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Posted in Reflection | Leave a comment

Untold 23: Promoting Inclusiveness Through Sports

By Odmaa Sod-Erdene

Ms. Altantsetseg.B is the Executive Director of Special Olympics Mongolia. Having spent most of her career as a geologist/geochemist at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and several other mining companies, Ms. Altantsetseg believes it was fate that brought her to her current position four years ago. She is a proud wife, a mother of two, and a grandmother of three.

Photo: Ms. Altantsetseg herself (with the permission of Altantsetseg)

Photo: Ms. Altantsetseg herself (with the permission of Altantsetseg)

Special Olympics Mongolia

We began our interview by talking about Special Olympics Mongolia and what the organization is all about. According to our guest, it was founded in 2013 by families of children with intellectual disabilities. Today, it has over 2500 registered athletes and unified partners. Through the power of sports, Special Olympics Mongolia aims to help people with an intellectual disability to gain confidence, social competence, and friendship, as well as to raise awareness and to create an inclusive society for all regardless of their disability. The team working towards this important goal consists of five full-time employees and numerous volunteers. On top of the usual sports and health promotion events for athletes and families, they also organize many outreach programs for young people, teachers, doctors, social workers, and government officials.

During the interview, Altantsetseg openly shared that there is very little public knowledge about the Special Olympics compared to the Paralympics. She confessed that even she knew little about the Special Olympics before joining the organization. As she explained to our listeners, unlike the Paralympics, which is for elite athletes with physical disabilities, the Special Olympics is for all children and adults with intellectual disabilities, such as down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism. The focus of the Special Olympics lies not on competition but on participation by welcoming athletes of all ability levels without any qualifying standards. There are 42 different summer and winter sports. Mongolian athletes actively participate in around ten sports including table tennis, polo, football, basketball, volleyball, and badminton. During the last summer game in Abu Dhabi 2019, 28 athletes and unified partners (people with no intellectual disability, mostly family members and volunteers, who participate in team sports alongside the athletes) competed in seven sports and came home with an outstanding accomplishment of 19 medals in total (three gold, seven silver, nine bronze).

Photo: Ms. Altantsetseg with her team and the former President Battulga (with the permission of Altantsetseg)

Creating an Inclusive Society Is a Team Effort

Altantsetseg stresses the importance of sponsors, and the invaluable work of volunteers to run the organization. As the Special Olympics Mongolia is an NGO, it doesn’t receive any funding from the government. Most of the financial needs are sponsored by grants from Special Olympics International, international organizations, corporations, and other donors. Altantsetseg highlighted that especially with the increase of corporate social responsibility, it’s becoming less difficult to raise funding from private corporations as compared to 2017 when she first started the job. She is the most excited about how the young people are changing attitudes and their relentless, ever-increasing participation as volunteers. Until they get to know them, people don’t realize that children with an intellectual disability are often the warmest and most loving people. Their innocence and unconditional love are the best reward for the volunteers, who often say that they are the real beneficiaries, as Altantsetseg cheerfully added. She recalls how she herself received countless hugs and cuddles from the athletes during her trip to Abu Dhabi, more than she ever did receive in her entire life. During the interview, she repeatedly showed her optimism and appreciation for the volunteers.

Bilguunee’s Story

One of the inspiring stories she shared was about a boy called Bilguunee. He has an intellectual disability and lives in the ger district of Ulaanbaatar. He found interest in fitness training, unfortunately, there weren’t any gyms nearby. So, every time he wanted to train, he had no choice but to walk for an hour and a half to the nearest gym. Despite the challenges, he worked hard, and he even successfully competed in national championships. His story inspired the ‘Opportunities for All’ project with support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The aim is to bring gym facilities to children with an intellectual disability in ger districts – Nalaikh, Bayankhoshuu and Tolgoit. Gym equipment will be given to local schools or sports clubs in exchange for the free admission of people with an intellectual disability from nearby areas. Proper training will be provided to the teachers and staff, as well to facilitate their training. Bilguunee’s story is one of many tangible examples of the hardship and limitations people with an intellectual disability face every single day.

Photo: Ms. Altantsetseg with member of Special Olympics Mongolia (with the permission of Altantsetseg)

Challenges Persist

As per world average, there are at least 60 thousand people with an intellectual disability in Mongolia – mostly young people. There are only four schools for children with an intellectual disability with a combined capacity of 1600 students, leaving behind no less than 30-50 thousand children and young adults with no access to education, Altantsetseg pointed out. This also translates into no access to healthcare, no chance to be in the labor force, and no friends or social circle. Even for families with the means, having their children with an intellectual disability to attend any sort of personal development activity takes a toll. Since teachers in these kinds of facilities are not trained to work with children with special needs, a parent has to chaperone at all times. As much as public attitude is changing slowly for the better, Altantsetseg worries that there is still so much more to do. She recalls that when she was a little girl, people with an intellectual disability were treated like a threat or danger and therefore avoided with no chance of expressing themselves as individuals. She believes the lack of education about intellectual disabilities is at fault for this sort of mistreatment. She emphasizes that in order to really create an inclusive society, educating the society in hopes of changing their attitude is just as important as providing educational and social opportunities to people with an intellectual disability.

