look at the meaning of camping to Mongolians and perhaps the business of tourism?

Posted in Countryside, Curios, Social Change, Tourism | Tagged | Leave a comment

Party Implications of SME Fund Scandal

By Julian Dierkes

Since late summer, I have been speculating about different scenarios to bring about a change in political culture and in the party landscape. These speculations focused on trigger evens that might lead to protests which would lead to change.

In a sense, we have had the first of that kind of triggering event and it has hinted at some possible changes in the party landscape already, since the SME Fund scandal has left the MPP and DP somewhat speechless given the involvement of so many of its leading politicians in this scandal or hints at other state funds. And, in the process, the XUH party has enjoyed a bit of attention that has hinted at the possibility of electoral challenges to the MPP and DP.

Given past inability within the MPP and DP to reform themselves, especially under their current leadership, new parties or the revival of previously relevant parties does seem like one viable route to a change in political culture.

Note that I see two changes as needed urgently:

  1. comprehensive anti-corruption, pro-professional bureaucracy policies
  2. renewed political, ideological and policy contestation to offer Mongolian voters a say not just in whom they election, but also what kind of policies those elected will pursue.

Risks in Creating an Anti-Corruption Party

While a party organized around anti-corruption policies may be the most effective way to address systemic corruption and could also attract a fair bit of support in the electorate, I see such a party as a risk to the second element needed to get Mongolia out of the rut of cycles of new, but unenforced legislation and regulation coupled with populism that feeds on a lack of substantive debates.

Let’s say an anti-corruption party would win some non-negligible number of seats in the UIX in the 2020 election. That would give it a platform to hold government to account and to systematically examine policies for their corruption implications. That would be terrific.

But what position would this party take on raising teachers’ or doctors’ salaries, for example? Yes, there is an anti-corruption angle to teachers’ salaries, of course, but the real concern at the moment is grand, political corruption, not the day-to-day level of corruption that may also be plaguing Mongolian society. Sure, that “regular” corruption is also important to attack, but what I mean to say is that I would hope to see more political forces in parliament that offer a substantive position on the whole range of important choices Mongolia and Mongolians are facing. And, political culture would very much benefit from vaguely consistent positions on a range of issues by political actors, say broadly liberal vs broadly social-democratic policies. These ideological mantels are sometimes claimed by the MPP and DP, but so far, those claims have been largely meaningless in policy terms, I think.

Or, take another issue that has more grand corruption implications, perhaps, a sovereign wealth fund. Several such funds have been implemented in the past, and current political leaders have advocated for these again. Well, drawing on the lessons of the SME Fund, governance structures around such a fund should be constructed very carefully and that is an area where an anti-corruption party may be instrumental. But beyond the safeguarding against corruption and conflict of interest, what about the orientation of such a SWF? Would an anti-corruption party choose to emphasize the investment for future profit approach to an SWF (a liberal position that would emphasize taking funds out of Mongolia, basing decisions entirely on profitability criteria), or would it see opportunities for investment in the education of Mongolians or in diversification and employment opportunities within Mongolia (a roughly more social democratic position)?

When you line up MPP policies and compare them to DP policies, there is no ideological pattern to be found in either and voters would be unable to guess what position these parties would take on particular initiatives or challenges in the future.

So, an anti-corruption party would run the risk of being so focused on anti-corruption measures that it would neglect political discourse about other pressing issues.

Opportunities in an Anti-Corruption Coalition

To really give Mongolian democracy a boost, a coalition of two or more new/revived parties that are dedicated to anti-corruption and agree on the measures by which to achieve that goal, but differ in consistent ways on other political issues would offer more promise.

There are several different ways in which such a coalition could work, I think. Here are two:

  1. Planned obsolescence
  2. Elements of a shared platform

Ad 1. A single, true anti-corruption party might pursue an anti-corruption agenda only. It would dedicate any negotiating power it would derive from an electoral result to pushing through an anti-corruption agenda that would be specified in a specific and concrete election platform. If this agenda was passed, MPs could resign their seats, or if this “success” came within a certain short period before the next election, they might serve out their term, but the party would then dissolve for the subsequent election.

Ad 2. What if a coalition of parties agreed to a common anti-corruption platform, but competed over other issues? The practicalities would depend somewhat on the nature of the electoral system adopted, for example in first-past-the-post ridings, members of the coalition would probably want to agree not to compete, while proportional representation would be quite open to competition.

