Guest Post: An “Alternate Economy” Run by Chieftains

By B Naidalaa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Naidalaa

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

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

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

What are SMEs and the SME Fund?

By Marissa J. Smith

Asking questions about the international politics of the Mongolian economy

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

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

The Structure of the Mongolian SME Sector

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

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

International Aspirations

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

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

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

International Abstractions

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

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

Not a Political SMEar Campaign

By Mendee J and Julian Dierkes

A massive corruption scandal is brewing in Mongolia. Alhtough the scandal was skillfully picked up by President Battulga and Democratic Party MPs for partisan politicking, now it literally opened a pandora’s box of corruption.

Authorities have been scrambling since the factual evidence of abusing their authorities and misusing the state fund for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) is hard one to hide. The public would probably give a few months to see how those, who won offices on the anti-corruption tickets, would cope with this. However, any attempts to fool the public or to suppress would eventually lead to massive civil disobedience – maybe at the level of 1990 as implied in this tweet by former PM M Enkhsaikhan.

This could be the last test for current political leaders, law-enforcement agencies (esp., IAAC and police), and judiciary (eps., Chief Prosecutor) to demonstrate some real actions by penalizing corruption ones and deepening investigations of many other unresolved corruption allegations. The SME Fund is just one of 29 state funds.

The current agitation seems to be shifting debates around corruption from insinuation and allegations to investigative fact-finding and pointing to $0.5b lost to grubby political hands. The president even wants to go on hunger strike over the issue!

The SME Fund

In the early 1990s, the SME fund was created to support small and medium-sized enterprises as a key element in economic development through cheap access to loans. It was initially funded by donors in 1990s – and from the state budget since 2000. The fund office has transferred between ministries following any major governmental reshuffling and now it operates at the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry. The fund has a fancy website, and is known as Жижиг, Дунд Үйлдвэрийг Хөгжүүлэх Сан, abbreviated as Ждүхс, or just ЖДҮ. The SME Fund provides loans up to 2 billion tugrug for 5 years at a 3 percent interest rate. From 2011, substantial amounts from the bonds were used to finance the loans.

Since 2009, the fund dispersed over 680 billion tugrug, an amount of over US$400m.

2009 – 30 billion tugrug (US$21m)
2010 – 30.4 billion tugrug (US$22)
2011 – 290 billion tugrug (US$235m)
2013 – 48.9 billion tugrug (US34m)
2014 – 99.9 billion tugrug (US$55m)
2016-56.7 billion tugrug (US$28m)
2017 – 50.6 billion tugrug (US$21m)
2018 – 65 billion tugrug (US$28m)
[Conversion to US$ at rate on June 1 of given year and rounded]

Even though the Fund is subject to Mongolian transparency legislation so that its dispersals have been available for investigations, the fund’s operations have been secretive. Up till now, the authorities have been reluctant to report or to discuss the auditing reports on the funds.

Loans Coming to Light

The fund list was disclosed by investigative journalists, namely IKON News and the video news site, The list was followed up by other news media, for example, Udriin Sonin, De Facto, and investigative journalists, but many, for example, MNB have remained neutral or silent. However, the leak led many journalists to corner politicians to comment on these allegations and to dig the income reports of these politicians to reveal the connections with those SMEs received funds. At the same time, the leak instigated more critical and heated discourses on social media and obviously in streets. It provided opportunities for third parties, but only two of them, namely, HUN (National Labour Party) and Republican Party, which was one of the personalized party of B Jargalsaikhan, actively engaged. Interestingly, the MPRP (N Enkhbayar) and Civil Will and Green Party have been silent.

Implicated Politicians

In 2016, 1,034 business entities applied for SME funds and 134 entities received loans. However, 122 of 134 entities had clear connections (mostly familial) to parliament members, cabinet members, and senior officials in all branches of the government.

Initially, the media disclosed loans related to four MPs (MPP): B Batzorig, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Light Industry, allocated 1.4 billion tugrug for his spouse’s company; newly appointed Minister for Road and Transportation, Ya Sodbaatar, received 1.2 billion tugrug; MP Kh Bolorchuluun for his flour company 950 million tugrug; and MP G Soltan 950 million tugrug. Then, names of other MPs have been released: N Tserenbat , Minister for Environment and Tourism – with 1 billion tugrug; N Uchral, A Sukhbat, J Enkhbayar, D Sarangerel, L Oyun Erdene, and N Oyundari – 950 million tugrug (each), and B Undarmaa – 700 million tugrug.

The list continues with more names – B Khurts, former Chief of the GIA and Deputy Director of the IAAC, D Khurelbaatar, General Auditor, D Amarbayasgalan, General Secretary of the MPP, former Prime Minister Ch Saikhanbileg, and the brother of the President. Even though MPs from the DP began vociferous criticisms and boycotting the parliament sessions, facts about un-tendered loans of MP Erdenebat, when he was serving as Minister of Industry, and names of DP politicians – who were responsible for unaccounted and misused funds for the ASEM according to the state auditing reports.

This is the third fund (after MIAT’s War Risk Insurance Fund and Clean Air Fund), which was disclosed and requires criminal investigation. But, according to economists, this fund would explain the sudden rise of the funds of Non-Banking Financial Institutions, which provides quick, high-interest loans, and hidden economy – which feeds the politicians, affiliated businesses, and political parties.

Speculation, Assessment

The SME Fund scandal creates a complicated scenario for the coming months. It forces politicians, law enforcement officials (esp., the IAAC), and those in the judiciary (esp., Prosecutors’ Offices) to take a side on this scandal. As public frustrations grow and pressures from those benefitted increases, it becomes harder for these people to remain neutral since it would effect their political careers (as the election nears) and professional merits (esp., those at the IAAC and Prosecutors’ Offices).

As noted, a few members of parliament and a few outside the parliament have begun to stand on the side of anti-corruption discourses. This number will increase incoming days.

For the Prime Minister, as many remember his speech on fighting against corruption putting his life at risk, he needs to make a decision EITHER supporting his Finance Minister and firing cabinet members, who benefitted from the funds OR avoiding to get into conflicts with those benefitted from these funds. By now, the Prime Minister directed more auditing and investigations on other funds and demanded alleged MPs to return the loans.

For the President, as many voted for him in the hope of getting some solutions on their loans, the situation creates quite a complicated situation, but he needs to make a choice of doing nothing OR doing something. But, doing something (EITHER trying to use this scandal to upset his own party opponents and MPP leaders OR attempting to close the pandora’s box of corruption) is more challenging for him. He should let investigators look into some cases – he/his collaborators might have been involved.

For the Speaker, he simply has one choice – not losing his current post and seeking ways to maintain his influence within the party and parliament. This could lead to a major blow for M Enkhbold’s “city” faction.

This seems the right moment for third parties, especially HUN (National Labour Party), MPRP, and Civil Will, as well as some DP members – who have been critical about the party’s current leadership. For DP members, it even might serve a momentum to weaken current party leaders – especially, the Falcon and Mongolian Democratic Union factions or building up a faction of their own.

If the government, especially PM Khurelsukh, who is in charge of cabinet and party, as well as the IAAC and Chief Prosecutor’s Office can not capitalize on this momentum, this will eventually build up massive civil disobedience in coming months. The public, especially those in the public services, have been frustrated with low pay and high-interests loans, would suffer more if the petroleum price rises. The increase of the petroleum along with price hike (esp., holiday months – New Year and Lunar Celebration) would add more anger and frustration. So, if these officials and organizations neglect the deep-seated public frustration over corruption, we might expect massive protests for calling changes.

These all correspond to scenarios that we have outlined in recent weeks (Triggers of Upheaval | Yes, Triggers, But It Depends | Protests… and then?).

Posted in Business, Corruption, Diversification, Media and Press, Mongolian People's Party, Policy, Politics, Protest, Social Media, Social Movements | Tagged | Leave a comment

Tourism Clusters, Domestic Tourism, and RVs

By Julian Dierkes

When I actually visit Mongolia (not often enough, but 1-4 times/year over past dozen years or so), I have many conversations where I learn more and more about Mongolia, but that also raise other questions. If I lived here, I might have to turn the blog into a daily thing!

In August, I had such a conversation with Marc Tassé, longtime resident director for the American Center for Mongolian Studies and now, country director for Czech People in Need. This conversation was followed by a meeting with a long-time Twitter connection, Jochen_mn, who works in the Mongolian tourism industry.


Mongolia is part of a “generation” of emerging resource economies that are acutely aware of the risks of growth built on natural resources. Diversification of the economy has thus been a topic of conversations for some years.

There are many different proposals, some focused on manufacturing with or without links to natural resources, some on transport and infrastructure, or alternative energies, but among the possible avenues of diversification that seem to come to everyone’s mind are cashmere and tourism.

Tourism is seen as a potential area for comparative advantage for Mongolia. Beautiful nature, including fresh air (well, outside of cities and towns in the winter), close proximity to huge Asian markets, reachability for European markets, unique nomadic history, strong brand suggesting pristine nature but also “exoticness”… that sounds like a winning formula.


But there are some clear challenges to the development of the tourist industry: short tourist seasons and – linked to that – lack of infrastructure.

With May bringing unsteady weather, June often bringing rain, it is primarily July-August that tourism is most attractive in Mongolia. That is, of course, also the time that Mongolians travel themselves. Even counting shoulder seasons, the summer tourist season is thus no longer than three months.

While some winter tourism is imaginable (there are already winter horseback treks on offer, one could imagine cross-country treks for snowy areas…), ultimately, -30º puts a real damper on travel plans.

Given the lack of accessible “destinations” (so often, the journey is the destination in travelling in Mongolia), mass tourism is hard to imagine, even if some would find it desirable for economic reason.

