Untold Blogpost 16: Public needs to be involved to create inclusive society

By Bulgan Batdorj 

Our guest today is Mr. Ganzorig Vanchig, a chairman and co-founder of the Down Syndrome Association of Mongolia. After finding out that his son was born with Down syndrome Mr. Ganzorig, started learning about the syndrome by consulting materials in other languages, and now his son reached adulthood. At the time he started learning about the Down Syndrome, the public’s awareness and attitudes toward people with Down syndrome were negative, if existent at all. So along with other parents who have children with Down syndrome, Mr. Ganzorig co-founded the Down Syndrome Association of Mongolia, a non-profit, non-governmental organization to share their knowledge with more parents/guardians of children with Down Syndrome and further raise awareness in society.

Photo: Mr. Ganzorig himself (with the permission of Ganzorig)

Differently Abled, not “impaired and incomplete”

He says, the legal environment that concerns the children with disability is changing in many ways in Mongolia. For example, over a decade ago people with disabilities were called “impaired and incomplete” (тахир дутуу) even in our law. It has been changed to “disabled citizen”, though he much prefers “differently abled”. Also, the education law changed to allow kids with Down syndrome and other disabilities to join regular schooling, and not just special schools with other disabled kids like before. However, he further explained that the international trend is moving from “disabled” to “differently abled” since we all humans have different strengths and abilities, as well as weaknesses. Inclusiveness and an inclusive society are important notions that many countries are striving to implement/realize, and they are principles championed by Mr. Ganzorig and his organisation.

One of the stories that Mr. Ganzorig shared from the time when people were not aware: After having been interviewed, a journalist published an article on the newspaper, referring to the Down syndrome as “daavuun” (bedsheet) syndrome. However, journalists nowadays publish stories that are not only well researched but can also expand public’s knowledge on the issues.

Photo: Mr. Ganzorig himself (with the permission of Ganzorig)

The scientist to establish the reasons for Down Syndrome will get a Nobel Prize

Our guest further explains what Down syndrome means for children born with an extra chromosome. The common type is Trisomy 21 – or T21, meaning that each cell in the body has three separate copies of the chromosome 21 instead of usual 2 copies. There are different, less common types of Trisomy 21 which are called Translocation Trisomy 21 and Mosaic Trisomy 21. In addition to these variations, he says, the severity of the case also differs as some children have fewer characteristics of Down syndrome and are almost similar to children without genetic anomaly, while others have far more severe developmental difficulties. He says that “you can also tell children with Down Syndrome by their physical signs, they have slanted eyes, cute noses and much fairer skin”.

Although it is possible to carry out the diagnostic test and conduct fetal scans, we are not sure why children are born with it. Neither food, environmental factors nor race have been proven to play a role. According to our guest, if a researcher can establish why this occurs and how many different factors play a role, they will surely be awarded a Nobel Prize. Furthermore, he shares the statistics that Down syndrome occurs in about one in every 800 babies[1]. This means there should be several thousand children in Mongolia, but he has seen only two or three adults with Down syndrome in Mongolia. So, he is worried that more kids are hidden at home due to shame and social discrimination. In addition, there is no infrastructure to support those children and their families in Mongolia when they go out. Moreover, he adds, many of the children born with Down Syndrome have congenital heart disease or other diseases, and often they have a much shorter life expectancy in Mongolia.

[1] In general 1 in 800 babies in Canada and America has Down syndrome.

Challenges Within the Family

He often is contacted by parents and guardians on social media who seeking help and asking for advice. His number one advice to parents, grandparents, and in-laws, is not to blame anyone. No one is at fault. The Down Syndrome is not genetically passed down, but many young couples break up being unable to accept it. In addition to these emotional and psychological challenges, families also struggle with financial difficulties. He says that one of the parents often must bear the financial responsibility while the other, often the wife, stays home to take care of the children. It can be an overwhelming burden on the breadwinner, “you cannot get sick, you cannot die”, he says. Another common yet heartbreaking story of parents is about their often shared wish not to die before the child, as there would not be anyone else, or anywhere else that the child could get support and the care they need.

He says, “I advise parents that accepting their children is the first step, and once you accept them, you will see that your child is so much more”. He observes that parents in developed countries are increasingly choosing to birth the baby which often would have been aborted in previous decades.

In the case of Mongolia, Mr. Ganzorig shares that the conditions are improving little by little, as we have Gyals Medical Center, which provides discounted diagnostic testing for the children, compared to a decade ago when parents used to send the tests to Israel for diagnosis.

Photo: Mr. Ganzorig (with the permission of Ganzorig)

Change in public attitude requires public involvement

The number one thing that can improve the lives of the people with Down syndrome is a change in the public attitude. When we asked how it could be done, our guest explained that “getting involved” is the most effective way to change attitudes and we all have “individual social responsibility” just like the corporations. In the case of Mongolia, volunteering and public participation is not a strong part of the culture though it would be impactful in changing the lives of many. The community that supports the livelihood of children and citizens with Down syndrome is limited to parents and family members.

According to a survey conducted by the Down Syndrome Association of Mongolia’s, people who hurt the parents most were the physicians. He shared one mom’s story, who was told by their physician to prepare the funeral right away when the baby was still little. However, now that child is a special Olympic medal winner, and the mom is a happy mom. Mr. Ganzorig says that it is the awareness and acceptance of the individual physicians of course, but it further shows that resources are not dedicated to the training of these doctors. And it is not only about doctors, but also there are stories of how teachers are resistant to receive students with Down syndrome because they feel incapable of training and educating these children.

The Down Syndrome Association of Mongolia has translated many handbooks and materials from different resources and shared them with general physicians and, has been working with its international partners bringing in teachers to train schoolteachers.

Stop the discriminating and pitying

In talking about changes in public attitude, our guest shared that we are talking about discrimination and pity. Pity has as much impact as discrimination in severing the persons’ ability to engage in society and live independently. Pity does not only come from the society. Even some caretakers, whether it is parents or family members, they also feel pity for the children with Down syndrome, further disabling the kids to gain independence and learn other necessary skills.

The Down Syndrome Association of Mongolia has been working with several international and domestic organisations to create more opportunities of employment for those who have Down syndrome, though the road has not been easy. He shared his vision of creating employment opportunities for citizens with Down syndrome. The association considered opening a coffee shop that is competitive and delivers value to the customers and is not a “pity” and “charity” leveraged business.

Living Independently is the Key

Our guest shared that he and his organisation have been working on initiatives to enable those children to work. He says, “the work is not only about income, it also means a morning walk to your work, having colleagues and a lot more social interaction” than if you were at home. Children with Down syndrome and rather mild symptoms can attend kindergarten and schooling, but as soon as they reach adulthood these children are excluded from society. And it’s not only about the exclusion, but there is also really nowhere they can go in Mongolia if their parents or guardians pass away.

In many other countries, a person with Down syndrome can work in the service industry, maybe in the mailroom, in coffee shops or even act in a movie. However, in Mongolia they end up being locked up at home. Mr. Ganzorig and the Down Syndrome Association of Mongolia, have established a vocational training center and a coffee shop, so that kids can learn how to work with money, and acquire basic social etiquettes. He is proud that some children are already working in the Asia Foundation, one of Oyu Tolgoi’s supplier companies, and the Shangri La Hotel. He mentioned that even our public service is considering hiring, as he got a call from a department director of the Ministry of Culture of Mongolia inquiring to hire an individual with Down syndrome.

COVID-19 Impact on People with Down syndrome

Due to COVID-19, the association has closed the vocational training center. Children with Down syndrome often have a weaker immunity system, though in some countries they are being advised to be vaccinated, specifically with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The economic impact of COVID-19 has been severe, not only for the families with children with Down syndrome, but all disabled communities. As a result of the COVID-19 related measures, many organisations have closed their doors or reduced the salaries, which leads to struggle for those who all have disabilities. Mr. Ganzorig said “my wish is to create a society where all the individuals can live independently in Mongolia”.

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Bulgan Batdorj, People with Disabilities, Podcast | Tagged | Leave a comment

World-Leading National University of Mongolia?

By Julian Dierkes and Orkhon Gantogtokh

Rankings of schools and universities were initially conceived to bring accountability and transparency to education. In this, they are similar to all kinds of rankings that are applied to countries, including Mongolia.

Yet, university rankings have also been heavily scrutinized for reifying aspects of educational quality and assigning arbitrary worth to many aspects that seem meaningful only in particular contexts. A UBC colleague, Michelle Stack, has recently published an edited volume that examines many different aspects of university rankings.

Given our at least cursory interest in university rankings, we were very surprised to see a headline announcing National Univ of Mongolia (МУИС) to be a global leader in the criterion of publications published with international collaborators.

We had never heard of u-multirank, so it seemed wise to investigate the creators of this index, their funding, and their methodology.

U-Multirank

At first glance, the ranking seemed immediately suspicious because the website is largely dysfunctional. It loads very slowly and is amateurish in design and search capacities. Some of the frustrations associated with the website turn out to be by design, as U-Multirank aspires to provide a different kind of ranking and to avoid the standard league tables.

According to the U-Multirank website, the project,

is a multidimensional, user-driven approach to international ranking of higher education institutions. It compares the performances of higher education institutions – in short: universities – in the five dimensions of university activity: (1) teaching and learning, (2) research, (3) knowledge transfer, (4) international orientation and (5) regional engagement.

And elsewhere,

U-Multirank takes a different approach to the existing global rankings of universities. Firstly, it is multi-dimensional and compares university performances in the different activities that they are engaged in. […]

Secondly, U-Multirank does not produce a combined, weighted score across these different areas of performance and then use these scores to produce a numbered league table of the world’s ‘top’ 100 universities.

Fair enough. Approaching rankings in a different way is a worthy ambition in principle.

The sense that the project is quite legitimate was reinforced by the consortium that organizes it. For example, it includes the German Centrum für Hochschulentwicklung which we had previously come across, in part because of their prize for German university managers, but also their German university ranking. Funding is provided by the equally respected Bertelsmann Foundation, but also by the EU via the Erasmus+ program.

So far so good, maybe the website is just terrible.

However, another aspect was more concerning in terms of understanding NUM’s ranking: NUM is the only Mongolian university included in this ranking!

NUM’s Ranking

This is how U-Multirank sees NUM:

In this variant of a spider graph, the longer the bar toward the outside, the stronger the performance.

The webpage dedicated to NUM provides further details on the elements that go into the “sunburst” graph.

The weakest performances come in categories like patents and programs taught in other languages. The strongest performance is the one highlighted by Udriin Sonin in their headline, namely “International Joint Publications”. Here, NUM has a score of 93.4%. What does that mean and how might this score have come about?

Unfortunately, the ? that appears on the webpage to look like a link to an explanation does not seem to provide such an explanation. The methodology page about indicators provides the following definition: “The percentage of the department’s research publications that list at least one affiliate author’s address abroad.” So, 93.4% of NUM’s research publications list at least one co-author who is based abroad. Where does this number come from then? Unfortunately, U-Multirank does not provide the raw data for its ranking to be able to pinpoint this exactly. But as far as the sources of data page explains, this percentage must be derived from bibliometric data obtained from web of science.

In the Web of Science database (fortunately, we have access through the UBC Library), there are 1,212 publications since 1995 that identify NUM as the affiliation of an author. Since we’re looking at this data anyway, here is some quick information to be gleaned.

Top five disciplines that these articles are classified as belonging to: environmental science (128 articles), ecology (90), applied mathematics (75), plant sciences (62), mathematics (61). The top five authors are: Bayartogtokh B (62), Chuluunbaatar O (56), Boldgiv B (49), Khuukhenkhuu G (49), Batkhuu J (39).

These numbers and listing of authors clearly show that some research at NUM is being recognized by peers around the world, the hallmark of a modern research university.