This coalition would agree on very specific platform items aimed at the shared anti-corruption goals, but would then leave it up to coalition members to specify other areas of policy. You might thus have two parties agreeing on public service reforms that would bolster the service’s independent, but at the same time competing with different visions for how to promote rural employment.

In the formation of a government, coalition members would be bound to their original agreement independent of whether they joined in a coalition together, individually or sat in opposition.

For a subsequent election, coalition members could review the anti-corruption achievements and decide whether they would renew the arrangement for another election or not.

[Addition Nov 21:] Parallels to DP Origins

When I was speaking about this more with Mendee, he reminded me that some of what I’ve written about here is instructive to think about in terms of the origins of the DP and thus the current party duopoly.

The foundation of the DP and its original components was focused on opposing the MPRP and bringing about democracy. It was an anti-party just as some parties might emerge now that could be anti-corruption. But that has also been the DP’s achilles heel and, ultimately, one of the weaknesses of the Mongolian political system. Namely, the DP never developed any kind of coherent ideological or policy platform. Yes, there were attempts by some to push the DP in the direction of (economic) liberalism, but these attempts never took root.

For different reasons, the MPRP also abolished its ideological and policy core, so that Mongolia has ended up with two dominant party that stand for nothing in particular in terms of a vision for Mongolia’s development.

Yet, the DP’s obsolescence was not planned for. And, the party’s inability to reinvent itself with a policy orientation has come to haunt Mongolian politics via patronage politics and corruption, as has the MPP’s.

That is precisely the risk that an anti-corruption movement focused on establishing a new political party faces.


I hope that any activists hatching plans for new parties or the revitalization of existing parties consider not only their anti-corruption motivations, but think beyond these to a renewed ideological competition that would offer voters an opportunity to voice their views on particular visions of Mongolia’s development.

Posted in Civil Will Green Party, Constitution, Corruption, Democracy, Governance, Ikh Khural 2020, Law, National Labor Party, Party Politics, Policy, Politics, Populism, Protest, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

Politicians in the Wake of the Ждү Scandal

By Julian Dierkes

Over the past several months, Mendee and I have written several articles describing the mounting political frustration in Mongolia and the likelihood of a series of upheavals brining about political change in the coming 5-10 years.

Well, such a triggering event has happened with the SME Fund scandal breaking out in early November. Now what?

We have not seen mass demonstrations two weeks into the scandal. Mobilization has primarily been limited to Twitter where #Ждү has been one of the most active and unifying hashtags we have seen emerge on Mongolian social media.

But, political stirrings have surely resulted and are continuing to play themselves out.


Mongolian politics has long been in the fog of the MPP (MAH in Cyrillic) and DP (AH) domination.

Yet, since the dismissal of B Batzorig as minister, neither party has really shown a strong reaction to the scandal, perhaps in part because there are so many allegations against both parties’ MPs in the context of various state funds.

PM Khurelsukh has remained somewhat clear of these allegations and has thus put on some (relatively mild) pressure for investigations into the state funds.

In part in a defensive reaction to such investigations, the City faction in the MPP has raised its voice again and is threatening to unseat Khurelsukh after merely a year in office. This threat is not based on any failings on Khurelsukh’s part, at least not obviously, or connections to the SME Fund, but seems to be pure power games in the usual cycle of the factions in both parties attacking each other.

Some individual politicians have attempted to defend their actions, to apologize and/or to repay loans, but such attempts at damage control have generally been met with derision. Interestingly, these attempts have meant that some Twitter accounts have come to life which had been subject to the general blandness of professional political tweeting that reached Mongolia some years ago, treating Twitter not as a forum for interaction with constituents or political rivals, but as a broadcast medium for bland political messages.


Curiously, the MPRP has been relatively quiet, even though its leadership, especially former Pres. Enkhbayar would otherwise rarely miss a chance to score a populist, anti-establishment point. Ganbaatar, his understudy, has also been fairly quiet.

Returning Political Actors

Perhaps these reactions (or lack thereof) simply confirm that the current configuration of political parties has found no answer to combatting corruption in its own ranks.

As the protest against SME Fund corruption has largely unfolded on social media, especially on Twitter, any analysis is subject to the biases of my particular bubble of people I follow. But within that bubble there appear to be some notable trends.