If it is niche, luxury travel where the opportunities lie, this may generate some revenue, but it will not really generate many steady, high-paying, professional jobs for which there are many young educated Mongolian candidates.

Growth of Domestic Tourism

When I was travelling in Arkhangai in June 2017 I noticed for the first time that domestic tourism was picking up significantly. I had begun hearing about countryside travel not for visiting relatives from Mongolians over the past several years, but in Arkhangai last year, it was noticeable that some infrastructure was beginning to spring up specifically targeting domestic tourists. Prices at ger camps have long differentiated between foreign and Mongolian visitors, but that distinction is now reinforcing the sense that the number of domestic visitors may be increasing. While international visitors are increasingly being served some variant of “international” food (it seems like it is hard to find ger camps now that will serve mutton noodle soup, though many visitors will not mourn that fact), camps are clearly catering more to domestic visitors by allowing options for “self-catered” visits.

One factor in the expansion of domestic tourism obviously is the expanding network of paved roads. A tourist destination like Khuvsgul Lake (Khuvsgul is one of four aimags that I have not visited) can actually be reached in a day’s drive now, meaning that domestic tourists can consider a four-day trip to Khuvsgul, for example. By all reports, visits to Khuvsgul and construction of touristic infrastructure there are booming.

Another, more nebulous factor in the growth of domestic tourism may be Mongolians’ changing relationship with nature. For Ulaanbaatarites/Red Heroes their appreciation for the countryside as a leisure destination rather than an economic basis may thus be growing, fuelling some domestic travel habits.

Opportunity: Tourism clusters

One way to enable growth of tourist infrastructure would be to focus on regional concentrations, or tourist clusters. In many ways, such clusters are already emerging around the most well-known destinations in the Gobi like the “flaming cliffs”, etc.

But other clusters are imaginable. For example, when the new Ulaanbaatar airport begins operation in 2019 (presumably, and I rue the day), the 400km drive from there to Kharkhorin and the Orkhon Valley, will avoid Ulaanbaatar and its traffic. The relative lushness and beauty of summertime Arkhangai will be under 500km away on paved roads, again avoiding Ulaanbaatar, so a Kharkhorin-Orkhon-Tsetserleg cluster might become that much more viable.

Mendee and I have begun talking and writing about a Nalaikh Interactive Mining Museum. That could be at the centre of a tourism cluster formed with the Chinggis statue and Terelj. Nalaikh would also benefit from the new airport which would be an hour’s drive, again avoiding Ulaanbaatar by coming via Zuunmod.

Opportunity: RVs

Another opportunity that would be interesting to consider would be RVs. This idea is inspired by my regular drives through BC, the Yukon and Alaska. In the Canadian North, the tourism industry includes RV rentals as a very strong element, seemingly attracting tourists from Europe in particular. Many campgrounds in the Yukon, for example, routinely fly the German and Swiss flags next to the Canadian flag, pointing to the origins of many of their visitors. RV travellers are somewhat more self-sufficient than other visitors, of course, thus requiring significantly less infrastructure. Gas stations are common across the Mongolian countryside, so RVs would only require additional infrastructure in the form of electricity and septic hook-ups in some reasonable intervals, and perhaps larger supermarkets with a greater variety of goods than is on offer in most soums to allow RV travellers to supply themselves with foodstuffs.

However, RVs do not really extend the season for tourism to Mongolia much, so they would be subject to a similar restriction in terms of the timing of visits. That suggests that the significant investment into RVs to rent would have to be recouped in a short season.

The alternative would be mimicking a North American pattern where RVs that are rented in Alaska, for example, during a season that is no longer than Mongolia’s, are moved to California for the Fall, Winter, and Spring months to maximize their utilization.

Are there regions of Southern China where RV-use could grow? Are they touristically attractive enough for 8 months of the year or so?


While tourism to Mongolia likely will grow, this growth does seem quite limited, so I do not really think of the tourism industry as a sector that will massively contribute to a diversification away from the mining industry.

Nevertheless, tourism should certainly be part of the mix in considering Mongolia’s abundant resources (for example, fresh air, sunshine, cold, open landscape) strategically.

Posted in Business, Countryside, Development, Diversification, Tourism | Tagged | Leave a comment

Protests… and then?

By Julian Dierkes

I have recently written about widespread political frustration in 2018 and speculated on the kind of events/issues that might trigger mass protests.

Now, let me consider what would happen in the event of such protests. I am only considering mass protests, most likely centred on Ulaanbaatar but possibly spreading to other cities and towns as well. By “mass” I mean demonstrations/protests of 30,000 or more. Given Mongolia’s population of just over 3m people, that would be a significant mobilization of protest.

No Violence

I believe that the risk for violence or anything resembling civil war is low. My main reason for believing this is that following the July 1 2008 riots, the police has been preparing for how to handle such protests, including strategies for de-escalation and crowd control. Obviously, such training and planning is no guarantee that violence does not break out, but even if it did, I believe that it would be sporadic and would not escalate further.

The second, long-standing reason that any kind of sustained violence is very unlikely is the total neutrality of the military since 1990. While various other parts of the security apparatus may be under more direct political control and thus could become elements in some kind of internal struggle, that is not the case for the military.

For a more pointed discussion of the likelihood of violence or riots, see Mendee’s post on that topic.

Will Protests Beget More Protests?

The biggest questions regarding the impact protests might have would be, how big – in terms of participation – they become, how long they last, and whether they start making any concrete political demands.

As soon as any sizeable protests begin, there will certainly be politicians who might try to hi-jack them. There will also be a lot of speculation about various politicians being involved in conspiracies to foster unrest of some kind or another. And, there is no way to exclude the possibility that some political actors might try to organize and hi-jack protests. This is one of the reasons that I believe a series of protest events is more likely than one cataclysmic event.


The demographic composition of protesters is very difficult to predict and will very much depend on the issue and triggering event that will produce protests. Broadly speaking, protests focused on livelihood and daily necessities will find brought support in poorer segments of the population. This would be largely residents of the khashaa districts and outlying areas of Ulaanbaatar, although the city seems to be increasingly blending in terms of the distribution of poverty and wealth. Mobilization of poorer Red Heroes is probably most worrisome to current political leaders in that it would be hard to predict what topics would animate demonstrations and where such demonstrations might lead.

For other issues, say gender-based violence or corruption, perhaps, the more educated and generally more affluent residents of the city centre might be more likely protesters.

Demographic developments might also play a role in coming protests in that the age cohort from 15-24 is shrinking relative to other age groups. Adults from 25-49 years-old who might be more likely to engage in protest, but resist more extreme forms of confrontation are growing in their share of the population.

For demonstrations to really gain traction, of course, a broad coalition of protesters would be needed.

Protest Leaders

As protests form, there will be some kind of leadership that will emerge and that will be credible in its leadership to participants of the protests. The most likely candidates for protest leadership roles apart from current politicians would be urban repats, that is educated, professional Mongolians with experience abroad who perhaps feel the current political frustration most acutely, having witnessed the workings of democratic governments elsewhere and the relatively high likelihood of success of further democratization in Mongolia.

Yet, there are some questions about whether these urban professionals would be able to capture the imagination of the poorer population on the fringes of the capital or in the countryside. Politics is already so Ulaanbaatar-centric, it would seem that if protests were essentially limited to issues of concern to the urban centre of Ulaanbaatar, broad-based support may be unlikely.

Let’s consider some scenarios of how protests might play out in the short term.

State of Emergency

If there is any hint of rioting or violence, security forces will be mobilized and a a state of emergency will be called very quickly, I suspect. A state of emergency can be declared by any member of the National Security Council, i.e. president, prime minister or chair of parliament, but it needs to be declared by the president and approved by parliament. Such a state of emergency might involve curfews (as it did in 2008), a visible security presence, and temporary suspension of rights to assemble and protest, for example.

Press coverage by foreign media would most likely be intense, in part because some political actors would be likely to try to exploit momentary turmoil to present themselves as possible reformers or guarantors of peace.

Strong Man?

In the event of large-scale protests and especially if violence happens or is threatened, a number of politicians will certainly present themselves as saviours of security.

Until the 2021 presidential election, Pres. Battulga would almost certainly present himself in such a way. I would not expect that he would stage any kind of coup, but he would certainly try to stretch the institutional limits of democratic governance to offer himself as a “strong man”. This might be a soft version of how Pres Erdogan responded to the “coup” against him in Turkey in 2016.

Yet, I do not think that Battulga’s offer would have much credibility. His first year in office has shown him to be opportunistic in jumping on specific issues, but he has not demonstrated that he has any kind of political agenda himself, nor that he has much to offer in terms of cleaning up corruption or affecting positive outcomes or implementation of laws. While his brand of martial-arts-thuggish leadership may appeal to some protestors, I do not think that this would be very credible.

On the other hand, Pres. Battulga seems unlikely to consider any foreign reactions to any attempts to grab more power for the presidency. He would be or at least present himself to be impervious to foreign demands for a reinforcement of democracy, for example.


It seems like a significant number of current politicians would try to seize the moment of protests and present themselves as reformers, particularly if protests focus on issues that seem to demand reform.