If we restrict the search to “articles” as document type (excluding such publication types as “proceedings”), the number of publications goes down to 989 and zoology replaces plant sciences in the top five disciplines. The top five authors remain the same, though the order is mixed up.

But what about the percentage of international co-authors? The top five co-authoring countries are Japan, Russia, USA, Germany, China.

When we exclude all articles that have a country other than Mongolia listed we end up with 126 of the 989 articles. By this search, roughly 12.7% of all articles are listed as having only a Mongolian affiliation. In other words, 87.3% of articles have a co-author not identified with Mongolia. If we use the wider definition of all publications (total of 1,212) we get 177 publications that are not affiliated with Mongolia = 14.6% meaning that 85.4% seem to share an affiliation with an international location. These numbers are not far off from the 93.4% reported in the U-Multirank index.

This still raises the question of why so many co-authors with international affiliations? As the comparison of NUM with other universities in the index shows, NUM is unusual in this regard, so it would be good to understand what this means, and how it might relate to NUM’s efforts to support and advance research among its faculty.

Web of Science does not allow for a search by citizenship of the co-author as that is (naturally) not collected as citation information. There is no obvious systematic way to see how many of the 85% of publications that are co-authored with international authors are co-authored with Mongolian researchers based abroad.

If we look at the 36 publications that show an affiliation with Canada many of them – though obviously not all – are natural science publications that have very long lists of authors where a single Mongolian name is included in this long list, but toward the very end of the listing of authors, suggesting that the role of this co-author may have been closer to a research assistant or perhaps participant in fieldwork rather than in the analysis. This is entirely impressionistic, however, and driven by the plethora of publications with NUM authors in fields that typically have many names listed as authors for publications. Perhaps the 93.4% percentage is based on a calculation that uses the total list of authors as the denominator rather than the number of articles.

Whatever the exact nature of the calculation that leads to this figure of 93.4% that  is included in the U-Multirank, there is probably some more thinking to be done about what this figure means and what it says about the research strength of NUM. NUM obviously did not create this measure and it is unlikely that their research promotion efforts were built around it, so understanding the dynamic behind these frequent co-citations would help us understand the nature of the research enterprise at NUM and other research-based universities in Mongolia.

According to U-Multirank, NUM is the strongest in the research criterion among 10 criteria, but it conflicts with the score of their research performance shown in the comparison table. In the research performance criterion, NUM has been ranked below the average (300-350 range) out of 416 Asian universities. However, they are the strongest in the international joint publications, as shown in the table below.

Source: https://www.umultirank.org/

Despite the fact that the research performance of NUM is below the average (D score) among Asian universities, NUM publications are more numerous than Mongolian Academy of Science by approximately 14% in the last 4 years in the Web of Science (MAS-394; NUM-537). This raises another question of why Mongolia’s biggest research institution’s research outcome is lower than a single university’s performance while they receive the biggest share of research budget of the country.

It is good to note that in 2018, there was a dramatic 50% increase in the number of publications at NUM (average of 140 publications per year compared to 80 publications in 2017). Since then, it has kept the same performance. However, compared to a university in the relatively similar context, for example, State University of Yerevan, whose publication performance is ranked average, they have more than twice as many publications than NUM in the last 4 years.

Therefore, does being ranked in top 25 in the world in international joint publication really mean that NUM performs well in research, considering their overall research performance and the limited number of universities included in this ranking?

Mongolian Higher Education Context

The higher education sector is seen as a crucial means to help accelerate sustainable economic and social development in Mongolia. In Mongolia, the first modern university, National University of Mongolia was established in 1942. Mongolia has seen a remarkable expansion in its higher education since 1990 when Mongolia became a democratic country. Between 1991 and 2021, the number of higher education institutions (HEIs) grew from 14 to 88, and the gross enrolment ratio in higher education grew from 14.0% to 66.0% (MES, 2021 [PDF]). The total number of students rose from some 20,000 to about 150000 during the same period.

In 2021 a total of 147,293 students enrolled in Mongolia’s 88 HEIs. 52.2% of the total students studied at state-owned HEIs, 43.1% at private HEIs, and 4.7 % at religious HEIs. By the type of higher education institutions, 42.0 % of the total HEIs are universities, 54.6 % institutes, 3.4 % colleges and  6.3 % branches of foreign HEIs (MES, 2021 [PDF]). In 2021, entrants into Mongolia’s higher education institutions were as follows: 80.9% at bachelors, 16.8% at masters,  2.2% at doctoral and 0.1% at diplomas levels (MES, 2021 [PDF]).

The total number of employees in the Mongolian higher education sector is 12,000, and 59.7% (7143) of it is full-time academics (MES, 2021 [PDF]). 59.9% of full-time faculty members work at state-run HEIs whereas 40.1% at private HEIs.

Like many other Asian countries, Mongolian HE responded in various ways to the global trends of higher education, ‘such as growing social demand, privatization, accountability, marketization, economic growth, and internationalisation’ (Hou, 2015, p.311). However, these major changes in the number of students, institutions, specializations, and degrees are having a great impact on the quality of higher education. It is quite paradoxical that Mongolia has one of the highest numbers of universities per capita and a higher level of university enrolment yet the country is falling behind in its research publications and skilled employees in the Global Competitiveness Index (WEF, 2019).

About Orkhon G

Orkhon has recently commenced her studies for a PhD in Education Studies at the University of British Columbia. She has been actively engaged with the higher education reform processes of Mongolia with her civic engagement, research activities, and involvement in national-level projects. She has led the higher education sub-committee of the Education Reform Movement, an NGO established in 2019 to address the low quality of education in Mongolia. She completed an MSc in Higher Education at the University of Oxford in 2016. Her professional experience includes positions at Higher Education Reform Project as a HE Specialist, the London School of Economics Enterprise as a Researcher, Mongolian National Council for Education Accreditation as a Research and Partnership Manager, and NUM and MUST as a Higher Education Consultant and Mongolian Academy for Higher Education Development as Executive Director.

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Khurelksukh’s (First Presidential) Visit to the UN General Assembly

By Julian Dierkes

U Khurelsukh attended the annual UN General Assembly in New York for the first time since his election as president.

His participation and the speech he gave was notable for a number of things:

  • His personal involvement and meetings held on the sidelines suggest a greater interest in the UN and in international relations more generally than we saw from his predecessor, Kh Battulga
  • In his speech, Khurelsukh did not mention Mongolia’s candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council strongly suggesting that Mongolia will not actively campaign in the election and will thus leave Japan to win that seat
  • Of course, Chinggis Khaan was mentioned
  • 1 billion trees? Okay then!

This was not Khurelsukh’s first visit to the UN, of course. He spoke to the General Assembly as Prime Minister in 2018.

But, it was his first visit as president and with an MPP government in place leaving him free to design a foreign policy for his six-year term in collaboration with PM Oyun-Erdene and FM Battsetseg.

In the discussion below, I draw on the officially published English version of his speech.

UN Security Council

Ahead of the speech, I was most curious to see what would become of Mongolia’s candidacy for a non-permanent seat  on the UN Security Council. Pres Elbegdorj had declared this candidacy in 2014, eight years ahead of the 2022 election. To me, this step would have had a certain logic to it with Mongolia’s increasing involvement in UN matters.

And, indeed, Khurelsukh in his speech seemed to be leading up to some announcement like that. He pointed to the 60th anniversary of Mongolia’s UN membership and various other contributions. But then, to my surprise and disappointment, he did not end that section with a call for support, i.e. “And that’s why you should vote for Mongolia in next year’s election”. Together with the Univ of Gothenburg’s U Möller, I’ve speculated about what might have led to that decision. In this review of the speech here, I would say that the overview of UN activities led up to

Mongolia will host an international conference on participation of female peacekeepers in the UN PKOs next year in Ulaanbaatar. We call on the Department of Peace Operations and Member States to support and cooperate in organizing this conference. (p. 5)

COVID

Khurelsukh spoke A LOT about COVID.

This is an area where I am just not sure what the conventional wisdom is on what heads of state can do with these speeches. Sure, for Brazil (who traditionally goes first) or for big powers, the world is listening and announcements of unilateral initiatives or international relations will find a ready audience, though perhaps generally not a popular audience.

But what about Khurelsukh who is in the first group of speakers (heads of state) but not early on. Who is listening to this speech (other than me)? UN ambassadors? Is that the audience? The Mongolian public? Foreign governments? International publics?

Whatever the intended audience might be, do they all not know about COVID?

Khurelsukh’s first substantive paragraph was thus,

In the past two years, countries around the world have been plagued by the unforeseen pandemic and going through arduous times together. On behalf of the people of Mongolia, I would like to express my deepest condolences for the loss of 4.6 million lives worldwide due to the coronavirus. Taking this opportunity, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to doctors, medical personnel and frontline workers, who are tirelessly serving to safeguard precious lives and health of people in every corner of our planet. (p. 1)

And he continued on in a similar vein, i.e. general statements, a little bit of detail about Mongolia and COVAX. No news in this, no domestic policy announcements, no international initiatives.

Transit Mongolia

At the end of the UN history discussion, there is a short paragraph about a vision of Mongolia as a transit hub in connection to the work of the Think Tank for Landlocked Developing Countries:

As we continue the work to ensure the special needs and interests of landlocked developing countries, based upon the advantage of our geographical location, we strive to develop into “Transit Mongolia”, a transit, trade and service hub connecting Asia and Europe. (p. 4)

I do not recall the terminology of “Transit Mongolia” before, but the likelihood of Mongolia establishing itself as a logistics hub between Europe and Asia has always struck me as low, even though this has been advanced in regard to the new airport, various railroad projects and even Belt & Road.

Chinggis and Nomadic Wisdom, Really?

Readers of this blog will know by now that I have a bit of a Chinggis-as-contemporary-political-reference or research-on-Chinggis allergy. But, of course, Chinggis Khaan is definitely a Mongolian trademark and recognizable around the globe, so perhaps not surprising that 800-year-ago-history also gets a mention in the UNGA speech.

There is a widespread misconception that our ancestor Chinggis Khan was a vicious man who conquered many nations. However, world history and studies show that he was adherent of diplomacy, and he was a peacemaker with true desire to set borders without hostilities.

Congratulations, Jack Weatherford, you’ve been cited by the Mongolian president in his address to the UN General Assembly.

His dream was realized through a solid peace that lasted for almost 200 years on the great chessboard of Eurasia and world scholars call this period “Pax Mongolica” which made a noteworthy contribution to the development of humankind. We, Mongolians, have inherited this spirit of cherishing peace from our ancestors, and today, Mongolia is internationally recognized as a peace-loving democratic nation. (p. 4)

And then, some nomadic wisdom thrown in for good measure.

The natural self-recovery reminds me of the nomadic know-how of leaving the pastureland “fallow” or “leaving the pastureland for rest”. This is a Mongolian herders’ wisdom to offer to the motherland an opportunity to rest a while and to recover and revive itself. In our fight against climate change, let us draw lessons from the Mongolian traditional “nomadic civilization” to treat and regard the nature respectfully and combine it with achievements of modern science and technology as well as best practices and traditional experiences from all over the world. (p. 7)

Hm…

There we re also two short mentions of two areas that the current MPP government is prioritizing, i.e. e-Mongolia and Vision 2050.

Trees

The part of the speech that seems to have received the most attention from Mongolians is the mention of a tree-planting campaign.

In the section on climate change, Khurelsukh said,

The most efficient way to reverse desertification is planting trees. We, Mongolians, ponder that planting trees, writing books and raising children are the three superior deeds. Hence, we have launched a campaign to plant billions of trees by 2030 from this podium of the General Assembly in order to contribute to the global fight against climate change. (p. 7)

“Billions of trees” is a lot of trees, but it seems that Khurelsukh saw this as a global commitment rather than a tree planting program focused on Mongolia per se. Most Mongolians seem to have interpreted this as specific to Mongolia. But perhaps he actually did mean Mongolia. The Canadian government has committed to planting 2b trees over ten years. Canada has more than six times Mongolia’s total area, but perhaps more significantly, a much greater share of Canada’s territory is forested. Efforts at reforestation of Mongolia would certainly seem to be worthwhile, so perhaps this announcement was welcome news to many Mongolians.