We concluded the interview with a discussion of what the future may hold for Special Olympics Mongolia. Altantsetseg told us that the vision for Special Olympics for the next 50 years is to bring people with an intellectual disability to the forefront from their usual back seats. So that ultimately, they could share their story in their own voices and take an active part in the fight for their own freedom and wellbeing. As for her own future, Altantsetseg is hoping to hand over her role to the next generation of young people. Until then, she plans to continue working hard for as long as it takes them to achieve their goal.

If you are interested in volunteering opportunities at Special Olympics Mongolia, check out their Facebook page Special Olympics Mongolia.

About Odmaa Sod-Erdene

Odmaa Sod-Erdene holds a MA in Economics from the University of British Columbia and currently works as a data scientist at Fidelity Investments Canada. Previously, she worked as a research analyst at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, where she focused on evaluating the impact of social policies on population health and health inequalities.

Posted in Education, Olympics, People with Disabilities, Podcast, Sports, Younger Mongolians | Leave a comment

Naadam 2022: International Participants and Backroom Deals

By Zorigtkhuu Bat-Erdene

What is Naadam?

“Naadam” is a traditional festival that is the most widely celebrated and watched in Mongolia and elsewhere among Mongolians, Inner Mongolians and Tuva Republic. The Naadam festival is celebrated during midsummer and officially takes place between the 10th – 13th of July. It is locally named “Eriin Gurvan Naadam” (Эрийн Гурван Наадам – The Three Manly Sports.) The three sports are Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery. Women can participate in archery and girls in horse racing, but not wrestling. The naadam festival is believed to have existed for centuries, and the games have been recorded in the thirteenth-century book called “The secret history of the Mongols” (Монголын Нууц Товчоо).

This year’s naadam wrestling

This year’s festival was exceptional because no naadam festivals were organized for the previous two years due to covid restrictions; hence the government postponed the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the people’s revolution of 1921, which was planned to be celebrated last year, in 2021. Instead, the government decided to integrate the celebration of the 100th and 101st anniversary this year.

Since it is a special year, 1024 wrestlers, including most of the top-ranked state and aimag (province) titled wrestlers, as well as wrestlers from Tuva (Russia), Kalmykia (Russia) and Buryatia (Russia) participated in the wrestling competition. In addition to the foreign wrestlers above, some inner Mongolian (China) wrestlers also planned to participate. However, they could not participate due to the covid restrictions in China. Before the 2022 year’s naadam festival, no foreign wrestlers were allowed to participate; this year’s naadam was the first time for them to participate. Although all the foreign wrestlers were defeated by third round, they were widely cheered and supported by the audience.

As a fan of Mongolian wrestling, I think the main reason that they did not succeed is that they were not allowed to use any title they held from their countries unless their titles had been given in Mongolia according to the relevant laws and rules. The title is an essential factor in a wrestler’s success; if someone does not hold any title, he is considered a “young wrestler” (Залуу бөх) who can be challenged by any higher ranked and titled wrestler. If someone holds the higher title, he has an opportunity to select the opponent.

There were ten rounds as 1024 wrestlers participated this year. As a result of the 10th round, O. Khangai won round 10 and was awarded the highest state title of “Champion ” (Аварга), while B. Orkhonbayar, who won round 9, was awarded the second-highest state title of “Arslan” (Арслан) as per the Pres Khurelsukh’s decree. Most Mongolians are delighted with the result of the tournament this year: the final two wrestlers qualified for the final round for the first time and both previously held the same state title of “Khartsaga.”

Over the past few years, many high-ranked state-titled wrestlers got involved in doping-related issues, and some of them have been restricted from participating in wrestling tournaments for a certain period. At the same time, others also have had their state titles rescinded due to positive doping test results. For this year, Mongolians believe and pray for the wrestlers who qualified for the final few rounds, hoping they did not use any prohibited substances by both Mongolian and international doping regulations.

As I emphasized in my 2018 blog post, military ranks are given (as a bonus) to a wrestler who is awarded any state title if he belongs to one of the sports clubs run by any law enforcement authority. However, today, there was no talks about any military ranks that will be given to a wrestler who has been awarded a new state title. Hopefully, no military ranks will be given to the wrestlers anymore because it is unfair to those who trained, worked and served in the military for a long time.

Backroom dealings for the state title (Начны найраа)

Seventeen new wrestlers were awarded the lowest state title of “Nachin” (Начин) after the 5th round, but it was clear that many of them got their titles through backroom dealing. Luckily, all the audience witnessed those who got the “Nachin” title with their true strength and skill while also seeing the ones who unfairly got the “Nachin” (Начин) title.

The backroom dealings for the state titles have been criticised widely and strongly over the past two decades, it has become one of the headaches of Mongolians who love their tradition and culture. The low-ranked wrestlers who are pursuing the state titles obviously do not buy or pay for the state titles directly. All they have to do is to pretend that they wrestle seriously because the rest is already organized. Their homeland associations usually organize the backroom dealing for them. The homeland association is a formation of politicians and business people. Their goal is to have new state-titled wrestlers because they want to be seen that they support the wrestlers from the their aimag (province), in turn, they can get the public support within their aimags (provinces). Fortunately, the audience is smart enough to distinguish who are the cheaters and who are not.