There are some actors I had been vaguely aware of, but that have really jumped into the limelight of protest against the SME Fund corruption. One example I had mentioned before is NUM Prof. Otgontugs.

She has also been involved in the movement to boycott the businesses involved in the SME Fund scandal, a somewhat novel tactic for political mobilization in Mongolia.

There are some politicians that had withdrawn a fair bit from political visibility who have become more active again now in discussions surrounding the SME Fund scandal. Not much had been heard from former Pres. Elbegdorj in the past year, but he has given some speeches recently, in part to defend expenses in connection with the ASEM summit, which have been linked to the SME Fund scandal as another example of the self-service attitude that some politicians have toward state fund.

Former Minister of Justice, Temuujin has also revived his Twitter account somewhat.

But most notable to me, has been the re-emergence of the XUH Party. It had initially formed ahead of the 2016 parliamentary election to serve as an alternative to the MPP-DP duopoly, but had unfortunately gambled on Ganbaatar as its face which had back-fired as it had cost the party a lot of credibility as a new force. Subsequently, Ganbaatar has been brought into the MPRP, of course.

At the time, I was also not impressed by some interactions with XUH Party representatives who were unwilling to say much about the party’s financing which doomed the party as an anti-corruption force in my eyes.

So, their Twitter account had laid more or less dormant in my timeline until the events of the past several weeks. Now, they are tweeting again, being re-tweeted, and several individuals have inserted themselves into public discussions. Naidalaa wrote a much-noted explainer of the system of corruption that came to light in the SME Fund scandal (which he translated into English for us). Munkhdul “Mogi” B announced that he would take on the leadership of the XUH youth organization.  This move in particular makes me personally very happy as I had been hoping that Mogi would get directly involved in politics for some time.

Obviously, it is entirely unclear what might come of the XUH initiative and I continue to speculate what constellation of different actors might bring about the most constructive political change (anti-corruption, but with more of a political/ideological/policy profile to spur political debate), but I am encouraged to see some mobilization occurring in the wake of the current scandal even though mass protests have not happened (yet).

Many readers will have a different sense of the voices that are prominent in the aftermath of the SME Fund scandal. Please share in the comments!

Posted in Corruption, Democracy, National Labor Party, Party Politics, Politics, Protest, Social Media | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Podcasting Mongolia

By Tsenguun T & Aldarsaikhan T

The Mongolian podcasting scene is growing rapidly since the production of the first Mongolian podcast Үлдэх Үг in mid-2016. There are close to 20 Mongolian podcasts covering various topics today, and this number is growing. With more content providers, Mongolian podcast listeners are increasing and the popular podcasts such as Unlock and Cool Mongol get over 20,000 per episode.

So why are Mongolians listening and creating podcasts? And who are they?

  • Podcasts are convenient and easy to listen to if you have a smartphone. On-demand technology allows for the users to listen to podcasts while they are commuting, exercising, cooking, cleaning or doing other menial tasks.
  • The number of traditional media organizations is declining with the surge of online media. Podcasting is becoming popular globally with the rise of mobile technology and internet accessibility. There are 550,000 podcasts as of June 2018 worldwide, which is an increase of 150,000 in less than two years. According to a 2017 study done by MMCG company, approximately 99% of the Mongolians aged 15-60 use cell phones, and 79% own smartphones. With growing access to technology and internet, more Mongolians are consuming mobile app-based goods and services.
  • Although there is no statistical information on podcast audience in Mongolia, some trends are easy to spot. A small survey conducted this year among the subscribers of one Mongolian podcast showed that most of podcast listeners are highly educated youth who also subscribe to English-language podcasts such as Hidden Brain, Stuff You Should Know, TED Radio Hour and Freakonomics.
  • According to the Mongolian Press Institute’s annual monitoring data, there are 434 media organizations operating in Mongolia in 2017. But 78% of these organizations are owned by private individuals. Average Mongolians tend to be wary of traditional media and the strings attached to its funders. However, podcasts eliminate this barrier and bring grassroots media to the people. It is evidenced by some of the Mongolian podcasts, which are produced by non-profit organizations.
  • Compared to traditional media, podcasts are relatively affordable to make and distribute. Thanks to low production and distribution costs, more and more individuals are developing contents on their own and spreading it for free.
  • Many of the Mongolian podcasters are young professionals who want to distribute their expertise, knowledge and commentary through curated content to the general public. It’s mainly because traditional media doesn’t have capacity and interest to consistently deliver in-depth topical information.