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Guest Post: #NONAADAM vs #YESNAADAM – Conflict Between Urban and Rural Values in Mongolia

By Usukhbold Chimedregzen

During the first week of July 2021, Mongolia has seen two opposing protest groups who gathered at Sukhbaatar Square in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. On the surface, it appeared that the protestors had grievances related to celebrating the Naadam festival this year. Naadam is the most famous festival and one of the biggest national holidays of Mongolia. Both protests were comparably peaceful. However, there are broader societal implications beyond the simple topic about the celebration of Naadam. This short article will illustrate the contesting nature of the more fundamental issues in Mongolian society illustrated by these two protests.

From early June, concerns had been rising about the restrictions and rules introduced by the Mongolian Government on public gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The government had directed that, on one hand, people cannot open their businesses and all schools must be kept closed for the bulk of the last two years. However, on the other hand, at the beginning of June 2021 there were a huge number of public gatherings throughout the country for the duration of presidential election campaign, contradicting the government’s rule of business shutdowns and the closing of schools. Many of those gatherings seem to have had fatal consequences. Infection rates of COVID-19 and death tolls increased exponentially just after the election, even though a comparatively high percentage of the population had received vaccinations. The government’s use of donated vaccines from China was also criticised.

The government’s decision to permit the Naadam festival a few weeks after the election, in mid-July, during a period marked by lockdowns and restrictions was justified on the grounds of historical and cultural significance for citizens including the younger generation. Naadam in 2021 marked the 100th anniversary of the People’s Revolution. The #NoNaadam protesters disputed the decision and asked for equal and just decisions to be made for all. Protesters said it would be unfair to celebrate the festival whilst most of the country still suffers from COVID-19, and businesses are struggling to survive the pandemic-born restrictions. These events were the brewing pot for anger against the government’s decision for the last two months in Mongolia.

NoNaadam and YesNaadam Protesters on Sukhbaatar Square

Early in the morning on the 1st of July, the first group of protesters gathered on Sukhbaatar Square and collected signatures to petition against holding the Naadam festival. They also used the #NoNaadam hashtag on social platforms and encouraged the public to support the petition. Their main argument was that it would be inappropriate to celebrate the festival while thousands of Mongolians are suffering from the COVID-19 infection, many even dying from it. Instead, they suggested that all the funding received and all the effort going towards the festival should be directed at the fight against the pandemic and support the doctors and medical professionals.

Meanwhile, opposing #YesNaadam protesters claimed that the Naadam festival is a “vaccine for culture” (soyliin vaktsin) and must not be overlooked and passed over. Moreover, the #YesNaadam protesters argued that the government had a responsibility to alleviate public suffering and hardship from COVID-19, by cheering up the public’s spirit through the Naadam festivities. Many within this group were racehorse trainers, and they rode their horses to the central square of Ulaanbaatar. The sight of dozens of equestrians on horseback in the busy city streets caught the curious eyes of news outlets and circulated on social media for days. Besides, horses symbolise the Mongolians’ traditional way of living and their relationship with nature as nomads, hence, utilized hereto re-create a sense of who are the ‘true’ Mongolians.

Interestingly, some organisers of the Yes Naadam protest were prominent “uyachid” (racehorse trainers) who are in most cases, well-known and wealthy businessmen with strong political influence. In fact, horseracing, training, and racehorse trading is multibillion tugrug industry. Some politicians are heavily involved in horseracing and are willing to spend lavishly on employing the best horse trainers for their racehorses. The former head of the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) and a former adviser to the Prime Minister were both top executives of the Federation of Mongolian Horse Racing Sport and Trainers (Mongoliin Morin Sport Uyachdiin Kholboo). To put this in perspective, wealthy businessmen and politicians had pushed to celebrate Naadam festival and possibly financed the Yes Naadam protest using the support of local nomads and herders.

Moreover, a number of performing artists and famous singers also supported the move to celebrate Naadam festival, openly expressing their views on television while they were rehearsing the opening ceremony of Naadam. Although the official festival was cancelled, an opening ceremony was organised and aired on national television. However, public has responded against their support and heavily criticised their interviews and organised informal social media campaign against them which is very modern and “urban way” to respond.

At the end of this conundrum, the government eventually announced the cancellation of the Naadam festival. Even though these protests can be read as disagreements on the celebration of Naadam, they signify social segregation between the elites and non-elites, urban and rural; modern and traditional lifestyles. The clash of these two parties was perhaps the first of its kind in the public eye, but is not new. Economic, educational, and ideological differences between the urban and rural areas of Mongolia are widening. The country is confronting a worrying decline in social justice through rising inequality.

Mongolia is regarded as one of the last standing nomadic cultures, but those nomads and ‘herder’ communities in the rural areas of Mongolia are often regarded as outcasts and ‘orcs’ as Mongolians use this term from J.R.R Tolkien’s books and the Lord of the Rings trilogy; fictional humanoid monsters with no form of civilisation. From the rural side, nomadic people often criticise their urban counterparts for not maintaining traditional culture and blaming them for forgetting the Mongolian way of living. These contradictions cause social justice and inequality issues in broader society in terms of cultural values.

According to Nancy Fraser’s framework, there are three dimensions of social justice: economic, cultural, and political. As Fraser (1995) defined, social justice and inequality are multifaceted and difficult to frame in a single term. This urban and rural disparity is perhaps in the domain of cultural injustices where it happens when a dominating social value or its hierarchical patterns create status inequality or ‘misrecognition’. This misrecognition produces misunderstanding between social groups and widen the disparity. However, this disparity and tensions between social groups do not only embrace cultural injustice, but also embrace ideological conflicts concerning economic rights.

For instances, rural communities experience health care and education that is poorer in quality compared to urban dwellers. Rural people also have poorer employment and career prospects. Yet, government policies have largely focused on improving services for the capital city (Ulaanbaatar). The needs and concerns of rural communities have been neglected. As a result, there has been continuous migration from the countryside to large cities, as people seek more opportunities for a better quality of life. In the absence of appropriate government policies and plans, rural migrants have ended up in suburban ger (yurt) districts without improvement in their quality of life. On paper, the poverty rate in rural area recently fell by 4%, but remained the same in urban area. This can be explained by the rural to urban migration. Rural migrants who live on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar experience many economic and educational inequalities. Even after urban settlement they are still considered as rural people. This is an area requiring more empirical research and policy activism to address urban and rural contradictions.

Exposed to socialism and capitalism, social-democracy and neoliberalism, Mongolians are struggling to find their identity as a nation. The question is how might Mongolians effectively mediate the conflict between the urban and rural, local and global, and the modern and traditional ways of living in our nation-state (Bumochir, 2020). To prevent greater social divisions, as Fraser suggested, government needs to implement some ‘recognition approach’ to increase social cohesion and enhance the understanding between urban and rural values. Likewise, government policies should employ some redistribution approaches that highlight the importance of regional and rural Mongolians.

About Usukhbold Chimedregzen

Usukhbold Chimedregzen currently lives in Brisbane, Australia. He graduated from the NUM with BA in political science, and University of Queensland with MA in Education leadership and policy. He is passionate about Mongolian education policy and social justice issues in education. He is aiming to do more research in this field. Email: usukhbold@gmail.com

Posted in Countryside, Elections, Health, Mongolian People's Party, Naadam, Protest, Public Policy, Social Issues, Social Movements, Ulaanbaatar, Usukhbold Chimedregzen | Leave a comment

SCO Risks: Example Refugees

By Julian Dierkes

An SCO summit is looming: Sept 16-17 in Dushanbe. With it comes that seemingly perennial question about Mongolia’s role in the organization.

Chinese Pressure?

It is fair to assume, I think, that the Chinese regime will continue to apply pressure on the government of Mongolia to upgrade from observer to member. For the Chinese regime that would be an expansion of its power, legitimated by an international organization, but dominated by China. Surely, given its democratic status, Mongolia would be a catch in this regard, even more so as contemporary India – an SCO member since 2017 – is much less of a regional/global beacon of democracy these days. Obviously, it is very difficult to tell from the far outside whether/how the Chinese regime may be applying pressure on the Mongolian government in this regard.

However, it is clear that the Chinese regime sees Pres Khurelsukh as a friendlier interlocutor than it did Pres Battulga who was portrayed by Chinese propaganda outlets as anti-Chinese around his election, long before he made any decisions that would have provided a basis for the categorization, other than to marry a Russian woman, perhaps.

Are the ties between the MPP and the CCP via the Socialist International for real? They would seem to be a possible vector of influence/pressure, but I do not see any evidence that that is actually the case. The MPP has not shown itself to be noticeable pro-China in the past and has given no indication of a change of mind/heart in that regard.

Past Concerns about Mongolia’s Participation in the SCO

Only the most dedicated readers will recall that we have been writing about Mongolia and the SCO for a long time. For example, in 2018, we titled our note on Mongolian status, “Mongolia doesn’t need to join the SCO” and pointed to three main reasons for that:

  1. Irrelevant agenda: terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism are not prominent concerns for Mongolia
  2. Chinese and, to some extent, Sino-Russian domination of the organization
  3. A club of authoritarian governments.

I do not see that there has been any chance in any of these reasons.

Afghanistan, Uighurs and Refugees in Central Asia

In a Twitter Spaces discussion hosted by Mike Hilliard for The Red Line Podcast, one of the panelists pointed out that SCO would likely be responding to Afghanistan developments at the upcoming summit. As I was asking why there had been no statement on Afghanistan by the Mongolian government, that pointer took on additional poignancy.

One of the lenses on Afghanistan that I have been following is the regional situation and Central Asian governments’ stance toward Afghanistan. They are obviously much closer geographically, but also culturally and in terms of their regional context, than Mongolia, but their stance does provide some lessons for Mongolia, including the insidious role that China may be playing via the SCO, the Belt and Road Initiative and, more broadly, its engagement in the region.

As I mentioned before, among my main sources in this regard is the Majlis Podcast. The recent episode focusing on refugees across the region especially gave me pause as to how the Chinese regime is exerting its fiscal and other power across the region. While the discussion initially focused on the fate of Uighurs (hints at deportations back to China across Central Asia), it also included co-ethnics, i.e. Kazakhs who flee from Xinjiang into Kazakhstan, etc.

The underlying issues faced by Central Asian governments are somewhat similar to potential trajectories for Mongolia that include SCO membership.

Focused on the issue of refugees in particular, the bottom line from that discussion is that the Chinese regime has forced its views of religiosity, territory and development on SCO to make “terrorism” label available to be applied to all Muslim opposition and refugees. I know too little about the region to have a view on whether that label might be justified or not, but as the Majlis discussion of the region shows, that determination seems to rest with the Chinese regime, not with other countries in the region. This is even more poignant, of course, when these refugees are co-ethnics, e.g. Kazakhs or Kyrgyz from Xinjiang. It appears that any kind of asylum for co-ethnics and fellow Muslims is no longer possible across the region due to pressure from the Chinese regime and that that pressure has repeatedly turned into rendition of refugees to China. Note, however, that in her article on Tajik and Uzbek responses to developments in Afghanistan, U Hashimova does not mention China at all.

The price for Chinese financial support (loans, debt forgiveness, BRI) may be a closer political embrace that significantly reduces the degrees of freedom in areas of policy-making that many might see as very close to the core of a nation-state.

Implications for Mongolia?

Mongolia is already entirely dependent on China in economic terms. With the very small exception of oil imports from Russia, all significant import-export flows are focused on China as either a source or a destination. There is very little that the government of Mongolia can do about that.