This year, N. Jargalbayar, who currently holds the state title of “Zaan,” (Заан) whose conversation over the phone was recorded and released publically. The Deputy Governor of Umnugobi province, N. Enkhbat, phoned Jargalbayar just before the 5th round (round of lowest state title, Nachin), asking/ordering Jargalbayar to wrestle with Nyamaa who is from Umnugobi province, who later got the “Nachin” title as a result of the 5th round after defeating Jargalbayar. Fortunately, this case is being investigated by the anti-corruption agency of Mongolia. Many people were talking about Jargalbayar as one of the top wrestlers who could win this special year’s wrestling competition; unfortunately, he disappointed all his supporters. Believe it or not, there is gossip that Jargalbayar was defeated because he was offered 1 billion Mongolian tugrug ( around 316 000 USD). Hopefully, he did not lose all his fans.

Generally, those who bought the state title get no respect from the audience. However, they still want to get the state title somehow with the political and financial support of the politicians and business people from their aimag. It has been a headache for Mongolians who love national wrestling and who want to see genuine wrestling, no conspiracy.

Unexpectedly luxurious event during times of crisis

Another surprising and most criticized event during naadam was the fancy and luxurious party that was held at the Ikh Tenger complex (Их Тэнгэр Цогцолбор), where over two thousand wealthy people, including celebrities, politicians and business people were invited. The public condemned Pres Khurelsukh for some fair reasons. Firstly, he walks on the red carpet like a king; secondly, why did he and his office organize such a luxurious reception when the citizens could barely make ends meet during the economic crisis. Thirdly, there is a law of state budget efficiency (Төрийн хэмнэлтйин тухай хууль). The goal of this law is to save unnecessary expenses of every state organizations during the economic difficulty.

Even though there were some criticisms regarding the opening ceremony, luxurious party and the backroom dealings for the state titles, it was charming to watch the Naadam festival online after two years. Everyone is happy with the result of the wrestling tournament.

We are looking forward to the next year’s naadam.

About Zorigtkhuu

Bat-Erdene ZORIGTKHUU currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He holds a Master of Applied Science degree in Mining Engineering from the University of British Columbia. Zorig’s research focused on Mining Local Procurement (Local Content) in Mongolia.

Previous to his academic endeavour, Zorigtkhuu worked for the biggest coal mining company (Mongolian Mining Corporation) in Mongolia and an “International Medical Center (Intermed Hospital)” project that was jointly commissioned by the MCS group in Mongolia.

 

Posted in Buryatia, Inner Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Kalmykia, Mongolian Diaspora, Naadam, Sports, Tuva, Wrestling, Zorigtkhuu Bat-Erdene | Leave a comment

Why Is the UB Dialogue Important?

By Soyolgerel Nyamjav and Mendee Jargalsaikhan

Amidst increased geopolitical tensions and lingering pandemic effects, Mongolia, a
small, landlocked state hosted three major international in-person events in June.
Khaan Quest, an annual multinational peacekeeping exercise, was organized at the Five Hills Peace Support Operations Training Centre.  Over thousand military
personnel from fifteen countries, including the United States, South Korea, Japan, and
India – those dispatched a large military contingent, exercised for peacekeeping
deployments. At the same time, Mongolia hosted the first-ever Women, Peace and
Security conference welcoming over 60 female peacekeepers from 30 countries as well
as Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations of the
United Nations. Then, in June 23-25, Mongolia organized the 7 th “Ulaanbaatar Dialogue”
on Northeast Asian Security. Here we would like to explain why the Ulaanbaatar
Dialogue (known as the UB Dialogue or UBD) is an important foreign policy endeavour for
Mongolia.

History of the Ulaanbaatar Dialogue

The UBD is a continuation of Mongolia’s multilateral foreign policy to welcome
international participants to Mongolia and to be a part of the international community.
This policy had been disrupted during the Cold War when Mongolia had no choice to
become the Soviet ally and its foreign policy had been dictated by the Kremlin. Even
though during this time, Mongolia invited many newly independent small states of the
Asia Pacific Region in 1960s-70s to share its experience of the socialist bloc (CMEA) –
aided economic development.

Also, Mongolia became a hub for the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace from the 1970s. In the late 1980s, as the geopolitical tension among the great powers declined, Mongolia pursued a quite aggressive policy for offering itself as a dialogue venue for peace and cooperation in the Asia Pacific Region.

Building on this successful foreign policy to develop bilateral ties with China and ‘third neighbours’ – mostly developed democracies (or the Western countries) in 1990s, Mongolia began to make renewed efforts to offer the multilateral platform. In 2008, the Mongolian Institute for Strategic Studies  along with the George Marshall Centre for European Security Studies organized a conference, titled “Ulaanbaatar as New Helsinki?” to promote Mongolia as a neutral venue for the regional security talk. Later, in 2013, the Pres Elbergdorj endorsed the ‘venue for multilateral dialogue’ idea and coined the UB Dialogue as a long-term foreign policy initiative to engage all Northeast Asian countries, including countries with hostile relations.

7th Ulaanbaatar Dialogue

After two years of disruptions due to the COVID19 pandemic, Mongolia hosted the 7th UB Dialogue – which is noted the first-ever in-person international dialogue in Northeast Asia. In several ways, this year’s dialogue was unique.

For one, North Korea was missing because of the pandemic and a lack of the virtual connection. In all previous dialogues, North Korean participation was important for many other participants, especially for Japan – who managed to organize a side bilateral meeting during the UB Dialogue, and many European participants. However, a well-known German expert on North Korea offered his insights on the DPRK.