Some possibilities that present themselves in Fall 2018:

  1. Former president N Enkhbayar has certainly been coming back onto the political stage with vigour. He appears or presents himself as independent of the MAHAH fog, even though he is an old political fox himself, of course. But the only way to some kind of immediate power for him would be a mass-defection of MPs, especially from the MPP. That seems fairly unlikely, so, the protest moment itself seems like an unlikely time for Enkhbayar to make a comeback. S Ganbaatar has presented himself as somewhat of an understudy to Enkhbayar since his presidential candidacy in 2017. He could also claim the mantle of a protest movement. B Javkhlan remains an enigmatic figure in parliament, but that enigma might also make him available as a figure to rally around if he joins in protests or demonstrations.
  2. There are a number of individuals in both parties who have presented themselves as outsiders or reformers in the past and who might make such a pitch. In the DP, R Amarjargal comes to mind, recalling his failed (for lack of funding, apparently) nomination bid to become the DP’s candidate in the 2017 presidential election. Former Ulaanbaatar mayor E Bat-Uul has also inserted himself somewhat quietly into a number of debates over the past several years. His indirect entanglements in alleged offshore holdings might hold him back on corruption issues, however.
  3. In the MPP, U Khurelsukh initially presented himself as a reformer when he became prime minister in 2017, but his performance since then has not really reinforced that. Perhaps L Oyunerdene could be such a person as he has been positioning himself by putting pressure on M Enkhbold to respond to ₮60b allegations. There would be other possibilities in both parties as well.

But, if protests focused on political parties, it would seem that party-internal claims to reformer status would also lack credibility with protesters. That is, protesters might agree to such claims initially and thus give someone momentum for party reforms, but many Mongolians would be quite skeptical on the implementation of such reforms and watch rather closely and carefully.

This is one of the scenarios that makes me think that coming years might bring a series of protest and reform events and moments, rather than a single, punctuated moment.

Parliamentary Reaction

In the current parliament, it seems highly unlikely that protests and demonstrations could actually bring about change. While I could imagine a number of MPs reacting to protests, it is hard to imagine a number large enough that this would actually force a change of government. The MPP majority at 65 of 76 seats is so massive that it is difficult to imagine a scenario where enough of them would join a new political grouping to bring about a change of government. Even if that were to happen, they would be subject to the same low expectations by protesters that would hold for individual reforms as I mentioned above.

What if a significant number of MPs resigned their seats? Dissolution to force new elections requires a two-thirds majority, i.e. 51 members, although I am uncertain whether that would change if seats are unfilled or if that is 2/3 of members present or of 76. An unlikely alternative in the scenarios under consideration here is a resignation by the president. A third alternative is dissolution by the president which could be part of a strategy for a president to offer himself as “strong man”, but the circumstances of such dissolution are unclear. A mass resignation of MPs, say 20 of the 76, might make such a scenario more likely, however.

Sudden elections, however, would seem to offer little opportunity to bring about real change in terms of the main frustrations of voters, as they would be dominated by existing parties, i.e. the MPP and DP. In the case of sudden elections, if would seem likely that government would change, but not that political culture would be reformed. And any change that is not real change bears the potential of deepening a (sense of) crisis quickly.

In a subsequent post, I will consider the medium-term consequences of protest events.

Posted in Civil Society, Corruption, Democracy, Human Rights, Inequality, Judiciary, Nationalism, Policy, Politics, Protest, Public Opinion, Security Apparatus, Social Movements, Ulaanbaatar, Younger Mongolians | Tagged | Leave a comment

Technology Assessment Needed: Solar Power

By Julian Dierkes

To: PM Khurelsukh
CC: Minister of Energy Davaasuren; Min of Science Tsogzolmaa; Min of Environment Tserenbat, Officer of Intl Cooperation, Min of Environment, G Tsogtbaatar; Min of Light Industry Batzorig; Dir, External Affairs, Green Climate Fund Oyun

Climate Change – Threat but also Opportunity for Mongolia

On October 10 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C“. It spells out – once again and clearly, even for the most willfully ignorant policy maker – the dire consequences on continued emissions.

Clearly, Mongolia is a small, but growing, player in terms of its direct emissions. And, concerns around climate change implications for Mongolia focus around desertification, extreme weather, droughts, floods, and other climate events and their impact on flora and fauna.

Yet, global attention to climate change may well also present opportunities for Mongolia not only to make a significant contribution to emissions reduction domestically, but to embrace alternative energies as a path to sustainable human development. What am I talking about? Mongolia is rich in two things among other resources, that could become increasingly valuable (in financial as well as global climate terms): sunshine and cold. I have urged a focus on applied research linked to this wealth as early as 2013.

If demands by island nations, young people, realistic governments, nay, actually humans, for reductions in emissions keep growing, it is currently hard to imagine scenarios that do not involve a massive investment into alternative energy sources. Massive deployment of solar power is one of the more obvious possibilities in this regard, and Mongolia is clearly well-positioned. The greatest obstacle to such deployment remains in the creaky Mongolian energy grid as well as in transmission technology that (still) makes it difficult to export energy over longer distances.

Deployment may be far off, but…

At the moment, it seems like the stuff of dreams to think of massive solar arrays distributed across the Gobi to produce alternative energy not only for Mongolia, but also for export. Yet, with the current climate change trajectory, urgency will rise with the sea levels and massive investments will be more and more likely. So, let’s imagine that technology advances to the extent that transmission over long distances will be possible (eg, Asia Super Grid) and solutions for energy storage can be found to allow for a deeper integration of solar power into the energy supply for Mongolia and Northeast Asia.

One of the attractions of some kind of massive deployment would be that it would not only be an export opportunity, but it might prompt the investments needed in Mongolia’s electricity grid that could power a decarbonization effort. Currently, Mongolia has three unconnected grids (Eastern, Central, Western) and smaller grids around unconnected soums often running off diesel generators. With the possibility for alternative energy abundant in Mongolia, an update to the grid prompted by export-oriented deployment of massive solar generation capacity would allow for a switch-over to electric heating in Ulaanbaatar and towns, but might also enable electric transportation or the construction of dedicated infrastructure benefitting from a clean energy supply like hydrogen.

Given Mongolia’s heavy reliance on coal for energy production at the moment, decarbonization powered by alternative energies would be a win-win-win for climate change, air pollution, and economic development.

What would a Mongolia full of solar arrays look like?

Calling for a Technology Assessment Exercise

Even though deployment may be a decade or more off, now would be a good time to start thinking about what it would mean for Mongolia to be the site for a massive rollout for solar panels. Regulatory frameworks could be developed with more foresight and proactively rather than in reaction to sudden (investment) proposals or other developments. Choices in education and training could look ahead to future needs, as could current construction of infrastructure.

At the level of the informed newspaper reader, I am not aware of any projects that look at the social, economic and environmental impacts of a large-scale deployment. There are numerous technical assessments of performance of solar panels, etc., but I do not see pointers to big efforts to assess impact.

Mongolia has already seen one big impact of solar technology, of course, in that the solitary solar panel connected to a car battery, powering a TV, is the most recent addition to ger-living that has become nearly ubiquitous over the past decade.

If the Mongolian government were to convene a conference or a series of meetings to look at the potential impact of solar arrays, I could imagine that funding might be forthcoming from development funds, climate change funds, but also from interested corporate sponsors. If I am right that few such large-scale assessments are under way, this would be a area that Mongolia could be a leader in the international community to examine one aspect of our likely, climate-changed future.

Aspects of TA for Solar Deployment

Note that I am neither a technology assessment specialist, nor do I know all that much about photovoltaics. But, I am happy and proud to disclose that I am the son of a technology assessment pioneer, Meinolf Dierkes, who served on a German parliamentary commission focused on technology assessment in the 1980s (Enquete Kommission “Einschätzung und Bewertung von Technikfolgen”).

The intention behind technology assessment is to consider the myriad consequences, including unintended consequences, that the deployment of specific technology might have, particularly also the social and economic consequences. That broad intention is what I have in mind in the broad sketch below of an initial list of potential consequences that might be assessed. Obviously, such assessment would depend on more detailed models and scenarios of the roll-out of massive solar arrays.

Infrastructure: Solar Arrays

Clearly, in their current incarnation, solar arrays need a lot of space.

In principle, Mongolia has a lot of space, given its sparse population. That is especially true of the Gobi desert which is geographically closest to China, the most obvious potential export destination for solar energy.

Yet, as we know from some of the conflicts around mining projects, just because a space may look empty of humans to the casual observer does not mean that there are no regular uses of that space, never mind the animal and plant life that may exist there. Barring some technological innovation that would make solar arrays look very different, any massive deployment on a scale to actually make a dent in Mongolia’s energy supply, but also global emissions would cover a vast area of space with solar panels.

Some important questions follow:

  • what impact would very large solar arrays have on animals, wild and herding animals?
  • how would herders be compensated for lost pastureland or even for losses in their ability to cross spaces?
  • what happens to the soil when much of the ground is permanently shaded?
  • run-off from rare but powerful rains would have to be considered and what would the implications for ground water be?
  • presumably, most vegetation right beneath solar panels would disappear. That in term has obvious significance for herding

Infrastructure: Transmission

But spaces occupied by solar panels would not be the only infrastructure. Clearly, whatever transmission technology was developed would need corridors for transmission lines. These may be narrow, much like today’s cross-country electricity lines or they may be more like pipelines, requiring the equivalent of pumping stations and a wider diameter closer to the ground. These shapes would determine the nature and number of transmission lines. These in turn would become obstacles for herding and other activities. Depending on transmission technology, these lines might also require more regular maintenance and servicing than current technologies, creating employment and supply opportunities but also potentially demanding infrastructure along with those opportunities.

How would decisions be made on routing transmission lines, especially if multiple corridors were necessary? That is a challenging question in many jurisdictions, so beginning to think about that now would certainly be a benefit in planning for ultimate installations.


If a large number of panels would be deployed in Mongolia, obviously it would be advantageous for Mongolia to also develop its productive capacity in this sector.

Such a desire might be challenged by Chinese producers/supplies, especially since China is the likely customer for energy exports, but even licensed production or Chinese-owned production would be of benefit to Mongolian employees.

Obviously, however, domestic production, complete with R&D capacity would be preferable. Could Mongolia’s proximity to a likely-to-boom Chinese market in this regard be an attraction to European or North American investors? Solar panel production has already gone through an interesting international trade history so this question deserves some attention for Mongolia.