It is fair to say that the Mongolian podcast scene will continue to grow. Mongolians are increasingly sharing and promoting their favourite podcast shows and episodes on social media. But, many still feel that Mongolian podcasts don’t offer the variety and quality that English-language podcasts have. Mongolian podcasts are in the nascent stage of development, mainly being produced by people who invest their time and resources voluntarily. Little to no sponsorship opportunities exist for Mongolian podcasters, and this could discourage production continuity and quality improvements. However, with an increasing number of podcast listeners every day, sponsorship or other monetizing opportunities could emerge, which, in return, could allow better quality and competition among podcasters. With 2/3rd of its population under 35 years of age and large percentage of smartphone ownership, Mongolia could become a breeding ground for podcasts.

Below are the samples of Mongolian podcasts with varying format and content:


Available @iTunes, Stitcher, Castbox, Podbean

CoolMongol is one of the earliest independent Mongolian podcasts that has a faithful and steadily increasing listenership since its release in October 2016. Host Saintulga engages in easy-going, free-format, engaging dialogue with Mongolians who proved their expertise and talent in various sectors: finance, education, IT, architecture or street art. The latest episode was released in April 2018, featuring Amarbayar, a Mongolian IT expert working at Amazon. 


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher, Castbox, Podbean

Unlock is currently the most-listened Mongolian podcast. It is the only Mongolian podcast that specializes in breaking down and summarizing best-selling nonfiction books. Hosts are Tegshbayar, Delgertsetseg and Batnairamdal, who are young professionals who has experience working abroad. Releasing a new episode roughly every two week since June 2017, Unlock has so far introduced its listeners to 43 nonfiction titles, including among others those authored by Yuval Noah Harari, the late Hans Rosling, Hillary Clinton, and Malcolm Gladwell.


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox, Podbean

As a listener put it neatly, Felt City is a podcast that Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar, rightfully deserves. It was started in June 2018 by urban planning aficionados, Aldarsaikhan and Enkhjin. Hosts tackle numerous urbanization issues that Ulaanbaatar is facing one at a time, offering expert analysis and up-to-date information in easy-to-follow narrative. The podcast is not only targeting urban enthusiasts, but everyone who lives in urban setting. Professionally edited by a local artist Dulguun, the podcast’s music arrangement is a sure delight for the listener’s ears.


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Stitcher, Podbean, RadioPublic

Hosted by Enkhzul and Tsenguun, environmentalists by training and vocation, Sustainable Mongol is a blog turned podcast that focuses on sustainability issues. Releasing new episodes on a monthly basis since September 2017, hosts interview people from all walks of life who have contributed to a sustainable future of Mongolia. Once in a while, hosts conduct a light literature/news summary of a chosen sustainability topic, for example, climate change impacts on coffee industry.


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox, Podbean

While Unlock podcast attracts nonfiction fans,Үлдэх Үг is a gem for fiction readers of Mongolia. Bayasgalan, Tegshzaya, Byambanyam, who run a highly respected independent literary publishing company called Tagtaa Publishing, have been hosting the podcast since 2016. Authors, translators and bibliophiles are invited to discuss works of both Mongolian and world literature. Another active literary podcast is Санаагийн Подкаст, which is also available on the same platforms.


Available @iTunes, Spreaker, Castbox, Podbean

When it comes to health, reliable information is critical. Dedicated to health professionals as well as anyone who is interested, medical scientist and PhD Amarjargal has been providing scientific medical information about all kinds of health issues through her podcast since November 2017. In episodes lasting no longer than 15 minutes, Dr. Amarjargal walks her listeners through up-to-date medical research findings published on international peer-reviewed scientific journals. 


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox

Evoking BBC’s one-minute broadcast, Heregtei is all about brevity and efficiency. Episodes are scripted and last under 3 minutes, neatly packing various advice and tips on self-development, health and more. Since its inception in September 2017, the podcast delivered over 50 episodes on useful lifestyle information. The podcast has accompanying blog, which has extensive information.