Second, Russia’s participation in the dialogue was the hottest topic among international participants, some declined their participation, and some left during the Russian delegate’s speech. Many participants, including Mongolian speakers, were in agreement to end the hostility in Ukraine and to find a peaceful solution to ongoing military conflict.

Third, the inclusion of the youth speakers (as a main panel) was applauded by the majority of participants. This year, the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) organized a youth panel by providing opportunities for youth representatives from China, Japan, Mongolia, and South Korea to present their views on regional peace and security with policymakers and scholars.

Fourth, the Business Council of Mongolia (BCM) and United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) organized sessions devoted to discuss the post-pandemic economic cooperation and power grid connectivity in the region. Finally, the host nation welcomed the participation from the Kyrgyz Republic and many other international participants from Europe; thus provides opportunities for Northeast Asian experts to share and compare their perspectives on regional cooperation.

In retrospect, the UB Dialogue is becoming a modest and unique regional venue for
policy-makers, academics, and youth exchange their views and hopes on Northeast
Asian matters. This year, the track one closed door meeting was hosted by the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs of Mongolia and this meeting was attended by senior foreign ministry
officials from thirteen countries, plus the United Nations. The security session is now
divided into two parts: the first session discusses challenges and the other searches
ways to promote the confidence building. The UNDPPA will continue to work with
organizers to have the youth session as an important part of the dialogue, where youths
from Northeast Asia and elsewhere could share their visions of region. The economic
sessions are now jointly organized by the BCM, a Mongolian non-governmental
organization, and USESCAP, in hope to make the economic aspects as critical part of
the UB dialogue. Overcoming its two-year interruptions, the UB dialogue revived and
appears to be on a narrow path to become an international conference on Northeast
Asian matters.

About Soyolgerel Nyamjav

Soyolgerel Nyamjav is the Head of the Centre for International Security at the Institute for Strategic Studies, National Security Council of Mongolia. Soyolgerel’s research focuses on security studies especially Mongolia’s security environment, geopolitical situation, Central Asian regional problems and regional multilateral mechanisms.  

Posted in China, Germany, International Relations, Japan, Kyrgyz Republic, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, Ulaanbaatar Dialogue, UN, United States | Tagged | Leave a comment

Mongolia’s International Conference on “Strengthening the Role of Women in Peacekeeping”

By Katharina P. Coleman

On 16-18 June 2022, Mongolia welcomed the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, other UN officials and representatives from over thirty countries to a three-day conference on “Strengthening the Role of Women in Peacekeeping”. The conference allowed for detailed and candid discussions of the obstacles to increased meaningful participation of uniformed women in peace operations and lively exchanges about ways to address these challenges. It also highlighted Mongolia’s willingness to play a leadership role on this issue and the resonance its engagement has in the UN and with other states.

Day 1: Commitment and Candid Conversations

The conference began with opening speeches by President U. Khurelsukh and Under-Secretary-General Jean-Pierre Lacroix, underlining the political importance both Mongolia and the UN accorded the conference. President Khurelsukh used the opportunity to announce that Mongolia intends to increase the proportion of women in its own peacekeeping contributions to 15% for military contingents and 25% for staff officers and military observers by 2027. This is an ambitious and significant goal: as of April 2022, Mongolia is the UN’s 24th largest uniformed personnel contributor with 884 individuals deployed, of whom 73 (8.3%) are women.

For the remainder of the first day, conference participants exchanged insights on the barriers to the recruitment of women into uniformed services and to the training, deployment and meaningful participation of uniformed women in peace operations as well as best practices for overcoming these obstacles. Discussions took place over three panels in which a wide range of states (Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Korea, the Netherlands, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Rwanda) shared their perspectives and also – just as importantly – in many smaller, informal conversations in breaks and over delicious food.

Two factors made the discussions particularly powerful. One was the fact that all countries recognized and acknowledged challenges in their own efforts to recruit women into their armed forces and deploy them as peacekeepers. This made seeking solutions a collective endeavor in which all participants had a stake. The second factor was that most of the participants – both international and Mongolian – were women serving in their countries’ military or police forces who had themselves deployed on one or more peace operations. They generously shared their own experiences as well as national perspectives, enabling rich and deeply informed conversations.

Day 2: Five Hills Peacekeeping Training Centre

On the second conference day, participants were fortunate to visit the Five Hills Peacekeeping Training Center, where the annual multinational Khan Quest exercise was being held. The day included a panel on Mongolian experiences deploying women peacekeepers, a visit to the training lanes and a briefing on the Women, Peace and Security training that was being offered alongside the Khan Quest for the first time. We were then privileged to experience a Mini-Naadam ­– complete with traditional music, wrestling and horseback riding – before returning through stunning scenery to Ulaanbaatar.

Day 3: Next Steps

The conference ended by looking forward. One panel focused on mechanisms to support states seeking to increase their ability to deploy women peacekeepers, including Canada’s Elsie Initiative, the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance’s barrier assessment methodology; and the Elsie Initiative Fund for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations. A final moderators’ panel summarized discussions and identified major lessons learned. The closing session saw three important announcements. Under-Secretary-General Lacroix indicated that the Department of Peace Operations would launch a pilot virtual network of deployed women peacekeepers. Ghana revealed that it would host the 2023 Peacekeeping Ministerial meeting and place Women Peace and Security high on the meeting’s agenda. Mongolia closed the conference with a proposal to host follow-on conferences every five years.