Minerals play a role in the production of current solar panels. Copper is an important ingredient as is a by-product of copper refining, selenide. Gallium is not mined in Mongolia, but its co-occurrence with coal deposits in Inner Mongolia tickles the imagination in terms of any Mongolian deposits.


With increasing deployment of photovoltaics, especially in Europe, there have been demands for a “closed-cycle” economy for solar panels that incorporates recycling into production processes. By the time massive solar deployment might come to Mongolia, these concepts will have advanced even further, so it is to be expected that end-of-life recycling will become a central part of a deployment.

What to Do?

It seems to me that considerable interest in solar power may develop in Mongolia over the next 10-20 years. Presented with this opportunity to develop a new resource as a source for development, this would be an area that would be worth investing into, I posit. Perhaps a conference bringing together technical and social science expertise together in Mongolia as a start? Some seed funding from the Mongolian government to attract more funding from industry?


Thanks to Sandeep, co-author of Total Transition – The Human Side of the Renewable Energy Revolution, and UBC PhD student, for joining in an enthusiastic discussion of Mongolia’s potential in solar energy generation.

Posted in China, Climate Change, Countryside, Development, Diversification, Environmental Movements, Geography, Gobi, Infrastructure, Russia, Sovereign Wealth Fund | Tagged | Leave a comment

Imagining Nalaikh Mining Museum and Education Centre

By Hongorzul Bayarnyam & Mendee Jargalsaikhan

All Starts with the Kindergarten Teacher

It was touching to see the paintings of kids at the 123-rd kindergarten of Nalaikh District.  In their imagined world, all coal miners had safety helmets with flashlights, just like in the drawings of Yesugen and Munkh-Zorig.  With the kindergarten’s limited resources, Director Dolgorsuren Unurbayar developed a little classroom for her kindergarteners to learn about the mining.  In fact, this little mining world inspired many young artists to share their reflections and imaginations.

Photo by Hongorzul, October, 2018

By Yesugen, 2016

By Munkh-Zorig, 2016

If There Were a Museum,

Ms. Dolgorsuren would bring her kindergarteners to the museum; as a result, many of 386 kindergarteners would beg their parents to get an annual pass to have fun with their friends and play with those yellow toys, donated by, for example, Wagner Asia or Komatsu.

All classes of kindergartens and schools of Nalaikh District would bother the museum to de-conflict their field trip schedules.  Many schools in UB would plan to visit the museum to learn more about mining, but also escape from the polluted air and congested traffic.

Nalaikhers would often head to the museum to learn about their community, to stroll through the memorial garden, and to check some rotating exhibits or cultural events – since the museum is safer than the aging cultural centre of the district.

People, who had past connections (parents worked and lived in Nalaikh), would love to stop by the museum once in a while to recall their memories looking at photos, equipments, and old train station.  Some would bring their children, grandchildren, or friends to share the memories of the good old days.

Curious undergrads or graduate students pack their lunches to spend several hours learning about the history of industrial mining, railroad, and labs – many of which donated by big mining corporations. Students of the German Mongolian Institute for Resources and Technology (GMIT), which is located in Nalaikh, would be the first ones to run these labs.

A tour guide, who accompanying their tourists to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Chinggis Khaan Monument, Tonyukuk Monuments, and/or businessmen, who driving to south through Nalaikh, would suggest to stop for a coffee, a photo (old station, train, miners), wi-fi and even a quick tour at the museum. All remember there two miners’ photo station near the gate – for snapchats, Instagram, wechat, Facebook – always gets lots of likes.

The most challenging people would be veterans, who worked in Nalaikh. They would suggest different settings, events, and improvements to pass along success stories of Nalaikh. They would be proud of Nalaikheers – who saved the mine from the saddest place.

If There Would be a Museum,

The surrounding area for salvaged administration building, mining shaft, railroad station, and road (with 5 meters sideways) would be enough for the development of the Museum, which would serve as educational, historical, and cultural purposes.

The three-story administration building would house the main exhibits while shafts could become the primary viewing area for tour-guides and visitors.

Potential Site for Museum, Photo, by Mendee, December 2017

The ideal museum and educational centre could consist of the following sections.

  • Industrial Mining History Section – tells the history of the industrial mining development through different stages of Nalaikh coal mine from 1905 to 1990.  Here people could easily visualize how the coal mining industry evolved in Mongolia and how the mine helped building a glass factory in Nalaikh and many other light factories in Ulaanbaatar.
  • Nalaikh History Section – presents facts about Nalaikh, tells story of the emergence of new labor force, and provides insights on multiethnic culture, especially, since Nalaikh was the first experiment of providing settlements for Kazakh nationals.
  • Mining Rescue & Artisanal Mining Section – speaks about how mining rescue unit was established and artisanal mining evolved along with stories of evacuation efforts.
  • Railroad History Section – using the only surviving railroad station (with a locomotive and restaurant train), narrates the railroad history of Mongolia since all starts from Nalaikh to carry the coal to the first power plant.
  • Educational and Cultural Section – could eventually accommodate public lectures, rotating exhibits (even paintings of kindergarteners or photos of skilled photographers), laboratories (e.g., earth science, mining engineering, environmental awareness), and even 3D theatres.
  • Outside Section – the renovated railroad station, photo stands, memorial garden, underground shafts (one for artisanal mining, the other for industrial mining), and walkways to the shafts and viewing areas). The funniest part for all would be walking on the railroad rails – since there is no train is coming; taking photos at the train station;  and the funniest (weirdest) sign of Nalaikh Museum for a photo at the gate.

Once the museum is developed and items (for exhibits) are collected, more specialized sections could be established.

Potential Site for Railroad Museum and Displays, Photo by Mendee, December 2017

Costly, Complicated, Scary?

The development, operation, and maintenance of the museum and educational centre is expensive, especially, keeping the facility warm through frigid months of Nalaikh is costly.

  • The cost must be shared and the development project must be carefully planned.

The project could be easily hijacked by profit-seekers as well as fame-seekers; therefore, it’s complicated.

  • The project must be insulated from political and economic interests.

Over 800~1200 artisanal miners work around the abandoned mine; this makes scary place to visit.

  • Most of these miners don’t want to see Nalaikh mine disappear and many would join efforts of saving the mine’s history.

A Cradle of Nalaikh Should Be Protected and Remembered

The establishment of Nalaikh Museum and Educational Centre is not for making money, but it is for embracing the cradle of Nalaikheers – who contributed to the development of the industrial mining and the establishment of the multi-ethnic community.

It would show kindergarteners and students that you (Nalaikheers) can correct your past mistakes and preserve the history and culture of your community.

It would show that Mongolians could reclaim the abandoned mines make a place to strengthen your community and share your history (successes & failures) with your guests.

It would show how different stakeholders (mining companies, local authorities, concerned citizens, public officials, and private businesses) work together for the public good.

Of course, the easiest solution is to keep the status quo, which leaves us to show the ‘Losers’ Story’ for kindergarteners – who would only remember their close ones or community members working without any safety equipments in the worst labour condition.

About Hongorzul

Hongorzul Bayarnyam, social and cultural anthropologist, who was born and raised in Nalaikh.  Lots of credit should go to Hongorzul, who has been a continuously advocating to preserve the cultural heritage of Nalaikh.  Currently, she is working as an external relations and monitoring specialist at the Governor’s Office of Nalaikh District.

Posted in Education, Hongorzul Bayarnyam, Kazakhs, Mining, Museums, Nalaikh, Primary and Secondary Education | Tagged | Leave a comment

Locating Mongolian Towns

By Julian Dierkes

I’ve been touring through the Mongolian countryside periodically for over ten years now, having recently visited my 17th aimag, just four more to go.

On these visits, I’ve always been puzzled by the location of towns. My musings below will surely betray my ignorance of Mongolian history, military and environmental, but sometimes blogging is about thinking out loud, so here it goes…

Where I’m Coming From

… literally. That is, I grew up in Germany where the location of old (medieval and older) towns always seems quite clear. Either they are located on an important trade route or bottleneck (all the -furts that offer easy crossings of large, navigable rivers, all the ocean harbours), or there is an obvious military use (typically a castle overseeing a cross-roads of some kind).

Clearly, that logic does not apply to all towns and cities. The older the city (i.e. Roman origins) the clearer the origins seem, the further Southwest in Germany (i.e. Roman influence, but also proximity to Central European historical “action”), the more this logic holds, at least at a very general level.

What I See in Mongolia

Most settlements that I see do not seem to be located in the very spot they are for reasons that are obvious to me. Again, this is likely due to my ignorance, so if you can educate me, please do comment below.

Of course, historical nomadism means that settlements are not as prominent a feature of (political) history of Mongolia as they are in Europe, for example.

I see soum and aimag centres that are often situated in the middle or toward the middle of large plains or valleys with no distinguishing features to that specific location. Yes, there are some rivers (Khovd and Choibalsan come to my mind from recent travels, Ulaanbaatar as well, obviously), but these are not navigable, nor are they that difficult to cross (typically, at least today, not being very deep).

For other aimag centres, they seem to be located in the middle of a large plain with no obvious factor that is visible to my ignorant eye to recommend this location over others. That holds for centres like Chinggis (Khentii) or Arvaikher (Uvurkhangai) or Dalanzadgad (Umnugovi).

The Mongolian countryside is full of vistas that lift the soul by the breath-taking depth of the steppe, these vistas are certainly meaningful to me. But, most cities are not located at such viewpoints.


The most common explanation offered for the location of settlements is that they are where there are/were monasteries. That logic is sometimes difficult to recognize since most monasteries were destroyed in the 1930s, so without local historical knowledge, it is often hard to see the co-location of a monastery with towns.