Politically, Mongolia remains quite independent from China, of course. The most prominent exception to this rule remains the Dalai Lama. And, the government of Mongolia has generally stayed silent on reported unrest in Inner Mongolia, the closest similarity to Muslim refugees in Central Asia, of course.

But, on the question of refugees, Mongolia appears to have been subject to and given in to Chinese pressure in the rendition of North Korean, but also (Inner) Mongolian refugees with the situation being unclear for any Kazakh refugees who might come across the Xinjiang-Mongolian border. This latter route may be especially difficult if some of the predictions in the Majlis podcast discussion come true, namely that Central Asia will be increasingly inhospitable to Muslim refugees due to Chinese regime pressure. Will such refugees seek refuge in Mongolia, at minimum as a transition country to other places that might accept them? I can only imagine that issue is on the mind of Mongolian, but also Chinese officials already.

Whether or not Mongolia would want to accept any Kazakh or other refugees is a separate question and it is unclear that a deep culture of hospitality extends into the modern world of regional politics. Much clearer, in my mind, is an argument that Mongolia would maximize its ability to make that choice, i.e. to receive refugees or not, rather than have that choice dictated in Beijing or via Dushanbe or wherever else an SCO summit may be held.

To me, the risks of further integration into the SCO are significant and clear. Other than caving to Chinese pressure and some financial incentives, I can see no benefits to deeper involvement in the SCO and the example of refugee flows across Central Asia reinforces my deep mistrust of the purposes of the SCO.

Posted in Central Asia, Ethnic Groups, Human Rights, International Relations, Kazakhs, Mongolians in China | Tagged | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost 15: Dreaming About Safe Roads to My Work

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan 

Bat-Erdene or Babu, as his friends call him, is a masseur, marathon runner, musician, and khoomii singer. After losing his eyesight at the age of 16, Bat-Erdene lost his hope and hid away from society for 4-5 years. During these years, he just listened to the radio and television, but gave his parents such a hard time, as he mentions with regret throughout the podcast. However, he made himself study a totally new profession and became a role-model runner for the Achilles International Mongolia. Here are some key points from this very open-minded interview.

Becoming a Masseur

When he was a little boy, his grandpa praised his calming hands and, of course, he didn’t like to give massages at that time. Then, as he was staying at home due to blindness, he decided to go to the school of the Mongolian National Association of the Blind. First, he graduated from the computer course, but soon realized his computer skills were not competent enough and had little chance of employment. Recalling his grandparents’ praise, he completed a six-month massage therapist training. One of the key reasons is that the association provides an immediate employment opportunity. So, he has been working as a masseur since 2014. This wasn’t as simple as I wrote. The most difficult thing for him to overcome is his fear of going outside, finding his ways to the bus stop, and walking alone relying on his cane. We all know that the road is terrible, even for a healthy person, in Mongolia. If one sets a goal and believes in themself, the person can overcome most difficult challenges.

A Role-Model Runner

In 2019, he found a new hobby. A well-known para-athlete and coach Lhagvajav lured him into running – not a simple one, but the marathon. Bat-Erdene challenged himself through rigorous training with the coach and won against himself running the New York Marathon. “The feeling after finishing the 42.195 km is impossible to describe by words,” our guest exclaimed. For him, all his previous hardship was not comparable to marathon running. You would experience all types of feelings (up and down) and test your mind and patience. When you’re running, you think a lot. Unlike the other marathon runners, a disabled runner, especially one who has lost their eyesight, runs with a guide runner. For example, Bat-Erdene trained with his guide runner for over three years – as, Bat-Erdene explains, both need to run as if they were one person. The guide runner has a number of responsibilities, including to guide, grab water, provide mental support, and monitor health. His running experience was facilitated by the Mongolian Chapter of the Achilles International.  The Mongolian Chapter now has about 20 athletes and many support staff, mostly volunteers.

 

Photo: Bat-Erdene or Babu along with his guide running the marathon (with the permission of Bat-Erdene)

From Online Running to In-Person Marathon

Bat-Erdene and his guide completed a successful marathon last year, but it was conducted online. All runners registered their start and end time through the special app. Now they are preparing to participate in the BMW Berlin-Marathon on September 26. Because of the pandemic-related restriction, they started their training in April and are now in the last phase of their training. Surprisingly, they launched their fundraising campaign on the platform Clubhouse. It was interesting, as he explained his preference for using Clubhouse – according to him, it is becoming more orderly and, people seem to have a nice attitude. Using his skills of playing the morin khuur – a horse-headed fiddle and khoomii singing, Bat-Erdene is apparently attracting more audience during this fund-raising. He learned morin khuur at the training centre of the association and is now planning to set up a morin khuur quartet. As the conversation continues, it is becoming more and more appealing/ to listen to his khoomii and morin khuur. Hopefully, he will demonstrate his skills in our upcoming vlog.

Photo: Bat-Erdene or Babu practicing with his guide (with the permission of Bat-Erdene)

Spread the News to Others

There are many people with disabilities, especially in the countryside, who do not know about the opportunities to obtain new professions, to work, and to socialize. Now the vocational training center for the people with disabilities offers many new professional programs. Some people search for opportunities by themselves, but many need the information and also the encouragement from their closed ones. If you are a relative, friend, or a parent of a person with disabilities, please let them know the opportunities and encourage them to empower themselves. Things have been changing and society has become more open to people with disabilities. In comparison to 2012, when he lost his eyesight, there are some improvements on the sidewalk for people with canes, few more pedestrian crossings have sound systems, and the youth are willing to help when you ask the whereabouts of the bus stop or the direction of the bus. Yet, he didn’t hide some ugly facts: installation of the light pole or cement block on the sidewalk, disappearance of the pedestrian sidewalk, and silence and negligence at the bus stop. However, our guest does not want to talk about negative aspects while intentionally leading our discussion to the bright side of the world.

As our discussion nears the end, Bat-Erdene said that some people do not work with the matter at heart when they are constructing the road – maybe they just think about the money. Indeed, I agree with him and should add, the people who are giving away the contracts for the road construction and those monitoring their work also are engaged in their work without heart and mind in the matter or encompassed better in a word in Mongolian – ‘setgel’. When we asked what he wished for the future, his response was simple – “…a city without traffic jams, but with accessible sidewalks. We don’t need more buildings or fancy cars, we need friendly roads which take us to our work and also faster, easier, accessible public services at the districts and khoroos.”

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Mendee Jargalsaikhan, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Sports | Tagged | Leave a comment

Silence on Afghanistan

By Julian Dierkes

In August 2021, the Afghan government collapsed rather suddenly and for most observers, unexpectedly. Much ink has been spilled about what happened and what is to come for Afghanistan. Yet, as far as I can tell, the government of Mongolia has remained entirely silent on the current situation.

Caveat

I am no expert on Afghanistan nor have I followed Mongolia-Afghanistan relations particularly closely beyond my general interest in Mongolian foreign policy. But, no one stepped forward to offer to write a post in response to my above query, but many responded that the topic and the government’s silence was important. If I am missing any aspects or get parts of the relationship wrong (as is likely, I suspect), I am counting on you, dear readers, to correct me.

Why would the government of Mongolia speak on Afghanistan?

Two main reasons might compel the government to respond to the current circumstances:

  1. Past engagements with Afghanistan (foreign aid, military)
  2. Perception of Hazaras as part of a global Mongol(ian) diaspora

Past Engagement

Military. Mongolia first joined the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan in 2003. Activities were initially focused on providing artillery training. The decision to deploy troops in 2003 was significant as a stepping stone in Mongolia’s still-growing peacekeeping capacity, but also in its diplomatic efforts to support multilateralism and continue to grow relations with Third Neighbours, including the U.S., winning Mongolia the appreciation if not gratitude of U.S. Pres George W Bush. Training activities later expanded to helicopter maintenance. But the next step was even more significant as the decision to deploy troops in 2009 meant active military activities in collaboration with Belgium and, later, Germany. Decisions for these deployments were probably rooted more in overall international relations thinking, particularly focused on the UN and on Third Neighbours, than specific to Afghanistan, nevertheless the engagement in Afghanistan was prolonged, involved significant numbers of troops and some of the activities that have come under particular hindsight scrutiny, namely the training of the Afghan military. At the time of the return of the latest Mongolian contingent from Afghanistan in June 2021, a total of “about 3,300 military personnel of the Mongolian Armed Forces have served in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan” (Montsame, June 16 2021). [Sept 10 2021 Addition: For more detail on the history of military engagement, see L Bolor‘s article for The Diplomat, “The Mongolian Armed Forces’ Contribution to Afghanistan“]

Foreign aid. Back in the early 2010s, Mongolia felt flush with (the promise of) resource-derived revenue streams. In 2013, the International Cooperation Fund was created as a “tool to share Mongolia’s experience in democracy and market economy with emerging democracies“.  I always found the argument plausible that while Mongolia’s experience may not represent an imagined global best practice, it was very relevant practice and experience for countries that share elements of a trajectory with Mongolia. The same holds for development lessons that Mongolia has tried to absorb, something that I discussed in the context of using Norway as a model of sustainability derived from finite natural resources. Beyond this “relevant practice” or “good practice” model, activities of the ICF also represented South-to-South collaboration and support.

Afghanistan was explicitly identified as a “target country” for the activities of the ICF given Mongolian military involvement, hopes for democratization and the potential of mineral resources. Examples of activities involving Afghan participation include a 2017 workshop on constitutional principles, but also some of the activities of the Canadian International Resources and Development Institute.

During the Elbegdorj presidency (2009-2017), the ICF was an element in the Mongolian government’s larger set of initiatives aimed at establishing more diplomatic visibility.

The ICF was shut down in Feb 2019, partly because it was perhaps too closely associated with former Pres Elbegdorj for the liking of his successor, and partly because the fiscal situation no longer seemed to allow Mongolia to engage in an activist development policy.

Pan-Mongolism

One of Pres Elbegdorj’ signature international relations initiatives was an embrace of ethnic Mongols around the world and offers of scholarships to them. The extent to which there are historical/ethnic/cultural links to the Hazara goes much beyond my expertise, but contemporary Mongolians clearly think of them as a Mongol population, like Kalmyks, for example.

It is not clear to me when these activities ended and why exactly. Surely, the handful of scholarships to Hazara students would not have a huge impact on the fiscal situation, but if these scholarships still exist, there does not seem to be much information about them.

More importantly than the existence of scholarships is the matter that these policies explicitly seem to recognize Hazara as co-ethnics. Most observers seem to agree that the Taliban have persecuted Hazara in the past. As Pearly Jacob wrote in 2011,

The ethnically Pashtun Taliban singled out the group for mass executions and forced deportations, most notably in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, and attacks on their settlements in highland towns like Bamiyan, the provincial capital., but that further persecution is also likely. [Eurasianet, Oct 28 2011]

Prospects for the Hazara under a renewed Taliban regime seem precarious at best.

Even after the US ended the Taliban’s rule in 2001, Hazaras have continued to face violence from Taliban as well as ISIS militants, who have targeted their mosques, schools and hospitals. In May this year, explosions rocked the Hazara-dominated neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi in Kabul, killing over 60. A car bomb was detonated in front of a school and two more bombs exploded. Officials said most of those killed were young girls. [Rahel Philipose, The Indian Express Aug 24, 2021]

I find it odd that the potential risks that Hazara face have not prompted any kind of statement from the Mongolian government. While I am in no position to evaluate that risk, it would seem that the situation is potentially threatening, so should that not be noted?

This post specifically raises the question of accepting Hazara refugees. Ikon.mn also reported on an NGO call to accept Hazara refugees. To be sure, there may not be popular support for any government actions supporting Hazara in Afghanistan or accepting any number of refugees. Reddit user zal_yasu pointed me to some of the online reactions to the proposal of accepting refugees. Clearly, there have been some strongly negative reactions to the notion of accepting Hazara refugees online. Comments on the Ikon report are also largely negative.