Given Mongolia’s warm hospitality and how rewarding and constructive the conference was, I’m sure I was not the only participant who welcomed this announcement – and hoped to be able to participate again!

About Katharina Coleman

Katharina P. Coleman (PhD Princeton) is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Her research focuses on international organizations, peace operations, the politics of international legitimacy and the creation and impact of international norms. Her regional area of expertise is sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Coleman helped draft the Terms of Reference for the Elsie Initiative Fund for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations and now serves on the Fund’s Technical Committee.

 

 

 

Posted in Foreign Policy, Gender, International Relations, Katharina Coleman, Mongolia and ..., Peacekeeping, UN | Leave a comment

Russophiles, Russophones and Russophobes

By Julian Dierkes

Reactions to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine have been quite visible on Twitter.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s visit to Ulaanbaatar on July 5 have brought many of these reactions to the fore again.

Here’s a prominent and strongly-worded (in Russian no less) example representing the perception of Russia as an aggressive, (neo)imperial power.

Marissa J Smith documented initial reactions to the invasion of Ukraine in two posts earlier this year (February/early March | March). B Bulgan focused specifically on the close attention that the apparent involvement of Buryat soldiers in the invasion was receiving in Mongolia in March.

On the whole, I have been more surprised by the level of quiet and sometimes vocal support for Russia than by denunciations of imperial aggression. As it turned out, the absence of a government reaction to the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan seems to have been a harbinger of the current policy to stay quiet, though for even more pressing Realpolitik reasons.

The Solitudes of Mongolian Foreign Relations

It has become very clear in the past five months how significant the Russophone (i.e. Russian-speaking) and Russophile (possessing an affinity for Russia) communities in Mongolia are. The fact that I found this surprising is surely due to my myopia and the fact that my own language abilities (not including Russian) have always steered me toward Mongolians with other language abilities and thus away from the Russophone/phile crowd. Some of my surprise is also rooted in the fact that there really is not very much of a Russian diaspora in Mongolia, unlike many Central Asian countries, though even there Russian population shares appear to be shrinking. With the transfer of ownership over Erdenet from Russian to Mongolian interests some years ago (as irregular as that was), even Erdenet as a regional/local stronghold of linkages with Russia is declining in significance.

Yes, I am aware of history prior to 1990. 😉 Yes, of course, I have seen numerous Mongolian officials, but also academics pull fairly fluent Russian out of their hats when called upon. And yes, I am also aware of the Russian educational trajectories and personal connections of numerous recent representatives of Mongolia, not least former pres Kh Battulga and current pres U Khurelsukh. But, I just never had a lot of interactions with this Russia-focused crowd.

Official Neutrality

Obviously, the government has studiously attempted not to take sides in this conflict. It has abstained on UN resolutions, has not joined in any sanctions, has received officials (like FM Lavrov) and even signed a pipeline deal placing it literally between Russia and China.

Why this neutrality? Well, even though some Mongolians political and values compasses might point to industrialized democracies, it remains surrounded by two autocracies (of very different nature) that are increasingly assertive internationally, though rooted in a perceived position of strength for China and in more of a desperate imperialistic rearguard action for Russia.

This is Mongolia’s foreign policy reality. While I still thought that on an issue like the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Mongolia could have publicly sided with Western allies without anyone in Beijing or Moscow really noticing, I do find the argument plausible that both neighbours’ governments might be quite miffed if Mongolia sided very publicly with the Ukraine. Whether there would be any consequences to Russian or – even less likely as they are only tangentially involved – Chinese displeasure at Mongolia taking a stance is very unclear. Of course, Mongolia is very vulnerable to any shifts in Russian hydrocarbons, even more so than Western Europe, for example. Regardless of any Russophile predilections in the MPP leadership, official silence might thus be a realistic assessment of Mongolia’s options, as painful as that is to committed democrats, those committed to international rules and the absolute injunction against aggression toward other countries, and those who are particularly concerned about Russian aggression and the threat it may pose to Central Asia, but also to Mongolia.

In this context I would also note that there has been a curious flurry of announcements of visits, MOUs, and general relations with Belarus over the past 2-3 years which has not looked better in the context of Russia’s reliance on Belarus as a staging ground for aggression against Ukraine.

Outright Support of Russia

There are clearly prominent voices supporting Russia, including voices in the government.

B Tsogtgerel, Vice-Minister of Roads and Transport, is an example of Russophile voices that come across as quite servile in the context of the Lavrov visit, tweeting in Russian here no less.

As has also been observed elsewhere around the world, there are significant portions of the Russophile and Russophone community in Mongolia who appear to buy into Putin’s propaganda narratives of persecution of Russophones by Ukrainian fascists. I find this no less puzzling in the Mongolian context of an active and fairly free press than anywhere else in the world.

Most of the support for Putin/Russia appears to be of a kneejerk/loyalty variety. I have not come across many reasoned arguments that actually point to any advantage Mongolia might gain by siding with Russia that would make this a conceivable foreign policy options. I cannot tell whether the same voices that occasionally show admiration for Putin’s style of personalistic, autocratic governance as having benefited Russia, are also the voices that are professing some kind of solidarity with Russia. That is largely due to my myopia and lack of understanding of the Russophile community as I have written above.