Some of the prominent exceptions to this general pattern are Ulaanbaatar and Tsetserleg, both settlements where monasteries are a visible part of the cityscape today.

For many aimag and soum centres that were founded in the socialist period, their location was pre-dated by monasteries, or so I am told.

That gets me into the even-more-difficult topic of why monasteries are located where they are. It seems to me that there are two obvious ways to look at that question: dogmatic and pragmatic.

If there are shamanistic or geomancy reasons for the location of monasteries, those are clearly not accessible to me. That origin of location is also not common in Europe as many old towns predated the institutional history of the Church so that clerical centres were located in towns, not the other way around.

If the location of monasteries was driven by factors that are inaccessible to me, it is no wonder that I continue to be puzzled by the location of towns.

But if there are pragmatic elements to a religious logic, I would guess that monasteries’ locations do serve the nearby population in some way. In that case, pointing to the monastery-origins of settlements simple bumps the question up one notch in some historical sequence.

Military History

There are no defensive castles or even fortifications in Mongolia as far as I can tell. Even though some dynamic in Mongolian history is clearly driven by military history, the fact that settlement locations did not come out of locations of fortifications must be driven by a very different military doctrine.

Mendee has been kind enough to help me understand this a bit more, as he has in general for this post.

Mongolian historical military strategy is not built on mass, but on speed. Anyone who is familiar with Chinggis Khaan’s conquests will be aware of that. What that means for the location of settlements is that the logic of the fortified castle on a hill that oversees most routes of approach as it holds in Europe, is not relevant in Mongolia.

Instead, any location that is to be defended will likely be defended by deploying observation posts to a number of surrounding hills to report back to a main force if some kind of threat emerges. Such a deployment assumes some logic that a location is to be defended, but once that decision is made, military strategy does NOT dictate the construction of fortifications the way that European or Chinese military strategy does.

Settlements of any kind thus do not lead to a castletown. I am not sure why archers, an important element to Mongolian military strategy, would not be advantaged by a defensible, elevated location, but it appears that archery was deployed only in conjunction with or as a cavalry, so perhaps the question of a defensible perch simply does not arise.

Environmental Conditions

A contender in determining the location of settlements might be environmental specificities. For example, Khovd is not nearly as cold as some of the neighbouring regions like Zavkhan, Uvs, or Bayan-Ulgii. Perhaps this was a significant factor in making Khovd a centre for Western Mongolia from the Qing dynasty until today.

Given Mongolia’s very harsh climate, it is entirely plausible that variations in climatic conditions or micro-climates are an important factor in making some locations safer than others. Prevailing winds, availability of water, temperatures, accessibility in winter, etc. these might all be reasons for locating settlements in specific places, even independent of a livelihood logic that may also be closely linked to location decisions.

Livelihood History

Obviously, livelihood considerations loom large in a pastoral society coping with very specific challenges of a continental climate and specific ecology. These considerations are directly linked to environmental conditions.

Any settlement, whether it is a monastery, military or trading outpost, would involve some residents who would not be active in agriculture, so that the surrounding area and population would have to be productive enough to support such a population. The quasi-feudal operations of monasteries under Chinese colonial rule may have been a good example of this requirement, where the extraction of significant amounts of agricultural products were required to support a population of “non-productive” monks that may have reached a third of the population at some times in some places.

While Mongolia may generally seem fairly barren (outside of areas that are rich in water and less extreme climates such as northern parts of today’s Khentii, Selenge, or Bulgan aimags) there are significant local variations in the availability of water, the quality of pasture, and the variety of pasture.

On a recent visit to Khvod, it was striking – especially in a summer that saw significant precipitation and even flooding – how much water there is when approaching the town from the North. It is this amount of water that makes Khovd famous for watermelons today, as their production can be sustained with significant sources of water.


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Velvety riverside grass, high ger density for summer in Khovd. #Mongolia

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As a region, Khovd City, may have been more able to support a military garrison with foods than other locations in the West, determining its location as a Chinese trading post, but also as a military base. That may also have been a factor in the location of monasteries and, later, towns.

Some Exceptions

Obviously, there are some exceptions to my puzzled look at the location of settlements. Erdenet is Mongolia’s second-largest city, but its location was determined by the nearby copper mine.

Tsetserleg is the capital of Arkhangai and its location seems much more obvious to the visiting European eye. It is perhaps the most attractive location for an aimag centre that I’ve visited. Nestled up against mountains, it enjoys a view over a long valley and a generally scenic location. It also is close to a mountain pass that is a route to the West, giving it the sense of a gateway of sorts.

I already mentioned Khovd for its agricultural potential above. But it is also surrounded by breathtaking high mountains that left me less puzzled by its location than other aimag centres.

Addendum: There is a Scholarly Literature!

As it turns out, there is some scholarship on the origins of settlements in Mongolia and Mendee pointed this out to me:

Alicia Campi. 2006. “The Rise of Cities in Nomadic Mongolia” in O Bruun and L Narangoa, eds. Mongols from Country to City. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 21-55.

Campi classified cities for their origins as trade and agriculture (eg, Kharkhorin, Khovd), monastic (Ulaanbaatar), military (Uliastai), political (Mandalgov), and industrial (Erdenet). Pretty close to my categories, though I left out the political and industrial as recent reasons for the establishment of cities.

But these origins classify the cities and making a case for their original establishment. This classification has relatively little to say why these cities were established in the exact location where they were established! The exception are recently established military cities like the aimag centres of the Govi aimags. The Mongolian government created the

southern provinces along China’s border in a basically north-south pattern with aimagcapitals situated in the north of the aimag s for protection against Chinese invasion and for proximity to the national capital and the central Mongolian heartland steppes.” 44-45

Posted in Countryside, Geography, History, Settlements, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | Leave a comment

Closed Mines as Sites of Learning and Engagement in Japan

By Byambajav Dalaibuyan


Japan is well known for its lack of mineral resources. However, interestingly, the Japanese domestic mining industry played a crucial role in the nation’s industrialization and modernization in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. The country even exported gold, copper and other mineral products.

In September 2018, I had a scoping visit to two mine areas closed in the 1970s to explore how these mine sites are maintained as sightseeing and learning centres, as part of a research study funded by the JSPS research fellowship at Centre for Northeast Asian Studies, Tohoku University. In this photo-essay, I will introduce the sightseeing centre and community learning centre of Ashio copper mine and smelter in Tochigi prefecture.

The Ashio mine sightseeing centre

Several groups of school students were having a guided tour. I was told that they were not only students from local areas, but also students from different regions of Japan visiting the mine sightseeing centre. I used a rental car but the mine site is accessible by local train and bus.

From the centre entrance a small mine train transports visitors to the underground mine tunnel. Inside the tunnel, the history of the mine, main activities that miners did in the past, and old machines, mineral samples and products made by copper are presented in different ways.

Pre-industrial mining worker

Since the 1960s Japan opened its door to Western culture, capital and people to depart from an isolated feudal society to a modernized, industrialized society. Because artisanal and archaic methods of mining were prevalent, many mines had been closed or operated with very low productivity at the time. Western mining and mineral processing industry was far ahead. Embracing Western technologies and engineers, some mines in Japan were reopened and increased their output and productivity. Gold, silver, copper, coal and other types of minerals and metals were mined ad supplied to emerging domestic industrial centres and foreign markets.

Industrial, large scale mining worker


A video presentation of the mine’s history


A place to pray

Outside the tunnels, there were a number of historic displays of equipment, a gallery showing social history of the mine, and souvenir shop.

Mining and environmental degradation

As a source of strategic minerals and foreign exchange, mining was an important industry for the Japanese government during World War I and II. Some mines and smelters continued operations despite deleterious environmental pollution and local community opposition. By the 1970s, most mines had ceased to operate due to high domestic labour cost and depletion of good ore reserves. Importing raw mineral resources became a better alternative for processing plants and smelters.

After new exploration and large-scale industrial mining technologies introduced in the 1880s the production rate of Ashio mine increased dramatically to account for 20% the country’s copper export. Wastewater from the mine and its smelter polluted nearby rivers and killed their entire fish population. The mine’s use of timber for construction and as a source of fuel caused the widespread deforestation and barren mountains, increasing the damage from flooding. Toxic emissions from the refining operations of the mine polluted the surrounding ecosystem and nearby communities had to permanently leave their villages. Though some measures were taken by the government and company to reduce air pollution and rehabilitate the landscape toxic emissions from the smelter continued until the 1950s when a facility for collecting sulphuric acid was built. It is estimated that about 2400-3000 hectares of area was affected by toxic emissions.

Ashio was crowded by mining workers in its heyday and saw a massive population outflow when the mine was closed in 1973.

Village in toxic smoke

Rehabilitation activities

Reforesting the surrounding barren mountains has been a main focus of rehabilitation activities in Ashio. Since the 1960s, government, local communities and volunteer organizations worked hard to reforest steep mountain slopes.

“When we plant trees up in the mountains we also plant hope for the future in our hearts” Wahei Tatematsu

Grow Green Ashio, a non-profit organisation, in collaboration with Ashio town, has managed rehabilitation and public-awareness activities since 2000. It organizes a tree planting day, summer weeding day, and fall observation day to recruit volunteers and maintain their involvement. It also holds the annual Green Ashio Forum to facilitate public discussion about pollution and collective action.

Grown Green Ashio manages the government-funded Ashio Environmental Learning Centre, which aims to enable the public and young generation to learn about industrial history, environmental impacts and rehabilitation activities. The Centre runs environmental research and experience programs for school students and the general public that include learning activities at the centre and tree planting in the mountains. The centre has a mini theatre and training room, photograph exhibitions, and information sections on pollution and restoration.