The possibility of co-ethnic refugees and refugees from neighbouring countries has been a challenging issue for some time. The most obvious cases in the past have been Mongolians fleeing Inner Mongolia and North Koreans fleeing via Northeast China. More recently, there has been no public acknowledgment of any refugees coming across the long Xinjiang-Mongolia border, perhaps ethnic Kazakhs in particular. Mongolians and Kazakhs fleeing China is obviously an issue of great sensitivity to China. By contrast, any Hazara refugees would not easily make their way to Mongolia across other nations, so that this is perhaps more symbolic as a question, though surely Mongolia could signal to Afghanistan-neighbouring countries that (some) Hazara refugees would be welcome.

Why is the government not speaking about Afghanistan?

The seemingly most obvious explanation is China and, perhaps, the SCO. Clearly, the Chinese regime is somewhat gleeful about what it interprets as the U.S. failure at nation-building and democratization in Afghanistan. It is openly courting the Taliban regime as a counter-balance to U.S. influence, perhaps, and – not surprisingly – with little regard for human rights concerns. The SCO’s framing of any Islamist movements as terrorist and the overall securitization of Central Asian relations point to a security calculation that sees the Taliban regime as a chance to contain civil war to Afghanistan itself and to not let religious and tribal strife spill over into neighbouring countries, possibly including China. To understand this Central Asian context and response to developments in Afghanistan better, I heavily draw on the excellent Majlis Podcast. Given Chinese dominance of SCO decision-making, is the Chinese regime applying some pressure to countries in the region to toe their line of dealings with the Taliban? And if the Mongolian government feels like it cannot go that far given some popular interest in the fate of Hazara, is silence the option to not upset Beijing, but also not endorse that position? [Sept 10 2021 Update: On Sino-Russian alignment on Afghanistan, see D Bochkov‘s “‘Great Game’ Redux in Afghanistan” (The Diplomat)]

Another explanation for the governmental silence may be the association of many Afghanistan activities with former Pres Elbegdorj and with the U.S. to some extent. Neither of those associations are particularly attractive to the current MPP government.

While there has been no sign from recent MPP governments that there is an intention to reduce peace-keeping activities (which were the origin of contemporary Afghanistan engagement), disassociating from Afghanistan through silence may leave those policies in place without any particular attention to Afghanistan.

The democratization agenda that formed part of the impetus for the creation of the ICF is also very much associated with Pres Elbegdorj as evidenced by the fact that it was abandoned almost entirely under fellow DP-member Pres Battulga already on the domestic and international front.

Outlook

Beyond the Afghan situation itself, what does the silence say about Mongolian foreign policy under an MPP government and president?

One of the important aspects of Mongolian foreign policy to continue to watch is its manoeuvring in a world that may be turning bi-polar again. How can the Mongolian government navigate Sino-U.S. animosity especially as that is leading to block-formation. The silence on Afghanistan could thus be seen as evidence of the hope to chart a quiet, non-committal route in this regard.

Another aspect that is specific to the MPP government and Pres Khurelsukh is the fate of democracy. Yes, all MPP officials profess their dedication to democracy and highlight Mongolia’s democratic status, but what about internal and external democratization? That is an agenda closely tied to the U.S. and anathema to both of Mongolia’s neighbours. Perhaps the silence on Afghanistan is an early hint that here too, the MPP government is heading on a course of quiet and non-committal neutrality.

As I said in the opening, I have not followed the Afghanistan engagement especially closely, so I am eager to hear any views that differ from my interpretation above.

 

Posted in Afghanistan, Bilateral Aid, Development, Diaspora, Foreign Policy, International Cooperation Fund, Mongolia and ..., Mongolian Diaspora, SCO | Tagged | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost 14: Do Not Need to Hide, Be Confident

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan

Our next guest is from the art world. N. Ligden is a talented musician in the traditional musical band Jonon and in the sessional jazz band Grooving High. Inspired and grown up in a family with musical talents, Ligden is dedicating his life to the musical world despite the challenges of his vision impairment. This was another great podcast that opened up the world of a disabled musician for our listeners.

A Musician is like an Athlete

Ligden’s family encouraged his musical interests and helped in all possible ways. As Ligden recalled, they enlarged the musical notes so that he could read them and learn to play the most difficult tones. If someone has an impairment of one sense, for example vision, other senses could complement the missing skills. So, Ligden explained how his ears have been supporting his musical learning. Ligden graduated from the Mongolian Music and Dance College (now known as the Mongolian State Conservatoire), Mongolian University of Arts and Culture, and the jazz course at Mongolia’s Goethe Musiklabor Ulan Bator. Apparently, the most exciting schooling for him was the jazz course at the Goethe Musiklabor Ulan Bator.

Like many of our guests, he stressed the importance of continued education and urged the people with/without disabilities to pursue education and never give up. For him, musicians are like athletes, especially comparable to runners who are trying to break the record in the 100-meter race. Like the runner, the musician is working so hard to produce a masterpiece and hearing the excitement of the audience is the happiest moment for the musician. His dream is to produce that masterpiece.

Photo: Ligden himself (with the permission of Ligden)

Dealing with Stress

For a musician with disabilities there are the difficult, frustrating moments. Whenever Ligden experiences on of those moments, he stops immediately in order to avoid getting anxiety and having an episode of depression. So, he does the things that help him to get some relief and let him forget about that frustrating moment. After two or three days, he tries again with a more relaxed mind and body. Here we asked what advice he would give to disabled people who would like to become artists or musicians. “Don’t be lazy” – Ligden said. “Yes, you are experiencing some type of disability, but you need to find out your specific talents and skills. Nowadays, there are plenty of ways and tools available for your learning. For example, you will find all types of videos or lessons on Youtube. To become a good musician, be open to constructive criticism, this will only make you better.”

Don’t Hide, Be Proud

Ligden wants to change the current attitude towards the people with disabilities. He often feels that people look at disabled people as if they are seeing a ‘rabbit with horns’ (a Mongolian saying). There is some progress, but it’s happening very slowly. For instance, no single bus (public transportation) serves a person in a wheelchair. The only progress regarding public transportation is that some buses are equipped with acoustic and optical announcements of next stops. There are very few sign language interpreters nationwide. If more disabled people were given the opportunity to participate in policymaking, they would contribute to changing the current attitude and lead innovative policies. The country’s development is measured by the level of the inclusiveness of the people with disabilities.

He made two important points: one was not to wait for the state or government to make decisions. Do simple things that anyone can do for the people with disabilities. For instance, if you see a disabled person trying to cross the street, you can extend your help by simply asking if they need assistance. Or, just direct that person in the right direction to cross the street. And talk to a person with a disability as if you were talking to a person without a disability. Ligden’s other advice was for the people with disabilities. If you’re disabled, you don’t need to hide, worry, and be embarrassed about your disability. Please be open minded and express yourself. And get out of the shadow. The more you are present and visible, the more people will understand. Getting out of the shadow is a small thing in comparison to your courage and patience in dealing with the disability. Ligden encourages people with disabilities to be confident.

Photo: Left to Right-Ligden and his fellow musicians (with the permission of Ligden)

Impacts of COVID-19

It was scary – as we asked about the impacts of the COVID-19. Just like us, he is living with fear. Because of the restrictions, his sessional jazz band is currently not performing. Also, his band Jonon keeps postponing its recording of the Beatles music, which would be played with traditional Mongolian musical instruments. We all hope things can go back to normal and we all will be able to enjoy listening to a live performance of the Grooving High – in a hidden 🙂 jazz club near the Choijin Monastery or the performance of the Jonon Band.

So, we ended our interview by asking about his dream – which was to produce a lasting musical piece and, his bands appearing on the popular music lists. In this podcast, we really liked Ligden’s appeal to people with disabilities to increase their presence and visibility in order to change the current attitude about the people with disabilities.

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Mendee Jargalsaikhan, Music, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Russia and Mongolia on the Eve of the Eastern Economic Forum 2021

By Alexey Mikhalev

Despite the fact that the world is still fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, every day it is becoming more relevant to hold major forums focusing on economic recovery. From 2 to 4 September 2021, another Eastern Economic Forum will be held in the Russian city of Vladivostok, previously canceled due to the 2020 pandemic. Along with delegations from China and France, guests from Mongolia are expected to arrive. Pres. U Khurelsukh won a landslide victory in the presidential elections in June 2021. Now everyone hopes that he and his team will announce the prospects of cooperation with Russia and other countries of the Asia-Pacific region at the forum. What will it be about?

This year, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) celebrates its 20th anniversary. Mongolia is still an observer there. It seems that the new president can also outline new prospects for cooperation with the SCO. It is obvious that the current format has outlived its usefulness. It’s apparent that relations Mongolia and SCO have long since grown into something more, but they do not receive any formal recognition. Whether U Khurelsukh can maintain the previous vector of relations with the SCO, whether he declares the need for closer cooperation or refrains from commenting – this is one of the intrigues of the forum. It is not obvious that Pres. Khurelsukh will change the vector of SOC policy but Moscow expects him to make this move.

In 2021, the two oldest Marxist parties in Asia celebrate their centenary, the Chinese Communist Party and the Mongolian People’s Party. Their influence on the development of the Asian region is undeniable; therefore, their historical experience is important for Russia as the successor to the USSR. Besides, the year 2021 is the centennial of the establishment of Russian-Mongolian diplomatic relations. This date is commemorated with numerous conferences and forums held throughout the year.

In these conditions, the presence of the Mongolian delegation at the Eastern delegation would be highly welcome.логичным продолжением юбилейных торжеств.

Vaccine diplomacy

Of course, the most important topic will be events related to the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the world. It is important for Russia to support and build on the success of its vaccines, so it will be interesting to discuss the Mongolian experience, a multivariate vaccination option has been chosen there. Mongolians have been vaccinated with almost all presently known vaccines. This is a unique situation that makes it possible to assess the advantages and disadvantages of vaccines. All this takes into account the Asian specifics, that is, mutations of the virus into regional strains. Vaccines have become a key factor in so-called vaccine diplomacy. They are not the only topic that has become relevant against the backdrop of the pandemic. Unexpectedly, questions, that are seemingly forgotten, may be added to the agenda. For example, the memory of Soviet doctors who fought epidemics in Central Asia.

We should not forget about vaccine diplomacy: Russia is interested in the promotion of Sputnik-V vaccine. Its creation was not only an act of supporting state prestige but also a contribution to struggle against the pandemic. Today, Sputnik-V is used in a number of countries including Mongolia, therefore it would be very interesting to know a consolidated opinion about the vaccine at the Eastern Economic Forum.

Power industry and economics

On June 1, 2021, Russian and Mongolian ministers of foreign affairs met to discuss the development of economic relations. Economic sphere is one of the most complex issues at the moment since the pandemic caused a crisis. It is possible to solve this crisis only if mutual efforts are taken. Therefore, economic matters were so thoroughly discussed at the meeting in Moscow. Also, the meeting in Moscow opens a number of further perspectives for other events at various levels. As for the topics for discussion, there is a number of them, and power industry is the most important.

The topic of hydropower appears relevant as well. Many stakeholders in the region are concerned about it. It is not known whether the Mongolian delegation is going to address this issue. But the Russian side should be ready. This is a sensitive issue, especially in the context of water conflicts in Central Asia. On one hand, this is about resource nationalism that strives to provide the national economy with national electricity; and on the other hand, the concerns balancing the ecological system of Lake Baikal.