Condemnation of Russian Actions

FM Lavrov’s visit was an occasion for many voices on Twitter to be very vocal in their condemnation of the Putin regime. Broadly speaking that opposition appears to have three elements, democracy partisans, anti-aggression, and anti-(Russian)-imperialism.

Democracy Partisans

Some grandees of what remains of the Democratic Party have clearly taken a stance rooted in their dedication to democracy and the implied right to self-determination that is so obviously violated by the unprovoked invasion of a neighbour. Some of the DP’s “golden swallows” have been active in this regard.

E Bat-Uul, former mayor of Ulaanbaatar and longtime DP leader, makes an explicit link to risks that Russian aggression poses for Mongolia in this context.

But there are also defenders of democracy beyond the DP. MP T Dorjkhand has also position XYH clearly in this regard,

pointing very explicitly to the authoritarian threat that Mongolia’s neighbours pose to its democracy.

Civil Society

There are numerous voices that have condemned Russian aggression without an explicit link to Mongolian parties. I have already pointed to Ts Bat above, but here’s another example of this kind of voice:

Showcasing images from the demonstration against FM Lavrov’s visit behind Government House.

I do not imagine that long-time prominent commentator Baabar was endorsing the defense of Mongolia from outside forces that Lavrov offered.

Critics of Neo-Imperialism

There have been some rumblings across Central Asia pointing to Russian aggression against Ukraine as part of a broader pattern of Russian neo-imperialism, something that many European and North American analysts also point to as a motivation for Putin’s actions, namely the desire to make Russia great again. The “Kazakh-Russian Rift” in June was a prominently visible example of that, all the more remarkable coming in a Kazakh context, one that is just overcoming – maybe – a personalistic autocracy, and a government that had called for “international” (ie Russian) intervention when it was facing riots in January.

These fears about Russian neo-imperialism were very evident in early reactions to the invasion of Ukraine that focused on the deployment of Buyats in the war.

Implications

Obviously, there are many scenarios for further developments in Ukraine. However those developments unfold, Russian aggression has led to a new geopolitical position that Mongolia finds itself in. With the invasion of the Crimea and subsequent OECD sanctions against Russia, a process started that is bringing Russia and China closer together. Even for the most committed Russophile in Mongolia (who is likely to simultaneously be a Sinophone), that cannot be good news. The deepening division between Russia and most of the world, and the resulting attempt by the Putin regime to cozy up even more to its fascist counterpart in Beijing, has replaced the fear of a deepening U.S.-China confrontation where Mongolia might have to pick sides, with a context where Mongolia’s Third Neighbours may re-engage with the country again in a context of value-based diplomacy that may or may not be seen as threatening by the Xi regime.

Addenda

I received two quite justified comments/criticisms to this post on Twitter.

Generations

Yes, clearly feelings of solidarity/affinity with Russia vary across Mongolian generations, that is an important point. This difference may be visible even in officialdom. While Pres Khurelsukh was socialized with a focus on the Soviet Union, PM Oyun-Erdene is young enough that much of his political socialization was no longer (exclusively) focused on Russia. Given the demography of the Mongolian population, Russophiles are surely decreasing in number.

Interestingly, this is a question that Bulgan asked regarding foreign languages learned in 2016 already, i.e. “How Popular is Russian in Mongolia“.

Putin vs Russia

Also a very valid point in that I largely conflate Russia with Putin/the Putin regime. Obviously, there is a lot of attention being paid to any (growing) opposition to Putin within Russia, but this is also a question to be asked about Mongolian attitudes. It is a question that deserves a more sophisticated answer than I am able to give, but surely there is some anti-Putin Russophilia, as well as some anti-Russian infatuation with personalistic authoritarianism, so a true understanding of Mongolian attitudes should be more nuanced.

Posted in Democracy, International Relations, Mongolia and ..., Protest, Russia | Tagged | Leave a comment

Constitutional Amendments, Again?

By Julian Dierkes

It appears that constitutional amendments are in the air again and some claim that these are likely to be addressed in a special parliamentary session in August or early on in the Fall session.

These amendments would push in different directions, but also re-visit some of the issues taken on by the 2019 amendments.

Election System

It seems that there is momentum building toward some mix of majoritarian and proportional representation. Constituencies + countrywide or regional proportional representation perhaps? Regardless of what system would be pursued, any kind of proportional representation would require a constitutional amendment to overcome the hurdle raised by the constitutional court that each Mongolian’s vote directly elect a representative and the interpretation that proportional representation does not meet this standard set out in Article 21. Some such amendments were debated already in 2019, but ultimately not passed.

It strikes me as very interesting that some elements in the MPP seem to be in favour of proportional representation and willing to pursue a constitutional amendment for this purpose. Why interesting? Because the MPP has won a super-majority in the last two parliamentary elections relying entirely on majoritarian districts. U Khurelsukh was also elected president through direct election after being nominated by the MPP. So, for electoral purposes, majoritarian elections seem to serve the MPP well and conventional wisdom would predict that a winning party might not want to mess with electoral systems.