Rehabilitation activities have achieved improved water quality, prevention from flooding and landslides, significant reforestation, and early signs of natural flora and sauna. However, as the centre staff said, it had been a more than half a century to finally see reforested mountainsides but it was only a half of the area suffered from the mine impacts for a century.

Ashio mine sightseeing centre and Environmental learning centre enables visitors to learn Japans industrial history and technology and environmental and social risks and impacts and provide opportunities to have hands-on experience of environmental reclamation. Their success shows the importance of government-civil society partnership and public engagement and volunteerism.

* In February 2018, a group of researchers, including me, at the Centre for Northeast Asian Studies (CNEAS) of Tohoku University discussed about exploring the life of closed and abandoned mines in Japan. We have had scoping visits to several closed mines, mainly to explore their social and sustainability dimensions. In March 2018, the group visited Kamaishi underground copper mine located in the northeastern coast of Japan. Mining of copper ore at Kamaishi ended by the early 1990s and the owner company had since maintained the mine site. The company produces bottled mineral water from the water collectors inside the mine tunnels. Professor Hiroku Takakura produced a short ethnographic film based on the visit to the mine and interviews with company personnel at the site. A research article by co-authored by the group will be published in Russian. This photo-essay includes one of two mines that I visited in September 2018.

Posted in Countryside, Education, Environment, Japan, Mining, Museums, Nalaikh | Tagged | Leave a comment

Triggers for Upheaval: Yes, But It Depends

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan

I agree with Julian on the point that Mongolia is not a violence-free state like any others, but I would make a distinction between rioting, which is a momentary violent public disturbance, and public demonstrations or mass protests.  I argue the likelihood of turning mass protests into rioting or violent civil conflict is low in the case of Mongolia.

Vulnerability to Violence – Mongolia at the Crossroad

According to the Fragile State Index, which measures the probability of a state’s vulnerability to conflict or violence (using data from the UN, WHO, WB, GINI), Mongolia ranks 130 out of 178 countries in the stable category.  Here, South Sudan ranks as the most vulnerable (1) whereas Finland is considered the least vulnerable (178).  Although Mongolia sits comfortably in the stable category, 3 out of 10 indicators begins to raise some concern of vulnerability.  The external involvement (i.e., external intervention) – 7 out of 10, uneven economic development (i.e., economic inequality) – 6.1 out of 10, and fractionalized elites – 5.5 out of 10.  Here Mongolia is at the crossroad – can easily go either way.

From the civil conflict theoretical perspective, Mongolia has some features that conducive to violent conflicts.  The proportion of young males (15-29) is significant (but not high) and social fractionalization along ethnic, religious, and social lines does exist.  It has over-populated urban centres, esp., the capital city.  The country has some history of previous violent rioting experience, for instance, the most recent is the July 1 event in 2008.

At the same time, there are some structural features that reduce the likelihood of violence.  The continental weather and Mongolian culture/lifestyle takes the frigid cold months (November to February) and short summer months (July and August) out of the rioting or protest calendars. The proportion of ethnic minority is less than 10 percent and religious true-believers are around 60 percent while many Mongolians appear to be cultural believers of respective religions rather than committed fundamentalists.  But, these positive features will not make Mongolia a violence-free, peace-loving state. If the inequality gap increases, state institutions lose their legitimacy and professionalism, elites neglect the rule of law, and the public disappointment (and grievance) rises. From these perspective, I am in total agreement with Julian and see Mongolia is at the crossroad – moving in the direction of Finland or South Sudan/Afghanistan.

Rioting – Possible

Taking the risk of being speculative, I see several potential triggers for momentary violent rioting.  The following list is neither comprehensive nor exclusive.

  • Anti-Chinese Rioting – with growing Chinese demographic presence (e.g., tourists, workers, businesses), the likelihood of sudden rioting is very possible.  If we look at the well-known symbolic politics theory of ethnic violence (Kaufman, 2006), the conditions for ethnic violence are present.  There are myths (to justify ethnic hostility toward Chinese), lingering fear(e.g., existence of Mongolians is at stake), and opportunity seekers (e.g., political leaders, ultra-nationalist groups).
  • Kazakh versus Mongolian Rioting – although the Kazakh population (3.9 percent) was well-integrated during the communist period, noticeable tensions between Kazakhs and Mongols exist. Kazakhs reside in communal clusters in Ulaanbaatar, Khovd, and Selenge and Tuv provinces while making up 75.5 percent of residents in Bayan-Ulgii province. Mongols living in Bayan-Ulgii province have been experiencing the challenges of ethnic minority while Kazakhs living in other parts of Mongolia seem to have similar feelings and grievances. Unless the government pursues policies to reduce these tensions and increase understanding among Mongols and Kazakhs, the sporadic tensions or violence are gradually building up and explode over small misfortune.
  • Mining-Related Rioting – there could be two types.
    • One is the potential small scale clash between local communities, who would eventually lose their patience over negative impacts of mining businesses. If the stress, especially the environmental and social impacts grows, and authorities fail to deliver on promises, the local community would eventually protest, that would cause momentary or sporadic violent clashes with mining company security forces as well as artisanal miners (i.e., ninja miners).
    • The other potential rioting is coal drivers in the area of Tavan Tolgoi mine. There are about 7-9 thousand drivers transporting the coal from Tavan Tolgoi mines to China.  Even though the Prime Minister and his cabinet members promised to fix the situation and improve the working environment of these drivers, nothing has been delivered.  Instead, the government is in favour of opening additional routes (Chinese port), which require thousands more drivers.  Without introducing any significant measures of controlling these drivers, the government is now increasing the chance of rioting – which could easily block the main commodity exports from Oyu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi and it would take a quite time to control the crisis.
  • Sporting-Related Rioting – this is least likely category of rioting in Mongolia. However, if the current tension between wrestlers from Uvs and others continue, it can result in small scale sporting riots. It would be hard to imagine this would lead to massive violent public disturbances.

In partial agreement with Julian, I see these types of rioting could occur in Mongolia and we had past experiences (anti-Chinese in 1960s, small-scale clashes between Russian and Mongolian kids in Erdenet in 1980s, public violence between people, who defending the conscript and the police in Ulaanbaatar the late 1980s).  But, they were small in-scale and easier to contain due to the nature of the controlled society. Now, if the government fails to contain and/or design policies of preventing from these types of rioting, all would have multiple political, economic, and social impactions for Mongolia. And, the most costly, frightening scenario would be the gradual creation of the environment and culture for vicious cycles of violent conflicts and rioting.

Peaceful Mass Demonstrations and Protests

Like happening in Central and Eastern Europe, Mongolia is likely to experience massive public demonstrations against corruption in coming years – if the state could not make any significant efforts to uphold the rule of law. However, I put forward three reasons why the likelihood of turning these mass protests into violent rioting is low in Mongolia.

  1. these mass protests are organized and led by political entrepreneurs (some for true causes, some for opportunities).This requires preparation, planning, and also some back-up plans for emergencies.
  2. the police and security organizations are informed in advance and at least prepared for the worst-case scenario.
  3. all actors avoid losing the initiative to gangsters or mobs. The apparent take-over by the gang or mob would certainly impact public participation. Since December 1989, all past mass protests, except the July 1, 2008, were peaceful and controlled by organizers and contained by the police.

Just like the third wave of democratization, the majority of former socialist states has been entering into the wave of anti-corruption massive protests (e.g., Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Slovakia, Lithuania, Armenia), now Mongolia is not an exception.  But, I would believe these protests would be massive, but peaceful as happened in 1990s.

Posted in Corruption, Human Rights, Inequality, Kazakhs, Nationalism, Uncategorized, Wrestling, Younger Mongolians | Tagged | Leave a comment

Triggers of Upheaval

By Julian Dierkes

The sense of political crisis and frustration is rampant in Mongolia at the moment. But, there does not seem to be any widespread mobilization against the government, either main party, or the political system. Whether that is out of resignation and apathy, currently no movements seem on the horizon.

However, I would estimate that we will see one or several moments of social and political unrest over the next 5-10 years. I remain optimistic that democracy will prevail, but it may take a different form and the party landscape may also be transformed in the process.

Given the resignation that appears to be widespread among many Mongolians, I am assuming that any political upheavals (other than the customary but meaningless rotations in cabinet ministers) will have to be triggered by some specific event. Mongolians have taken to the streets in protest historically, most obviously in the winter of 1989-90 in the democratic revolution. Mass protests thus seem the most likely trigger for political upheaval


The current political frustration seems to inspire more passivity than action. An example of this could be the “blank ballot” movement in the 2017 presidential election. Yes, a small number of activists definitely overcame their resignation, but most of their supporters, 8% of the voters who turned out to vote, this protest was rather passive.

Frustration on its own thus seems unlikely to generate large scale protests and protests of a significant scale (let’s say 30-50,000 upwards) will be needed to bring about significant change.


What issues might frustrated Mongolians in Ulaanbaatar and other cities and towns rally around to take to the streets?

This September we are seeing significant protests related to the teachers’ strike. More typically, protests should be expected in the Spring, the traditional protest season as people come out of a long winter and Spring is in the air.

Simmering Issues: Basic Necessities

There are some simmering issues that may lead to protests without some particular event, especially those concerning basic necessities of life. Strikes might point to some such issues and these might boil over into larger protests movements especially if there is an economic crisis or downturn. Poverty or economic challenges such as changes in exchange rates, gas prices, or interest rates might also unleash protests, as could decisions by the city administration to drastically alter some aspect of traffic or service delivery, adding to the stress of life in Ulaanbaatar in the winter.

Air pollution is an issue that has brought thousands of protesters into the streets in the last several years. While it is most severe in Ulaanbaatar (Guardian article), almost all aimag centres, especially those that find themselves ringed by mountains, suffer. Protests about air pollution usually taper off in May-June, as coal is no longer burned in stoves and the skies clear. If air pollution somehow combined with a more punctuated event, that could also generate significant protests, I suspect.