Russia’s position here is to avoid using water resources in the conditions of abundance of alternatives sources of energy. For example, Mongolia has ideal conditions for solar energy generation. One of the panels at the Eastern Economic forum will be devoted to carbon-free economy. This topic is very important for Mongolia, an importer of carbohydrates from Russia and a country seeking energy independence. However, Mongolian Foreign Minister B Battsetseg said in her interview devoted to the centennial anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations that Mongolia would like to continue hydropower cooperation with Russia. An important component of the energy topic will be the discussion of Power of Siberia pipeline and its Mongolian section Soyuz Vostok. These topics were discussed at the meeting of foreign ministers and, undoubtedly, these topics remain important and can be included into the agenda of the Eastern Economic Forum.

Eastern Economic Forum is a place to discuss the future. In particular, it is a place to discuss the architecture of Asian Pacific regional order. Of similar importance is the future of digital policy, and this topic is to become one of the discussed topics. Mongolia’s position in all aforementioned topics in contemporary conditions is very important.

The challenges above are the most important to Russian-Mongolian relations. In fact, there are many more of them — the only question is, to what extent will the parties’ expectations correspond to the agenda of the Eastern Economic Forum? For all the complexity of relations between the two countries, one of the key goals of the forum is to promote the Russian Far East, which makes up about 40% of the territory of Russia. This involves cooperation and dialogue.

About Alexey Mikkhalev

Alexey Mikhalev is a Political scientist (Asian Studies), Political observer and Doctor of Science (Russian degree). He mostly works with the Russian politics in Inner Asia and is currently researching «Russian World Policy» and Memory studies in Inner Asia.

Posted in Alexey Mikhalev, Energy, Foreign Policy, Health, Mongolia and ..., Mongolian People's Party, Russia, SCO | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost Episode 13: Education Means Competitiveness in Business

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan

Oidov Vaanchig, (@OidovVaanchig) a disability activist, business entrepreneur, good husband, and father of three wonderful children. He has a diverse educational background: elementary school in Russia, secondary school in Umnugobi province, the National University of Mongolia, and business administration in Switzerland. Our guest shared his views on business, education, and challenges concerning the people with disabilities.

Going Into Business

After having worked for over ten years in the humanitarian sector, Oidov decided to become a business entrepreneur. At that time, he had already learned about the market and the needs of disabled customers. Working for the international non-governmental organizations in Mongolia, Oidov travelled all over the country to provide assistive devices and disability equipment, provided by the United States, to disabled people at free of charge. The only thing that he needed was to study business, and he was fortunate to be accepted to the Swiss scholarship program to pursue international business administration. The first few years of the business had been challenging, as he explains, but his experience and education helped him to do successful crowdfunding to continue his business.

Photo: Oidov and his company “REHTUS” (with the permission of Oidov)

He talked about his three businesses: the first being the sale of disability equipment. For example, when someone asks about wheelchairs, he always puts himself in his customer’s shoes to understand their needs and requirements. In his words, “I try to solve the problem from their perspective.” His second business is the provision of services and technology to those who need to take care of their disabled family members without interrupting their jobs. Because of the absence of such services, many people need to quit their jobs to take care of their close ones. The last business – he just started – is an inclusive, eco-friendly housing project. As Oidov argues, people experience disability throughout their life, or, at any stage of their life: a newborn baby, pregnancy, injury, and ageing. Therefore, this inclusive, eco-friendly house will be designed and built with two concepts in mind: being inclusive of a wide range of people from young couples to older ones and, eco-friendliness, especially in regard to heating. We agreed that he would be showing this project on our first vlog – an upcoming new feature of the Untold.

The Right Hand Doesn’t Know What the Left Hand is Doing

As we asked about the key challenges concerning the people with disabilities, Oidov answered: the lack of consideration and coordination with regard to policies. For many years, government officials declared to be in the making of an inclusive society. But in reality, not much has been done.

Taking the example of inclusive education, Oidov explained the soft and hard factors. Soft factors are teachers and parents. So, the state has only pressured already busy, stressed schoolteachers to promote inclusive education. Although teachers and parents are a key, the most important aspect are the hard factors: the infrastructure inside schools (i.e., lifts, washrooms, hallways) and outside schools (public and private transportation, loading/unloading zones, parking). For instance, most schools have three-story buildings and classes starting from the fifth and sixth grades are on the upper floors. Schools do not have lifts and lack accessible washrooms. Kindergartens are usually two-story buildings and do not have lifts. But, in developed societies, the kindergartens must be located on the ground floor of the buildings because of potential emergencies (fire, earthquake). So, until the infrastructure has changed, inclusive education would simply remain a political rhetoric.

Moreover, the law and standards on accessibility have not been enforced in Mongolia. The construction companies that failed to comply with the standards should be banned from future tenders. And, our guest regrets, big companies are building supermarkets without thinking about serving people with disabilities (over 120,000) and, of course, parents with small children. So, Oidov argues that the people who make and implement policies concerning disabled people lack the knowledge. Moreover, they simply ignore those who have the knowledge and experience.

Education, Education, and Education

Throughout the podcast, our guest picked up on the importance of education. To become successful business people, they must have education, especially starting with kindergarten. People, who were included in the kindergarten level of education, are more likely to pursue further education. Therefore, kindergartens should be accessible and inclusive of children with disabilities.

The inclusive education will help others to understand and learn how to deal with people with disabilities. When he was studying at the secondary school in Umnugobi province, he was the only student with a disability. Students, five grades lower and above knew him. And his classmates learned how to study, play, and live with a person like Oidov. Then, at university, he was aware of only two other disabled students studying at different universities. Indeed, this is a sad fact. Very few people with disabilities decided to go to university. One of our earlier guests, Battulga, regretted that his friend did not pursue his graduate degree freely, as entitled by the law, because the procedural documents were not approved by the Ministry of Education for so many years.

Photo: Oidov in the Alps (with the permission of Oidov)

According to Oidov and many other of our guests, education is key to empowering the people with disabilities, to learn about their rights and, as Oidov highlights, it is a foundation for everything: getting out of poverty and/or to become a successful businessperson. When Oidov was working with the international organization, they found out that many students with disabilities leave the school. For example, only three students out of thirteen disabled students who entered the first grade, continued by the fifth grade. Ten of them left the school by the third and fourth grade because the conditions were not right for them. Although national reports on education show a high number of disabled children attending schools, in reality, the consistency of education for these kids is a crucial issue to be addressed immediately.  Here, Oidov directs us to a crucial policy research – one needs to find out why these children are giving up.

This was one of the interviews that all participants did not want to come to an end. We all hope to have many successful business entrepreneurs like Oidov – who have big dreams and pursue them tirelessly and skillfully. Not only in business, Oidov has been known for his entrepreneurship of localizing the profession of occupational therapy in Mongolia. He helped the Health Science University and Nursing Schools to develop the Bachelor’s and Master’s program. And he asked our young listeners to check out this occupational therapist program – which is regarded as one of the top-ranking professions globally in the 21st century. As soon as things go back to normal, we will present you a vlog about Oidov’s inclusive, eco-friendly housing projects.

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Education, Health, Mendee Jargalsaikhan, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Mongolian Olympic Team in Tokyo 2020

By Zorigtkhuu Bat-Erdene 

A Mongolian National Olympic Team of 43 athletes participated in the 2020 Summer Olympic Game in Tokyo, Japan in ten different sports.  Mongolian athletes have been participating in every Summer Olympic Games since 1964 in Tokyo, except the one in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles due to its support of the Soviet Union boycott.

The 43 athletes participated in the following sports:

# Sport Men Women Total
1 Archery 1 1 2
2 Athletics 2 1 3
3 Basketball (3X3) 0 4 4
4 Boxing 2 1 3
5 Judo 7 5 12
6 Shooting 1 3 4
7 Swimming 1 1 2
8 Table tennis 1 1 2
9 Weightlifting 0 2 2
10 Wrestling Freestyle 3 6 9
Total 18 25 43

 First Mongolian team sport in Olympic history

Although many new and young athletes qualified for the Olympic Games for the first time, I want to emphasize the Mongolian Women’s 3×3 Basketball team. This is the first time ever Mongolia is participating in the Olympic Games with a team sport. The team is one of only eight countries that qualified for Tokyo 2020. However, two of the original members of the team, D.Ganzul and B.Bolor-Erdene were not able to participate in the Olympic game at the last minute. The head coach announced that these players were excluded because of their injuries. Whereas, one of the two players posted on her Facebook, saying that she is ready for the Olympic Game, does not have any injuries, and wishes success for her teammates.

This caused some social discussion and debate, as these two players are highly skilled and experienced and had contributed to the team’s success in winning the Olympic qualification for the Mongolian team. The main discussion about the two basketball players not being able to join was that the coaches and the 3×3 basketball association had chosen players affiliated with politicians and wealthy families. However, it was too late to complain since the final names of the players were already given to the Olympic officials. Hopefully, there were not political influences, and the coaches made the right decision.

The selected players played incredibly well against leading basketball countries such as the USA, France, Italy, etc., although they could not win against any of their opponents. They have built the path for future basketball players as well as other team sport athletes. It has been a dream for Mongolian basketball fans to see their basketball team playing at the Olympic Games.

Results from the Olympics

As a result of the Tokyo 2020, Mongolia is ranked 71st  out of 206 nations, including Refugee Olympic Team (EOR), with four  medals, one silver and three bronze medals. These  medals have been taken by the judo and freestyle wrestlers as follows:

Silver Saeid Mollaei Judo Men’s 81 kg
Bronze Urantsetseg Munkhbat Judo Women’s 48 kg
Bronze Tsogtbaatar Tsend-Ochir Judo Men’s 73 kg
Bronze Bolortuya Bat-Ochir Freestyle Wome’s 53 kg

Interesting statistics regarding Mongolian participation in the Tokyo 2020 based on the number of medals

Total Medals per Capita Mongolia is ranked 20th
Weighted Medals per Capita Mongolia is ranked 30th
Weighted Medals by GDP Mongolia is ranked 11th
Total Medals Mongolia is ranked 47th
 Source: https://www.medalspercapita.com/

Two sides of Nationalism

Mr. Saeid Mollaei is the first foreign-born athlete who represents Mongolia in the Olympic Games in Mongolian history. He is an Iranian-born Mongolian judoka. The Iranian authorities ordered him to lose deliberately in the semi-final at the Tokyo 2019 World Judo Championship to avoid wrestling against the Israelian judoka in the final round of that tournament. After fleeing to Germany with a two-year visa, he accepted an offer to become a Mongolian citizen from the Mongolian president in 2019. He is delighted that he has Mongolian citizenship and expressed his sincere gratitude to the International Judo Federation (IGF), the former president of Mongolia, Kh Battulga, who offered him the citizenship and specials thanks to the people of Mongolia.

Mongolians warmly welcomed him when he decided to immigrate to Mongolia. He was given the Mongolian name “Molom.” When he got his silver medal from the Tokyo Olympics, it was clear that he is very well respected, loved and embraced like other Mongolian Olympic medal winners.

Molom’s story is inspirational; in a sense, it shows two sides of nationalism. On the one hand, he left Iran due to the country’s nationalism. On the other hand, he represented Mongolia in Judo – a country that harbours strong nationalistic sentiments, especially in wrestling, yet Mongolians were united behind him, embracing him as a son. This is truly a beautiful story of the Olympics and sports.

Boxing in Olympics

Another Olympic sport that Mongolian athletes had a good chance of winning a medal was boxing. The boxers had won the gold, silver and bronze medals in boxing from the previous three Olympic Games, Rio 2016, London 2012 and Beijing 2008. Unfortunately, our boxers were not able to get any Olympic medals from Tokyo 2020.

E. Tsendbaatar (Men’s 52-57 kg) fought for the bronze medal against a Russian boxer. The referees gave his opponent a very doubtful victory even though Tsendbaatar dominated for the first two rounds. Regarding this decision, the Mongolian Olympic Committee appealed it formally, unlike the protest in 2016 where the coaches took off their clothes. Unfortunately, the decision remained as it was.