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud

Jargal Dambadarjaa is a well-known Mongolian political and economic observer, columnist, and the host of DeFacto Debate, DeFacto Review and DeFacto Interview, which is broadcast on national television channels. Audio versions of his works are made available daily with this podcast. 


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox, Podbean

Started in February 2014, Business Radio 98.9 is Mongolia’s first private radio channel specializing in business and economic news. Listeners can choose daily broadcasts from over 20 programs. 


Available @Soundcloud, Castbox

Started in 2017, “Break the Chain” is a biweekly podcast on gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence and its various facets. Produced by Beautiful Hearts Against Sexual Violence NGO, the podcast features local and international experts in human rights, social welfare, development and media and more.


Available @ iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox

Mongolian Queer podcast has been recently released by the LGBT Center of Mongolia, a human rights organization that works for the rights of LGBTI people. Every Friday, new topics are covered, featuring guests from LGBTI community and supporters. 


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox, Podbean

Hosted by Tsogtbilguundari and Taivan, Seheeten is one of the most-listened Mongolian lifestyle & self-development podcast targeting youth. Since December 2017, the podcast has released 52 episodes, featuring 36 guests and 16 books. Similar podcasts include Positive Mongolians, Dreamongolia and Uhaarliin 7 honog, all of which are also available on the same platforms.  


Available @iTunes, Soundcloud, Castbox, Podbean

Started in January 2018, Mongol Student Podcast is a popular education podcast. Hosts are Davaajargal and Galbayar, Mongolian students studying in Japan and U.S.A respectively. They interview fellow Mongolians studying abroad, discussing about their student life and practical tips/information for those interested in pursuing education opportunities abroad.

Some fun articles to read if you want to learn more about podcasters’ mindset:

James Altucher- Why You Absolute Must Do a Podcast

Ryan Holiday- Please, for the love of god, do not start a podcast

About Tsenguun

Tsenguun Tumurkhuyag is a sustainability enthusiast who believes in creative, grassroots solutions to environmental challenges. Through awareness-raising, community engagement and cross-sector collaborative efforts, she hopes to contribute to a greener future. Graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a B.A in Environmental Studies, Tsenguun has worked for environmental organizations in U.S. and Mongolia. In her free time, Tsenguun produces Sustainable Mongol, a bi-weekly Mongolian-language podcast on sustainability issues.

About Aldaraa

Aldarsaikhan Tuvshinbat is a Mongolian national with a background in real estate development, urban planning, and architecture. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from MIT and a Master’s in Urban Planning from Harvard University. Before moving back to Mongolia in 2017, she worked at the New York City Economic Development Corporation overseeing some of the city’s major real estate developments. Aldaraa creates Felt City podcast with a fellow urban planner.

Posted in Aldarsaikhan Tuvshinbat, Business, City Planning, Environment, Gender, Higher Education, LGBTI, Media and Press, Politics, Social Change, Social Media, Society and Culture, Tsenguun Tumurkhuyag, Ulaanbaatar | Leave a comment

Guest Post: An “Alternate Economy” Run by Chieftains

By B Naidalaa

This article was originally published on on Nov 7 2018 as “Монгол дахь УЛСТӨРИЙН корпорацийн АЖИЛЧДАД ХЭЛЭХ ҮГ

The term “informal economy” or “shadow economy” applies to a segment of the economy  that is not registered, regulated, monitored, nor taxed, and yet manufactures, offers trade and services, and earns and spends income. It may also refer to the underground economy of robbery, corruption, illegal trades, and organized crime.

Alternatively, in Mongolia, a different type of economy led by parasite chieftains has formed, suppressing economic growth and social development. An “economy” so self-sustainable and circular, to the point that it extracts finances from the state budget and in turn has the political rights to spend the state budget. They approve laws and develop programs with the best possible humanitarian names, such as developing SMEs, supporting agriculture, innovation, for herders, locals, protecting animal husbandry, and promoting disabled people, which sound as if they’ll indisputably serve the citizens. Billions are allocated for these laws and programs in the state budget. Not only state funds, but tenders, concessional loans, bond loans, and whatever other ways to extract money from the state budget is an option for financing. This is not an underground economy; these processes are being registered, and their loans, budgets, taxes, and reports all seem like they’re running smoothly, legally, all according to the policy and regulations. Unfortunately, those funds will be distributed as loans, tenders, and grants in all stages only benefitting a few number of chieftains, ministers and political groups, without a penny going to the real owners or citizens. The allocation is done by chieftains of political groups unofficially. While the Mongolian economy belongs to 3.2 million people, this economy revolves around 10,000 (?) people, eliminating any opportunities for others to run their own business and innovate, devouring the majority of the country’s net profit and revenue.