Punctuated Events

The more likely trigger for mass protests would be a punctuated event, I suspect.

There are several different events that might trigger protests, I think, particularly in Ulaanbaatar.

The most likely event, in my estimation, would be linked to corruption as that is perhaps the greatest source of frustration in the electorate. As most Mongolians currently seem to suspect their entire political leadership of being in politics to serve themselves, corruption “on its own” may not be enough of a trigger. I would suspect that a specific case may be more likely to produce significant protests. Take the ₮60b case as an example. The Anti-Corruption Authority has recently announced that it would take up the investigation of the leaked recording of discussions of a price list for state offices again.

While this Transparency International tweet is focused on armed conflict, it would certainly apply to protests, etc. as well:

The most prominent target for this investigation is M Enkhbold, speaker of the Ikh Khural, former MPP party chair and failed presidential candidate. One of the aspects of corruption that I have heard most frustration expressed over is the lack of follow-through by judges and prosecutors. In the ₮60b case, large parts of the public seem prepared to believe that Enkhbold did engage in the recorded conversation and thus confirmed the plan to sell state offices, something that is anathema to the role of politics and elections as allowing the citizenry not only to make choices about the future of the country, but also expect these to be carried out with some degree of competence. Even if these allegations are difficult to tie to specific cash donations to the party or to particular appointments of individuals into offices, the plan for such sales is fundamentally undermining the democratic state and its capacity to carry out the will of the people.

Regardless of any actual charges that might result from an investigation, I could imagine an acquittal or an announcement that the investigation would be dropped to trigger protests, first on this case in particular, then around the broader issue of corruption, not limited to a specific person or party. In Enkhbold’s case in particular, the DP may ironically be interested in dragging this out as long as possible, most likely to the 2020 parliamentary election, to use against the MPP.

There could also be an actual crime linked to corruption that might trigger protests. An attack on a whistle blower, for example, or some unmasked cover-up, or a more blatant revelation of corruption through the leaking of documents like the Panama Papers.

Another event that could trigger protests could be some particularly heinous crime. Mongolians were enraged by the rape and murder of a child last year. Sadly, those crimes occur (and the death penalty that Pres Battulga proposed hastily in response is clearly ineffective in preventing such crimes, never mind that it would be an international relations disaster for Mongolia, especially with many third neighbours (other than the U.S.)), so news of a similarly terrible crime might trigger protests that would not be directed at a particularly party, but would be an outlet for long-simmering frustration.

Strong anti-Chinese sentiment among Mongolians could also motivate protests. Events that would trigger such protests could be the announcement of a major concession or sale of a Mongolian asset to Chinese interests. During Chinese Foreign Minister Wang’s August visit, there was speculation that the proposed IPO for the Tavan Tolgoi coal project might be a moment when state-owned parts of that project might be sold to a Chinese investor. No one would have been particularly surprised by such a sale, I think, but some such event might lead to protests.

The attempted abduction of V Akçay in July by Turkish security agents led to very quick mobilization of alumni of the Turkish schools demonstrating the skill and speed with which Ulaanbaatarites can mobilize. If there was some vaguely similar development involving China, the civil (or, perhaps not so civil) society reaction might be fierce. Given recent developments in Xinjiang and relations with Central Asia, imagine, for example, a scenario involving an ethnic Mongol in Inner Mongolia. Protests against Han-immigration into the IMAR and against recent decisions about language rights always remain uncorroborated (see the “Southern Mongolia Watch” by the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center), but seem to constitute a constant buzz of protest in Mongolian areas of China. Let’s say an ethnic Mongol was arrested in the IMAR in some such protest by managed to flee to Mongolia. In the past, the Mongolian does seem to have extradited individuals on request to the PRC, but if there was such a request for extradition of a Mongol who had protested in defence of Mongolian rights but might have even been branded a terrorist for his protest (as seems to be Chinese government custom involving Muslims at least), and there were any hints that the Mongolian government would comply with such a request, I do think that the Mongolian public would be quickly mobilizable.

Anti-Chinese sentiment could also determine the response to a number of different kind of events that might occur at Chinese-invested mines or factories. A mine accident involving Mongolian workers, or any kind of environmental accident might be such an event.


Currently, it does not seem like political frustration among Mongolians will lead to some kind of movement aimed at individual politicians, parties, or democracy. However, I expect some such movement(s) to occur in the medium term, triggered by some kind of event, most likely in the Spring. In a further post, I will speculate about what might happen in the event of widespread protests.

Posted in Air Pollution, Corruption, Democracy, Human Rights, Ikh Khural 2020, Inequality, Judiciary, Party Politics, Politics, Populism, Protest, Public Opinion, Security Apparatus, Social Change, Social Movements, Younger Mongolians | Tagged | Leave a comment

Changes in Northeast Asia – What Impact on Mongolia

New publication:

Julian Dierkes and Mendee Jargalsaikhan. 2018. “Mongolia in an Emerging Northeast Asian Region“, Mongolian Journal of International Affairs, 20: 91-100.

Posted in China, Foreign Policy, Japan, Julian Dierkes, Mendee Jargalsaikhan, Mongolia and ..., North Korea, Publications, Research on Mongolia, Russia, SCO, South Korea, Ulaanbaatar Dialogue | Leave a comment

Reducing Garbage by Re-establishing Bowl Use

By Julian Dierkes

In recent workshops we asked participants to list the most pressing policy challenges that Mongolia faced. A relatively small number of problems were listed repeatedly, by participants based in Ulaanbaatar as well as those from other aimags. Among those, unemployment was prominent. But, another topic that was mentioned everywhere was garbage.

Sadly, garbage is everywhere in Mongolia. Outside of the city, this is in part because of the wide-open landscape, meaning that once garbage “gets loose” it is distributed across the landscape.

There have been some successes, for example the availability of garbage cans in towns and cities, a price on plastic shopping bags (or their outright ban, coming to Ulaanbaatar), and legislation restricting smoking with has had the side effect of reducing the number of cigarette butts.

But Mongolians still perceive garbage to be a blight on their country, whether it is litter, that is carelessly thrown away items of garbage, or landfills that contain garbage inadequately.

There are some policy options that present themselves. Most of these might focus on some kind of deposit system for glass and plastic containers at least.

But, recycling facilities are missing and the recycling business has proven challenging in many countries. In the long-term, the aim thus would have to be to reduce garbage in the first place.

For Mongolia, one might hope that traditional nomadic life might offer some inspiration and some culturally appropriate solutions here.

At certain times of the year, it is common to see nomads on the move in the countryside.

It doesn’t have to be a yak cart or Porta on moving day in #Mongolia.

A post shared by Julian Dierkes (@jbdierkes) on

The entirety of a household fits onto a vehicle here. The sparsity of possessions is caused to some extent by “poverty” of herders moving from a subsistence livelihood to a cash economy, but it is also dictated by the requirements of periodic moves.

The sparsity of possessions means that there are many multipurpose items, and that household items have been reduced to their greatest need.

The Milk Bowl as an Example of a Reusable Tool

I would not be surprised at all if some campaign has already focused on the milk bowl. After all, it seems an obvious symbol of a focus on reusing tools.

Wonderful August trip to #Mongolia lingering in bowl of #aruul.

A post shared by Julian Dierkes (@jbdierkes) on

The milk bowl has significant cultural meaning. It plays a role in welcoming visitors, but also in gift-giving, typically offered along with a khadak (blue silk scarf).

The milk bowl also emphasizes one of the useful aspects of the deel, Mongolia’s traditional outfit, where the chest area is used as a storage pouch for essential items like a snuff bottle, but also a milk bowl.

Today, it seems to have become a rare sight for a herder to arrive somewhere only to pull out his or her bowl to participate in a meal.

But with chain coffee having arrived in Ulaanbaatar at least, disposable cups have become more common. In development workshops and other professional settings, cases of 0.5l bottles of drinking water are typically offered to participants.

This strikes me as an opportunity for a campaign that reminds Mongolians of their previous habit of brining a vessel along with them. Perhaps a bowl is less practical in purses, but it could certainly fit in some backpacks. Or, it could be replaced by the various water and coffee bottles that are so common on North American university campuses.

While a campaign for reusable vessels will not solve Mongolia’s garbage problem, if it met with any success, it would contribute to reducing garbage.

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

Nalaikh Mining Education Centre

By Mendee Jargalsaikhan and Julian Dierkes

The 25th of December 1922 was a very important date in Mongolian history. It was the day that the first government-operated coal mine at Nalaikh was re-opened. This was the birth of industrial mining, with all its ancillary industries, but also the birth of the town of Nalaikh and of the Mongolian proletariate.

The 100th anniversary of this momentous occasion should be celebrated.

We suggest that the celebration focus on the creation of a multi-disciplinary mining museum and education centre in Nalaikh! It would be a centre of excellence for sharing Mongolia’s past and current experience with mining, educating the public on the importance of mining in the country’s development, and the example of linking mining activities with community development and tourism.

Education Centre, Museum, and Historical Site

People, who worked and lived in Nalaikh during the socialist period, have lots of memories to share with new generations – to talk about the Nalaikh mine, railroad, power plant, Mongolian-Soviet military bases, glass factory, 14th transportation company, mining vocational school, military sewing company, etc.  Many may have artifacts – ranging from photos, equipment, and to all types of mementos from the socialist period.

Unless we save these artifacts before they disappear and capture oral histories, all would be gone in next 5 to 10 years.

Mining Education

Public mining education has largely been missing from Mongolia. There have been some limited projects to bring knowledge about the mining industry to specific audiences, but there has never been a large-scale effort funded by the government or the mining industry to familiarize the Mongolian public with the basis for and operations of the industry that is coming to dominate the Mongolian economy.