I am hoping to learn more about the motivations for moving toward proportional representation within the MPP when I will be visiting Mongolia in August. For now, I can only speculate that a super-majority where all MPs are bound to local constituencies may actually be hard to govern with as it could be relying on ad-hoc coalitions of MPs to support particular legislation, but there might be little motivation to do so when MPs are beholden to local issues. This may also be an area where the downside of a party system that is not structured by ideological differences but by patronage structures is an obstacle as bigger, national projects (i.e., legislation) may be hard to pursue on such a basis in parliament even when it seems necessary.

Opposition parties, the ever-shape-shifting Democratic Party and KhUN are likely to be in favour of proportional representation as it is likely to give them a greater share of seats in parliament.

Parliamentary Composition and Powers

Number of MPs

There have been repeated discussions about the size of the UIX. I have offered comparisons to German Länder and the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia as early as November 2015. By such comparisons, there does not seem to be an urgent need for a larger parliament, but I do recognize that these are sub-national parliaments rather than national legislatures.

The number that seems to be under discussion at the moment is 120 MPs. Perhaps the push toward a larger parliament comes from the notion of retaining the current 76 constituencies and adding seats elected by proportional representation? I am not sure that there is an ideal formula for balancing directly-elected vs proportionally-elected seats.

There is no obvious harm in having a larger parliament, but I am not entirely sure that there is an obvious benefit either. What about corruption? When MPs choose a political career as an earnings opportunity (rather than out of a motivation toward political change), this is not for the parliamentary salary, but instead for other “opportunities”. With more members, presumably, those opportunities would be reduced. I would be surprised if that was a motivation for increasing the number of seats, but it might be a side effect. On the other hand, some might see this as a move to give more people access to “feed at the trough” thus increasing corruption.

The Double-Deel, again!

The double deel has been a long-standing topic of discussion. Just try a search on this blog! The 2019 amendments reduced the number of MPs in cabinet to a maximum of four. That is what is governing the current government of L Oyun-Erdene.

The purpose of the prohibition of MPs serving in cabinet was a) greater power for the Prime Minister (in part to strengthen them vis-a-vis parliament, but also the presidency), and b) more competent ministers as they could be recruited on the basis of subject-matter expertise, rather than being MPs.

It seems fair to say that in the two years of the Oyun-Erdene government, we have not seen any noticeable change in the balance of power between the PM, the president and parliament. Maybe some are interpreting this as a failure of the prohibition of the double deel. I would point out, however, that a super-majority coupled with the president held by the same party is an odd situation in which to test a) the power of the PM, and b) the effectiveness of parliamentary oversight over the executive. While I have never quite understood the problem with MPs serving in cabinet (after all, the vast majority of ministers in Westminster systems are parliamentarians) and am thus not a proponent of the prohibition of the double deel, once the 2019 constitutional amendments committed to this change, in my mind, I would prefer for it to play itself out as a structural change, rather than being abandoned after only one parliamentary election. Constitutional change should be a rare thing, so why not let this one play itself out for some time to assess whether it has the desired impact, particularly under a different make-up of parliament.

But, I have heard some arguments that the non-MP ministers simply lack power to take any initiative as it is simple for MPs to oppose them when legislation is required or through the budget process. To me, this calls for a more assertive PM who relies on party discipline to strengthen the position of non-MP ministers, but that does not appear to be happening. Again, why not discuss how different structures are having an impact on policy-making rather than move to another constitutional reform, but perhaps these discussions are just not reaching me.

Governance

There also seems to be a renewed push for a realignment of local vs national power. For example, there may be a push for the appointment of aimag governors by the PM, rather than their election by aimag assemblies.

It remains unclear to me whether there are further changes planned for the status of Erdenet and Darkhan so allow them more administrative oversight as city-states rather than aimags that are dominated by the urban part of the province.

Posted in Constitution, Governance, Law, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Letting the Sun Shine on Garbage?

By Julian Dierkes

In thinking about economic diversification, I have previously dreamed about a long-term strategic approach for Mongolia. Such an approach would involve a taking stock of Mongolia’s riches (other than mineral resources), and then invest into applied research (modelled on something like the German Fraunhofer Gesellschaft) that might capitalize on these resources in the very long run.

The resources that come to my limited imagination are fresh air, sunshine, and cold.

Is there not some way that these riches could be brought to bear on Mongolia’s garbage problem?

In so many walks of life, we are afraid of UV rays. If you’re light-skinned, they have become a seemingly ever-present menace to our skin.  When I return from Mongolia trips (almost independent of the season, though outside time is obviously limited in the winter) I return with a deep tan that prompts colleagues to ask me which beach I have returned from. For Mongolians, even a short visit to the countryside gives them deep tans very quickly. UV rays bleach our clothes and turn gers into the bright colour that shows up so nicely on the green steppe background.

Harnessing UV Rays

So, dear engineers out there, is there not some process that can harness Mongolia’s powerful UV exposure to break down garbage?

Solar panels have been an obvious implementation of a recognition of powerful solar energy and they are an innovation to ger life that seems to have become almost universal in adoption.

There must be plastics out there that break down quickly through UV exposure. While they may be more expensive, might they be part of a solution to the garbage-strewn landscape?

Could there be materials that are broken down even faster by UV exposure in cold environments? That would seem the perfect combination for Mongolia’s environment.

Yes, if such materials existed, they would likely require exposure to UV rays which may be difficult to arrange in landfills, but worth considering.