These parasite members of the economy gain advantages by borrowing billions in interest free loans through backdoor deals, and then build their “SMEs” easily, or even just put it in their bank savings account, establish a non-banking financial institution and launder money with high interest rates, and/or earn unrealistically high profit within a short amount. Meanwhile, real business owners will borrow those high interest loans for their business to barely survive.

As for the “tax” and dividends, the “business owner” has no choice but to compensate these to the group which enabled the owner to get the multi-billion interest free loan. This is the real reason behind the instant expansion of some businesses, sudden construction of extravagant buildings, money laundering through real estate rents, immediate gain of wealth, and the reason land prices goes through the roof. The profit is then used to finance politics, donate to their own political party, buy off media and followers, and create an army of commenters brainwashing for their side. Whoever has the most followers, collects the most bag-holders (workers), pays them, and feeds them, are political businessmen, corporate owners, and has the most power. Gradually, one fraction of the political party or the whole party will be privatized and a private party will be formed. This is the reason why whoever can carelessly spend money in elections, why people own private television channels, and put a stop to media using a non-disclosure agreement. This is also the reason why the “political party”, despite its name, has turned into a political corporation.

Certain units such as party branch committee who work with low salaries to do the dirty work exist to fraud voters, press on their soft spot and oppress them, and distribute cash. During the election, part-time job seekers of the “we can do it” club, who allegedly distribute money and influence certain voting within certain groups, also surround the candidates. This is how political part-time jobs make up quite a bit of the labor market and income share within the Mongolian economy, and how political businessmen and corporation owners have become bosses and benefactors.

These workers do not in their conscious minds realize that they’re supporting this political network, distributing money, brainwashing the public, oppressing them, and going so low as to back-scratch these politicians, at the expense of their children’s future and their chance for a better life, all just for a small amount of money. Even ordinary citizens in both the city and rural areas have polarized political views, dividing and arguing with their brothers and friends on behalf of the parasite chieftains that they’ve declared superior. They do so in hopes that after the election, they’ll get their fair share, a crumb of the giant cake, that is the money to be extracted from the state budget. Many young people, in the name of doing politics, are “hired” in this political corporation. They show their loyalty to their master, become a cell, a tissue in the well-being of this parasite economy while unaware that they’re destroying their own future. Political corporation owners’ income and playing ground expands as individuals and businesses become poorer, their lives and businesses more challenging and burdensome. Hence, it’s in the chieftains’ best interest to evoke political instability, counteract new force and healthy thoughts, instigating the public against foreign and domestic investment, local, fair businessmen and wealth creators, and creating confusion and disorientation. Foreign interests interfere as well.

Thus, a country has formed inside a country, an alternative parasite economy within an economy. This economy benefits no ordinary citizen or business, rather revolves around the “chieftains”, their followers, and the election team which will distribute money for them. In other words, an economy for chieftains. Because this economy sucks the most from newly created wealth and state budget, no money is then available to increase teachers’ and doctors’ salaries, to build kindergartens and elementary schools, or to lend the real business owners. This is the reason jobs are not available, loan interests do not decrease, currency is unstable, businesses grow only too little no matter how hard one tries, and life does not improve.

Mongolia, and every Mongolian is being robbed of their opportunity to build, make, work, and create their future because they are seized by this parasite system and unknowingly serve it. Real change will happen not only by dethroning a few ministers and parliament members, but by eradicating this political financing structure which feeds on the state budget and ridding the state of relevant politicians. This will only be easily achievable when Mongolian people stop opposing each other politically and rather, oppose these insatiable chieftains.

About Naidalaa

Naidalaa was born in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (1975). He holds a BA in Business Economics from the University of Finance and Economics of Mongolia and a MSc in Economics from the University of Kobe, Japan. Naidalaa mainly worked in banking and business industries, and lead the non-governmental institutions: Mongolian Bankers Association (MBA) and Mongolia Economic Forum (MEF). In his early career, he also lectured economics at the University of Finance and Economics (UFE) of Mongolia. Areas of his interests include national development strategy, nation building, economics, sustainable development, green finance and investment.