After his fight, he mentioned during the interview that he lost his bronze medal opportunity along with his chance to change his life. Meaning that if he could have got any medal from the Olympics, he had an opportunity to change his life because Mongolia awards a one-time cash prize and a monthly stipend for its Olympic medalists. As a Mongolian watching the games, his expression made me feel sad realizing the fact that he was carrying a burden of his whole life along with the punches from his opponent.

Mongolia rewards its Olympic medalists as follows:

One-time Monthly
Gold 120 000 000 MNT 4 000 000 MNT
Silver 60 000 000 MNT 3 000 000 MNT
Bronze 30 000 000 MNT 2 000 000 MNT
Source: https://news.mn/r/2457208/

In addition to the state rewards, there will also be rewards from the sponsor organizations, local councils and businesses.

Issues that require further attention to improve the success

Many athletes ( weightlifting, boxing, judo, freestyle wrestling etc.) competed for the medals in the semi-final, which shows that our athletes are highly competitive in individual sports and have the high physical potential to take more medals from the Olympics. However, sports are not all about physical training; athletes need more psychological support and their physiotherapist before, during and after their contests. A Japanese sport’s physiotherapist who has been working with the Mongolian judo team had posted on his social account about the importance of physiotherapy. Unfortunately, he was not able to go to Tokyo 2020 with his team for some reason. He could have helped not only the judo team, but he could also have provided his treatment to wrestling, boxing teams etc., if he went to the Tokyo 2020 with the team and results might have been different, who knows.

Hopefully, officials and sports associations will ensure sending the essential people such as psychologists and physiotherapists on time with the athletes to both the summer and winter Olympic games.

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Game is on its way. Although Mongolians are not expecting medals from the athletes who will participate in the winter Olympics, we hope that our athletes will be breaking their personal and our country’s records in Beijing. I look forward to seeing more athletes succeed in the next Olympic Games.

About the author

Bat-Erdene ZORIGTKHUU currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He graduated from MUST and is aiming to complete a Master’s degree at Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering of the University of British Columbia. Zorigtkhuu’s research focuses on Mining Local Procurement (Local Content) in Mongolia.

Professional background: Zorigtkhuu worked for the biggest coal mining company (Energy-Resources) in Mongolia and an “International Medical Center (Intermed Hospital)” project that was jointly commissioned by MCS group in Mongolia.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cultural Diplomacy, London 2012, Nationalism, Olympics, Pop Culture, Society and Culture, Sports, Tokyo 2020, Wrestling, Youth, Zorigtkhuu Bat-Erdene | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost Episode 12: Wonderful Children Captivated Me

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan

Our guest is E. Enkhzul, a teacher at the 116th school – the only school for the visually impaired and blind children in Mongolia. Having worked both during the socialist and democratic periods, Enkhzul shared her insightful views full of contrasts.

Facing Her Prejudice

In 1987, a young graduate of the Mongolian State Pedagogical University (now Mongolian State University of Education) needed to face her fear of working at the 25th school, known as a school for children with intellectual disability. Otherwise, she would be assigned to work in a remote rural school. When she was studying at the secondary school, parents and even teachers used to threaten kids with sending them to the 25th school if they would not behave or study well. People spread rumors telling ugly, frightening stories about this school. So, she decided to teach there with the hope of being assigned to a different school whenever the opportunity would arise. The first year was hard, she recalls, all previous misconceptions and prejudices kept her scared and even pushed her to quit. However, experienced senior teachers and the beautiful, smart children motivated her to teach for now over 34 years, and she still loves to teach. 

Photo: Enkhzul with her students (with the permission of Enkhzul)

Special Education During the Socialist Period

Special schools were established in the 1960s. Core faculty members were educated in the former Soviet Union and, on a monthly basis, specialists from the Soviet Union used to run workshops and seminars for Mongolian teachers who were working in the special schools. At that time, there were no special training programs or courses on teaching children with disabilities at the Mongolian State University of Education. Therefore, teachers assigned to work in special schools, were coached by senior teachers and specialists from the Soviet Union. Also, a nation-wide survey on children with disabilities was jointly conducted by three ministries (Ministries of Health, Education, and Social Welfare) on a regular basis. Covering all soums and city districts, the survey would present the exact number of children with disabilities and the type/degree of disabilities. Based on this data, the student and teacher ratio was determined by the Ministry of Education. But things got worse during the political and economic transition periods of the 1990s.

Special Schools

From 1964 to 2007, both, children with visual and children with hearing impairment used to go to the 29th school. Then, in 2007, the 116th school was designated for the visually impaired children, while the 29th school was designated for hearing impaired children. The school programs of these schools are similar to those of other public schools; therefore, students take the general exam to apply to post-secondary schools. Children with intellectual disabilities have different programs. Enkhzul, who is teaching elementary school students, Enkhzul explains that children with disabilities can have multiple disabilities. For example, six of seven students in her class have other types of disabilities (e.g., autism, cerebral palsy) in addition to visual impairment. Therefore, a teacher’s workload at the special schools is heavier than that of the teacher at a public school. Each student requires a specific pacing and teaching methodology. This requires having an assistant teacher even for a class of four or five students.  

Advice to Parents – Education is Important

The most important thing is to observe your children from an early age and to assess their behaviors, physical skills, and linguistic development. Parents should seek advice from family doctors and specialists on how to assess and help their children improve their skills. Many parents loose valuable time and loose the momentum for their children to develop self-help skills and social skills. As Enkhzul sighs, it was incredibly sad to see ten-to fourteen-year-olds joining the elementary schools because they did not go to school at the age of six or seven. Some parents are afraid to send their children to special schools because they presume that their children cannot live away from them. This is understandable, especially for those who live in the countryside. However, some parents want to keep their children so that they can work for money or carry out the household chores. It was common practice during the economic hardships in the 1990s. But parents should understand that these children are entitled to study, and for many, education is key to unlock their talents. 

Photo: Enkhzul with her students (with the permission of Enkhzul)

A Story of Her Student

One story, she shared, was a good example of the role education plays. There was a girl, who lived in the ger district of the capital city. Her dad was unemployed and an alcoholic. The only breadwinner in the family was her mom, who was a tailor and was working the nightshifts in a textile company. The girl was overwhelmed with the tasks of looking after her brothers and sisters, housekeeping, helping her mom overnight, and going to school. Sometimes, she did not show up for her class. Enkhzul insisted and almost forced her to take the final exam for the 9th grade, so she could get a certificate and apply for jobs or vocational schools. Luckily, she graduated from secondary school and then finished vocational school. Many years later, she invited Enkhzul to her house and introduced her family and a new apartment, which they bought after having worked in South Korea. This was, as Enkhzul stresses, one of the happiest moments of her life. 

Impacts of Covid 19

The children with disabilities are hit hard by the COVID-19. Unlike public school students, visually impaired students cannot learn through the government-run tele-education. For example, some areas do not receive the channel (e.g., Ekh Oron channel) which delivers the tele-schooling for the third graders. Many children do not have access to computers and the internet. Students with visual impairment need to use their phones to listen to their teachers, but many of them do not have sufficient data. The students of the 116th school have been comfortably learning through touch, but now they may begin to lose these special skills. Hence, the teachers are expecting an immense workload to help students catch up and overcome these challenges. 

There Is Progress, But…

In comparison to the 1980s, much progress has been made. People are gradually changing their views about children with disabilities. A new law was passed to promote inclusive education. This is extremely helpful for children with disabilities, as they can now transfer from the special schools to join public schools. In addition to Russian specialists, teachers have been working with specialists from Japan and South Korea. Many international organizations are providing support to special schools. Early diagnosis and rehabilitation have been improved, but many challenges remain. Only two of six special schools have lifts while all other public schools do not have lifts – so, how can we promote inclusive schooling? There are many nice talks about the barrier free environment, however, ultimately standards are not complied with, and it thereby remains a lip service. Some accessibility roads are even dangerous for anyone who would use them. Looking at these half-baked, crude attempts is heartbreaking. The state officials need to enforce their laws and standards because these children with disabilities are carrying a load bigger than themselves. 

After working for over 34 years, Mrs. Enkhzul still always loves to talk about her students. And she told us that she worries about their future, especially about whether they will find jobs and make a living. Throughout the interview, she repeated that these beautiful children captivated her and she overcame the prejudices that she held against the children with disabilities, particularly regarding the 25th special school during her formative years. She did not leave her job, even during the economic difficulties of the 1990s when the school could not pay their teachers on time. 

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Education, Health, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

10-Year Anniversary

By Julian Dierkes

WOW!!!

We’ve been blogging for 10 years!

We had hoped to hold a public event in Ulaanbaatar for this anniversary, invite some past authors, perhaps give some readers a chance to say a few things about the blog… but alas, COVID will not allow for that this summer.

Origins, Coverage and Authors

Byambajav, Julian and Mendee (from left) in 2017

It all started with conversations between Byambajav Dalaibuyan, Mendee Jargalsaikhan and myself in the office. Those led to the very first blog post on July 29 2011 where Mendee summarized his MA thesis on anti-Chinese attitudes.

From then on, we have written over 700 posts on many different topics and many different authors have joined us. I’ve never calculated the average length of posts, but 700 words would be a conservative estimate.  That suggests at total of over 500,000 words.

For the variety of topics, just see the category cloud in the right margin. These are mostly clustered around economic, political and social developments, though we sprinkled in sports, updates on visible change in Ulaanbaatar and the countryside, the arts, etc. We have always seen spikes of readership around national elections in part because we also posted a lot of analyses around these elections, but perhaps also because international interest in Mongolia is relatively selected and elections are an occasion to write even for international media.

Our initial crew of three was joined for a time by Brandon Miliate, and later by Bulgan Batdorj and Marissa J Smith.

Adding guest authors to our core crew, 70 authors have written for the blog. 9 of those authors have been or are affiliated with UBC.

Audience

As it turns out, when you keep writing, they will come to read!

Our posts have been read over 440,000 times by 160,000 readers. These readers are based in some of the world’s population giants (China, India, the U.S.), but also in Mongolia (just under a quarter of readers) which we’re especially happy about.

If you imagine the 500,000 words we’ve written to be an edited volume, that sure would be an academic bestseller, though, of course, few – if any, other than myself – of those readers have read all posts.

And yes, 440,000 pageviews!

Outlook

No concrete plans for changes. Some of us have other demands placed on our time, pandemics interfere with country visits, but our interest remains strong and our readership seems pretty steady. We’ve toyed with donation systems like “Buy me a Coffee”, but in the end, it seems too much trouble and we’re writing for a greater understanding of contemporary Mongolia, not for pay. We’ve also thought about other formats, perhaps most likely a podcast, but the blog format still serves our needs well, so perhaps we’re just sticking to what has worked in the past.

But, you should definitely feel free to buy any of us a coffee or perhaps even a beer when you see us. Please also let us know how useful the blog is to you, it’s always nice to have testimonials like that, not least to insert into annual reports, etc. And, we’re also happy to be invited to podcast conversations.

If you have more serious challenges, you can always hire us for consulting via the Mongolian Institute for Innovative Policies.

And yes, we are hoping to have a public event in summer 2022 for our 11-year anniversary, pandemic times permitting.

Posted in Reflection | Tagged | Leave a comment

Untold Blogpost Episode 11: Let’s Remove Small Barriers of Communication

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan 

Our guest is a third-year student at the Mongolian International University (MIU). From her home soum in Bayankhongor Province, Ms Lkhamsuren shares with us her experience of secondary and post-secondary schools, her dream of educating the young generation, and her thoughts on an inclusive society.