While a Nalaikh mining education centre would not substitute for broad public education, it could target the Ulaanbaatar-area public at least, and could serve as a think tank for the development of wider campaigns or the introduction of knowledge about mining into school curricula, for example.

There currently is no education centre that explains how mining (both industrial and artisanal) work to the Mongolian public. Except a very few curious mining students, no one might be interested in going to Nalaikh, the very first mine of Mongolia, which is within 35-40 kms from the capital city. The Mining School of the Mongolian University of Science and Technology still does not have an educational centre, where mining students run experiments, learn about the country’s mining industrial history, and discuss implications of policy failures (not having a proper mine closure plan, for example, in the Nalaikh case).

A mining education centre at Nalaikh could target different audiences. Initially, it might serve as a destination for school-aged children from around the Ulaanbaatar region. It might also attract families to visit, especially during vacation, and foreign visitors might come as well.

Then it could serve as a centre of excellence in mining education that could be involved in the drafting of materials to contribute to public education, or for inclusion in school-based teaching.

The Mongolian military is slowly taking over and maintaining the old military bases, but still do not know what to do with old Soviet planes and equipment.  There is a small, albeit growing activities, originating from Russia. For example, Russian Legend Tour company offerring tours for many, who served and lived in Mongolia, to visit Nalaikh. Successful business and political entrepreuners from Nalaikh would hopefully make commitment to re-build the memory of Nalaikh – which would narrate the history of the industrial mining and ups and downs of the Nalaikh coal mine.  If the Nalaikh mine could successfully restored its past and becomes the part of the sustainable mining (the mine still possesses 2/3 of its deposits) and tourism, it would be the most visible ones.  It is right under everybody’s nose – as the district of Ulaanbaatar.

Historical Significance

The historical accounts indicated that Nalaikh was one of the few mines, operated in Mongolia.  The Nalaikh coal mine was run by four Russian managers, 80 Chinese workers, and Mongolian horse-cart transporters. From 1915 to 1922, the mine provided coal for the capital city settlers as well as royalties to the Bogd Khaan’s treasury.  The state took over the mine in December 1922.

Mongolian socialism faced an even greater theoretical hurdle in Marx’ prediction of a succession from feudalism to capitalism to socialism. Well, there had been no capitalism to speak of in Mongolia prior to the revolution, much less than even in Russia. No capitalism = no industry = no working class. Nalaikh became as meaningful a project to the foundation of socialism as Erdenet later did to its modernization. The Nalaikh Coal Mine emerged as Mongolia’s first industrial site of any kind.

Fuelling Ulaanbaatar and a Resource Economy

But Nalaikh had other big implications. Its coal heated Ulaanbaatar and made the settlement, construction, and growth of the capital possible.  For example, in February 1939, the first power station (2500 kw) was built in Ulaanbaatar.  This resulted in building the first-ever railway (narrow-gauge) between Nalaikh and Ulaanbaatar in 1938 to deliver the coal for the first power station.

Looking back at Nalaikh coal mining today, it is also very significant as it was a milestone in the development of a resource economy. Yes, there were mining activities before then, of course, but Nalaikh was the first industrial scale mining, and thus presaged the future of Mongolia as an emerging mining economy in the 21st century.

The coal mine was further expanded in 1947 to fuel newly established light industry in Ulaanbaatar and first-ever government and residential buildings. By 1947, there were 700 employees and the annual production reached 246,200 ton. To meet growing demand for coal, the Soviet Union provided extensive assistance (169 million tugrug) to modernize the coal mine to the highest standard of that time. With the Soviet assistance, 200 Soviet specialists worked in 1954-1958 and trained over 200 Mongolian specialists in the Soviet Union between 1956 and 1966. As a result, Nalaikh became the first mechanized, underground coal mine in Mongolia.

Nalaikh Coal Still Sells High in Ulaanbaatar, 2017, by Mendee Jargalsaikhan

Many early mining engineers were first trained and employed at Nalaikh given its central status to industrialization and to Ulaanbaatar. Since all other new coal mines, especially in connection with urbanization as well as construction of provincial centres, came after Nalaikh, it is not surprising that most of local mining specialists began their careers in Nalaikh. At the same time, the mining vocational school in Nalaikh was the first and largest to meet the rising demand at the 1970s -80s for mining specialists.

Kazakhs in Nalaikh

Nalaikh demonstrated another interesting facts of Mongolian ethnic groups, especially the Kazakh minority.  The expansion and modernization of Nalaikh mine had required over 1500 miners; as a result, the government encouraged in bringing more workers Western provinces, including Bayan-Ulgii, a muslim-dominated province. As a result, Nalaikh gained a substantial muslim population, which had two separate Kazakh khoroo (sub-administrative unit) and Kazakh-secondary school.  This pattern was replicated in many later mines, including Erdenet.  All have substantial number of Kazakh workers and culturally distinct communities.

The Soviet Air Base

Later on, Nalaikh gained significance as a location for a Soviet air base following the Sino-Soviet tension in 1960s.  Nalaikh hosted the largest Soviet-Mongolian airbase, equipped with the fleet of MiG 21, supersonic inceptor-fighter jets, and several M-24 combat helocopter squadron.  The Soviet military positioned extensive radar units in surrounding Nalaikh, with a central HQ at the outskirt of the city, while Soviet-Mongolian military logistical units were hiding at several key locations.  For many Soviets, Nalaikh was one of the largest military base in Mongolia, where family members were allowed to accompany.  Therefore, two separate military-family housing town (with Soviet-style high-rise complexes), secondary school, medical facility, and shopping centres were built in Nalaikh.

Post-1990 Collapse

And, finally, in terms of its historical significance, Nalaikh has become a symbol of the post-1990 collapse of state enterprises and its most dire consequences with slumification and ninja mining.  According to the district authority, about 1,200-1,500 people (depending on the coal demand) have been engaged in artisanal mining activities while many others making their living by selling or transporting the coal.

Nalaikh Mine, 2016 by Mendee Jargalsaikhan

Nalaikh is now considered the world’s most dangerous underground coal mining site, as reported in the International Business Times.  As reported by the mining rescue unit, 198 people died from the artisanal mining activity since the state abandoned mine in 1992.  The mining rescue unit saved over 600 people during this period.  Just to take a look at the last few years statistics, the mining rescue unit responded to 16 accidents in 2014 (5 died, 35 rescued), 8 in 2015 (8 died, 23 rescued), 9 in 2016 (11 died, 13 rescued), and 17 in 2017 (5 died, 32 rescued).

Mining Rescue Unit, 2017, by Mendee Jargalsaikhan

Archival and Curatorial Opportunity

We see a number of opportunities linked to the Nalaikh site.

Building remains

There are two significant buildings that are in ruins, but remain at the coal mine site, the administrative building and part of the old processing plant. The administrative building is in significantly worse shape than the photo below suggests, however.

The remains of the factory can be seen here, and in many other photos from Nalaikh. While these buildings are in disrepair and may even be beyond repair, they do hold the promise of a site that includes original buildings.

Another interesting historical building, the Nalaikh railway station, which could be sentimental to many, including families of Soviet military personnel, who rode the train from Ulaanbaatar to Nalaikh. Whenever the weather acted badly, the train had been the most convenient transportation to the next closest station in Khonkhor, where passengers got on trains – travelling on the trans-Mongolian railway between south and north – or just going to Ulaanbaatar. The train did provide convenient travelling with several stops all throughout the capital city.  For many, this prototype socialist period railway station could easily demonstrate the history of the Mongolian railway – along with one stationary locomotive and one passenger train restaurant could bring the memory of the railroad in 1950s, 1970s and 1980s.

Nalaikh Railway Station, 2017, by Mendee Jargalsaikhan

Potential for Collaborations with Existing Mine Museums

There is a significant number of mining museums around the world that would provide examples of exhibits, curatorial and pedagogical approaches, etc. For us, based in Vancouver, the Brittania Mine Museum is closest, but there are other examples of such museums in =Australia, Europe and North America, possibly even beyond. In many locations, these museums have been built on decommissioned mines as we are proposing for Nalaikh, suggesting that this is a viable opportunity.

Community Development

Finally, we see a Nalaikh Mining Museum and Education Centre as an opportunity for community development in Nalaikh.

Planning would emphasize re-training opportunities for miners still active in the area (those with licenses, as those who may be mining illegally), offering employment in museum and tourist infrastructure that would provide a boost for the local economy.

Nalaikh could form the centre of an emerging tourism cluster built around the Chinggis statue and Terelj, requiring further infrastructure and thus also providing employment.

Requirements and Plans

There are numerous hurdles to the establishment of a Nalaikh Mining Museum and Education Centre. Obviously, many actors, from local and national officials to the local community would have to be consulted and invited to participate in the planning.

Ultimately, the Centre might hold some promise for economic development, but few of its activities would be fee-generating and the desire to educate the public about mining activities would prohibit a fee-base for the budget of the Centre. Financial contributions would thus have to be secured from local and national governments. And, we would hope that the domestic and international mining industry may be interested in supporting such a centre.

Beyond beginning to talk about this idea as we are doing here, a first step might be a feasibility study that could expand this post to include more definite plans, particularly on budget, alternative approaches, opportunities for funding and collaborations, etc. We are hoping to apply for funding from various sources to support such a feasibility study as a first step.

Posted in Education, Kazakhs, Mining, Museums, Nalaikh, Primary and Secondary Education | Tagged | Leave a comment

MNB World Interview

In August, Julian Dierkes was interviewed on MNB World by Belgutei Tumendemberel.

Posted in Air Pollution, Civil Society, Corruption, Democracy, Elections, Governance, Party Politics, Politics, Younger Mongolians | Leave a comment