He is also a party leader and one of founding members of the National Labor Party of Mongolia.

Posted in Badrakh Naidalaa, Business, Corruption, Diversification, Policy, Politics, Public Policy | Leave a comment

What are SMEs and the SME Fund?

By Marissa J. Smith

Asking questions about the international politics of the Mongolian economy

After reading the South China Morning Post article on the SME scandal, I decided to look more closely at the company profiled, Mongolian Charcoal. I soon located Mongolian language coverage of the scandal profiling the company, and also one called ИНАХУС. The directors of both companies participated in a press conference written up by state press agency Montsame. A video by the news agency  and featured on the website of the “Wealth-Builders’ Support Organization” (Баялаг бүтээгчдийг дэмжих холбоо ТББ) also includes some of the conference.

Mongolian Charcoal produces a consumer product for use in BBQ grills (shorlog). ИНАХУС recycles tires into rubber tiles used under childrens’ play equipment. In the Montsame write up of the company directors’ statements at the press conference, Mongolian Charcoal states that the company sought loans to increase their production and increase sales on the world market through Alibaba.

The Structure of the Mongolian SME Sector

In a very recent article, Narantuya Chuluunbat and Rebecca Empson combined a survey conducted in 2015-16 of over 1500 SMEs with ethnographic interviews and site visits. They characterize the Mongolian SME sector in opposition to East Asian ones, showing how the Mongolian SME sector bears much more resemblance to and relation to contexts across the former Soviet space. Mongolian SME actors buy and sell to one another and finance one anothers’ businesses in a much more hierarchically flat or shifting set of relations (though large companies like Erdenet certainly supply and are supplied by a constellation of smaller and medium companies), and just over five percent of the companies in Narantuya’s survey exported their products.

As noted by Julian and Mendee in their post about the SME scandal, the SME fund was set up by “donors” before being turned over to the Mongolian government. The scandal, and the disjuncture between the character of the companies highlighted and the sector more broadly, raise questions about how international organizations’ programs to support SMEs as part of economic development not just in Mongolia but around the world are developed and applied.

International Aspirations

For instance, securing a position in international supply chains has been a characteristic of the development of “Asian Tiger” economies, including more recently, Vietnam. Emulating this has been an aspiration of Mongolians (see also a troubled attempt to process and export sausage casings in ethnographic film The Wild East), and in line with the economic theories of international development agencies. However, Mongolia’s integration with the Soviet sphere has made this difficult – as noted by Giovanni Arigghi in his contribution to the Cambridge History of the Cold War, these supply chains are constructed not just through the domestic vertical integration described by the research that Chuluunbat and Empson cite, but through international relationships within East Asia:

As the number and variety of vertically integrated, multinational corporations increased worldwide, their mutual competition intensified, inducing them to subcontract to small businesses activities previously carried out within their own organizations. (…) Starting in the early 1970s, the scale and scope of this multilayered subcontracting system increased rapidly through a spillover into a growing number and variety of East Asian states. Although Japanese business was its leading agency, the spillover relied heavily on the business networks of the overseas Chinese diaspora, which were from the start the main intermediaries between Japanese and local businesses in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and most Southeast Asian countries. The region-wide expansion of the Japanese multilayered subcontracting system was thus supported not only by US political patronage “from above,” but also by Chinese commercial and financial patronage “from below.” (43)

Mongolian SMEs are for the most part restricted to the Mongolian market of contracts and consumers. To what extent have SME programs, designed by international development economists (including Mongolians trained abroad and working in concert with development organizations) actually taken this into account?

International Abstractions

Chuluunbat and Empson also note that the SME loan program requires “movable and intangible property as collateral.” While they find that the collateral requirements pose major obstacles for SMEs, the notion that “dead capital” held by individuals and households must be “activated” is a major tenet of development economics, emphasized by major actors such as Hernando de Soto, well regarded in Mongolian “procapitalist” circles. To what degree have these tenets guided the drafting and application of the SME program in Mongolia (and elsewhere), and defined (perhaps differently for different Mongolian as well as international actors) who has received the loans and what they have done with them?

Posted in Business, Corruption, Development, International Cooperation Fund, Mongolia and ..., Public Policy, Research on Mongolia | Tagged | Leave a comment