Kind-hearted Teachers in Bayankhongor

She started to lose her eyesight from the eighth grade. It became worse as she went on to the ninth grade, when she could not read and write anymore at all. But her teachers and friends helped her with the lessons by reading them for her and teachers let her take oral exams, although this practice was not formally accepted. She will never forget these kind-hearted teachers and classmates in Bayankhongor. Once it became clear for her that she could not continue her schooling, she stayed with her parents who were herders. As she recalled, it was so exciting to hear about school life (‘rumours’) every time her sisters and brothers returned home during the school breaks but saddening to farewell them back to school dorms. At that time, the most difficult decision for her was whether to burn or keep her diaries.  Those contained the most valuable memories of her childhood, but she could not read them. Though she accepted the fact of blindness, she could not stop thinking about schooling. Luckily, her parents were brave enough to send their daughter to the country’s only secondary school for vision-impaired children in the capital city Ulaanbaatar.   

Photo: Lkhamsuren herself (with the permission of Lkhamsuren)

The 116th Secondary School

The first few months were so difficult, she sighed. Although she eventually learned the Braille alphabet within a month, her fingers were at first not cooperating, and the reading was most challenging. However, she made new friends who helped her to get over the challenges of Braille and the homesickness. In the first year, her dad used to visit almost every week, travelling over 800 kms from Bayankhongor to the capital city, just to check if their daughter was doing fine. She was thankful that her parents made such a brave decision to support their daughter’s dream of studying and becoming a teacher. During her study at the 116th secondary school, she noticed the significant improvement of the school’s facility and technology related to the Braille program. The school is now equipped with the Braille printing technology and software. However, young teachers need to be prepared to work with the students. There were three common problems with these new teachers: (1) some have personal issues, especially biases against the students, (2) lack of knowledge of the old and new Braille technology and programmes, and (3) no or little psychological or mental preparation. It would be extremely helpful if they had a short, practical job training before working at the secondary school. Otherwise, the students would suffer as these teachers are trying to overcome these challenges by making mistakes and increasing pressures on the students. 

Studying at the University

Now Lkhamsuren is pursuing her dream of becoming an English language teacher at the Mongolian International University (MIU). After graduating from university, she wants to teach at a language learning centre or regular secondary schools, not only to show that a girl with impaired sight can pursue her dreams but also to spread knowledge about disabled people in our society. One day, her students, who will then be knowledgeable about people with disabilities, would help many understand the concept of an inclusive society. At university, she has been busy with numerous important projects. She was a member of a team composed of people with other types of disabilities. Her team successfully participated in the national as well as the regional Asia-Pacific IT competitions. Furthermore, she conducted research to assess the toilet accessibility for the people with disabilities and presented her results at an academic conference. Except for the toilets in a handful of business and service centres, most toilets were not accessible to people with disabilities – not even for a person without disabilities. 

Photo: Lkhamsuren participating in Global IT Challenge 2018 (with the permission of Lkhamsuren)

What Should Be Done

The laws, regulations, and standards, need to be complied with by the construction companies in order to improve the accessibility of the infrastructure for people with disabilities. The statements of our earlier guests resonate with Lkhamsuren: buildings, roads, and washrooms, should be universally accessible for all people (elders, sick, or with small children).  Therefore, it is not an issue that concerns only people in wheelchairs or people with walking sticks. According to our guest, two things should be done: (1) the standards must be inspected and hold responsible those failed to comply these standards, and (2) people who are designing and building should consider the users of these facilities.

Another suggestion for improvement is to increase the use of the internet for the dissemination of information to people with disabilities and to parents with disabled children. The government organizations and non-governmental organizations could provide more information about their activities to the public. Instead of targeting only people with disabilities, the online platform should be used to promote the idea of an inclusive society. They could create contents and programmes for adults, school children, and even kindergarteners. Why do we not, for example, create cartoons about five friends, and one of them has a disability. This will help small children learn about children with disabilities, and eventually change their attitudes towards their friends with disabilities. It would teach them that a person in a wheelchair could dance, and a blind person could read. 

Education – Everyone Should Promote

Our guest was constantly emphasising the importance of education. Education will help people with disabilities unlock their potential and pursue their dreams. There are three reasons for which children with disabilities cannot pursue education. First, they and their parents do not know about their capability to learn and develop. Second, there are only a handful of schools with limited space. For instance, there is only one secondary school for children with impaired eyesight in the entire country. Parents, especially those residing in the countryside, cannot send their children away due to financial constraints. Third, parents just do not want to send their children to school because they want to keep them close by. To change these types of negative attitudes, the government should send out positive messages about schooling children with disabilities to the parents, as well as their children. Lkhamsuren hopes that social influencers could take a lead in this regard. In that way, they would encourage parents to send their children to school and contribute to better public awareness about disabilities. 

Impacts of the COVID-19

The pandemic hits everyone hard. It was quite difficult financially when she was at the dormitory during the lockdown, even though the school provided some support. Once she was back with her siblings in the home soum, things got better. However, she could not visit her parents who are herding the cattle in the countryside. Her brothers and sisters have fallen behind in their schooling. For her, online schooling became the new normal. Indeed, we all hope things will go back to normal and that Lkhamsuren can visit her parents as often as she pleases.

There were many topics we could talk about with Lkhamsuren, and we know there are many stories which she would like to share. Here is one piece of advice for our readers and listeners. In our conversation, several examples came up about how people get nervous when they meet or talk to people with impaired eyesight. She advised that we should treat any person with disability just like any other normal person. Of course, there are some challenges these people experience – but they want to be treated as equals.  So, if you want to talk to a person with a white cane or a person in a wheelchair, speak and act normally.  

The Untold podcast and blog post are made available by the generous support of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mongolia. We also want to thank our editor Riya Tikku.

Posted in Education, Higher Education, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Primary and Secondary Education | Tagged | Leave a comment

What’s Wrong with Chinggis Studies?

By Julian Dierkes

Okay, the enforced brevity of tweets got me into some trouble here.

Bolor Lkhaahjav was right for calling me out for my tweet.

And so was Kenny Linden for chiming in.

So, let me see if I can make a more reasonable argument with a bit more space/words.

Relative Allocation of Scarce Research Resources

Mongolia’s resources that can be devoted to social science and humanities research are scare. Similarly, the academic attention to social/cultural aspects of Mongolia (past, present and future) is limited internationally.

If you set those domestic resources at an imagined 100 units, then my feeling is that most decision-makers (politicians, but also research and academic managers, two groups that often overlap given the political appointments to research leadership positions) would allocate somewhere around 60 units to Chinggis Studies, 20 to Mongolian as a language and the remaining scraps to all kinds of other topics.

If you think of international social science and humanities research interest in Mongolia at a similar 100 units, the proportion devoted to 13th century is much lower but still significant, perhaps 20 or so. A much greater variety of topics commands attention with clusters of interest focused on Buddhism, animal husbandry and pasture management, etc. I would not attempt to come up with a complete list here. Though, very notably, there are some very different approaches and very different emphases on language with Eastern Europe and much of Asian academic interest being very philological, i.e. rooted in very deep engagement with language and focus on culture, while Western Europe, North America, and Oceania is a bit more social sciency in predominant interests, though with a heavy dose of archaeology and historical work sprinkled in.

My Perspective – in the Abstract

On a global scale, there is nothing wrong with any of that. I would always make the case for the greatest possible variety of academic interests and strongly believe in the value of Orchideenfächer (orchid-ology, or seemingly obscure niches of academic interest) to humanity and not just in the sense of benefitting by enabling development or anything like that, but very much by benefitting humanity by expanding our knowledge. It’s one of the reasons I am very happy to teach at a very large university where many different research interests can be supported.

Note that my own interest in contemporary Mongolia seems very odd, niche and possibly obscure to many of my colleagues. Likewise with my research on Japan. That’s okay and I am grateful that these niches exist and would always defend them.

However…

You knew from the previous paragraph that a big “But…” was coming.

What drives research interests? All kinds of factors from the very personal/autobiographical, to accidents, to opportunities that present themselves. The development of research interests (including my own in Mongolia) is thus somewhat  haphazard and that’s how it should be. I don’t believe in “science policy” that starts from the premise of utility to make the case for differential founding – contrary to what my tweets may have suggested, I fear.

Yet, it is contemporary Mongolia that I find so rich in potential research topics, not centuries’ ago history.

Yes, that is in part because I am fundamentally more interested in modern society and that’s a matter of taste. It’s also because I believe – as a sociologist – that while we carry all kinds of historical imprinting on our social behaviour, ultimately this collective behaviour can change through contemporary action, including policy, we are not determined by our past even though it continues to reverberate.

But when I take the bus across Ulaanbaatar or when I have a chance to chat with a political activist in a far-flung soum, many, many research questions come to my mind where the dynamism of Mongolian society (demography, political/institutional change, the herding economy, the geopolitical situation, religious dynamics etc. etc.) are unusual in the world and thus lend themselves to comparative research where Mongolia is not merely an exoticized case study, but rather a useful case for comparison.

Many of those questions (or their answers, though, of course, social science and humanities answers are not always crisp, clear or straight-forward) have a direct impact on the choices that today’s Mongolians are making. Research that examines these choices would offer a type of understanding that will inform subsequent decisions more directly than a better understanding of long-ago historical dynamics, as fascinating as those are.

Side-Note: Impact of Chinggis-Focus on International Perceptions

Maybe a Chinggis Museum is a good idea for tourism, for Mongolia is famous for Chinggis Khaan, after all. So, perhaps more tourists will visit the Museum than used to visit the Museum of Natural History. Maybe. But what this along with the policy-preference for Chinggis Studies as expressed in Pres Khurelsukh’s campaign platform will do is, it will lock Mongolia for the foreseeable future into a cage of the exotic, quaint and irrelevant.

Again, that may be a good marketing scheme for tourism and probably also for cashmere and other natural products. I cannot see individual Mongolians benefitting from this strategy other than in those sectors. If I, as a German, wandered the world telling everyone how fascinating Carolingian history is ,who would accept me as a student (other than scholars of Charlemagne), who would want to talk to much less do business with me? With their focus on Chinggis, policy makers are very much limiting the opportunities of young Mongolian scholars, or at least of those of those scholars who happened not to want to be Chinggis scholars. Yes, members of an International Association of Chinggis Studies will be ferociously loyal to contemporary Mongolia, of course, except for those engaged in Chinggis Studies in Southern Mongolia where such scholars may be more numerous but their motivations and the state’s support is highly suspect. But to everyone else, this will always remain an obscure niche.

Side-Note: Contemporary?

Yes, history. I am fascinated by history myself, a fascination that led straight to a dissertation on history education in Japan and the Germanys, albeit from a sociological perspective. Through my exposure to Mongolia scholarship I have learned more and become very interested in Central Asian history, including long-ago history. What an array of language and cultures, but also forms of state organization, etc.

And yes, there are many aspects of Mongolia history that are hugely fascinating. But my personal preference directs me at contemporary or, at least, modern history, call it the late 19th, 20th and 21st century. From what I have been able to read in non-Mongolian sources (my limitation for scholarly work at least), I still don’t really have a strong sense of what happened from 1911 through 1930 or so. Even though things get a bit clearer by the time of the democratic revolution, it took Mendee’s dissertation for me to get a better sense of how that revolution was possible and what impact it had. There are episodes in contemporary history that I find fascinating, such as the disbanding of the Mongolian military prior to the Sino-Soviet split. But really, where I get more actively interested is from 1990 on.

Bottom Line

Please, as researchers, follow your interests even if those include the 13th century. But as policy makers, consider what niche you want your budding researchers to be locked into and whether you don’t want to document and understand all the changes that are occurring in Mongolia right now. My allocation of research units would be closer to the opposite of what I observe, namely Chinggis Studies 20: contemporary Mongolia 80.

And yes, as will be clear to many readers, this is a self-serving argument coming from me.

And no, for now, there will not be a “Chinggis” category on this blog. ????

Posted in History, Reflection, Research on Mongolia | Tagged | Leave a comment