Alternatively, could UV rays play a role in cleaning used vessels and containers for re-use? A solar dish washer maybe?

I dream of being reborn as a Mongolian throat singer, but a UV engineer would also not be bad…

Carbontech

Along a similar non-mineral vein (me, imagining that I can inspire an engineering revolution)… The NYT ran an article on June 27 2021 that focused on some of the production and technology advances of “carbontech” describing directions of product research and development that focuses specifically on carbon-reduction and has lead to some products that are not only carbon neutral, but actually carbon negative like the industrial carpets that are one of the main foci of the article.

Now, again, there is no specific discussion of products that Mongolia might be well-suited to in hosting production.

But, some of the production technologies do trade energy-intensity for carbon-sequestration. While elements of that are not obvious in a Mongolian context (wood construction, given limited forest resources in Mongolia), other elements might be more viable given Mongolia’s environment.

Outside-the-Box Thinking

Again, I am no engineer and neither the garbage processing using UV rays, nor carbontech are areas that I have technical expertise on. However, I do often get the sense that conversations about economic diversification in Mongolia reach for tried-and-tested solutions that seem generic rather than focusing on the specific environmental conditions of Mongolia and the potential that might lie therein.

Posted in Business, Countryside, Curios, Diversification, Garbage | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Understanding the Challenges of Water Development and Hydropower Plant Projects

By BOLORMAA Purevjav

A “National Program for renewable energy 2005-2020” of Mongolia was adopted in 2005 planning the development of feasibility studies for the construction of large hydropower plants on the Selenge, Eg and Orkhon rivers. The Government of Mongolia planned 3 water development projects, namely Shuren Hydropower plant (HPP), Egiin Gol HPP and Orkhon -Gobi projects.

The Shuren HPP project is located on the Selenge River, 360 km upstream from the Lake Baikal. Its main goal is to address the growing electricity demand in the country.  The Egiin Gol HPP project is located on the Eg river, a tributary of the Selenge River 580 km upstream from Lake Baikal. Its main goal is to respond to peak seasonal demand for electricity in the central part of Mongolia.  The Orkhon-Gobi project aims to transfer water from Orkhon River to the Gobi Desert via pipelines to support mining developments in the Gobi region.

Because of the cross-boundary implications of these dam projects, the Government of Mongolia intensified discussions with the Russian Federation since 2013,  and the cooperation agreement between Government of Russian Federation and Government of Mongolia in the field of electric power industry was signed on 24 April 2018. However, the construction of hydropower dams within Selenge, Orkhon and Egiin River basin have not proceeded as planned. So, what should be considered in the future to move forward?

Map from Rivers without Boundaries website (https://www.transrivers.org/2015/1507/)

Transboundary Governance

“Lake Baikal” is the key factor of Russia-Mongolia negotiation in water development projects.

The Selenge river-Baikal Lake is a transboundary river basin. Any planned infrastructure projects in transboundary river basin should be guided by Water Convention principles. The 1992 Water Convention requires Parties “to prevent, control and reduce transboundary impact, use transboundary waters in a reasonable and equitable way, and ensure their sustainable management.” Parties bordering the same transboundary waters must cooperate by entering into specific agreements and establishing joint bodies. Article 9 of the Water Convention is on Bilateral and Multilateral Cooperation, touches many aspects of the tasks to be done by both parties. Russia is a party to the Water Convention; Mongolia is a not a party to Water Convention. One of the requirements for transboundary river basin is to have a joint body on conducting environmental impact assessment.  The Irkutsk Scientific Centre identified several challenges, including funding of such projects by one party as one of core issues in the preparation of joint Russian-Mongolian mutually satisfactory development plans in the Lake Baikal basin; in addition to it, the existing bilateral agreement of 1995 lacks mandatory provisions in project planning in transboundary basin of the Selenge River.

Feasibility studies and impact assessments for the Shuren HPP and Orkhon Gobi project have been conducted by Mongolia’s Mining Infrastructure Investment project with funding from World Bank and the commitment to develop a basin-wide transboundary approach to the joint use of water resources by Mongolia and Russia is at best evolving and emerging.

Lake Baikal is registered as a World Heritage Site

In this regard, in 2015 the World Heritage Committee (WHC) mission to Mongolia have recommended to both parties, Mongolia and Russian Federation, to jointly develop and implement strategic environmental assessment for any future hydropower and other large water

management projects that would potentially affect the lake, taking into account all planned and existing infrastructure in both countries.  WHC mission provided separate recommendations for Mongolian Government and for Russian Federation.

WHC required a joint work and collaboration on environmental impact assessment. Following the WHC recommendation, working groups have been established however, there is no publicly available information on a joint work and collaboration on regional environmental impacts assessment. To proceed with WHC approval, the requirement for joint work must be meet.

Non-governmental organizations and public consultations

The main opposition on hydropower plans stemmed from Rivers Without Boundaries, a network of organizations and experts to preserving the health of transboundary river basins in northeast Eurasia. In February 2015, representatives from communities in Mongolia and Russia, submitted a request for inspection to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel. The request highlighted several concerns including the potential impact of the proposed projects on the hydrological flow and water levels in the Selenge Delta and Lake Baikal (and thus the impact on the ecological health of these ecosystems) and the need for a basin-wide approach to the joint use of water resources by Mongolia and Russia; the impacts of the proposed projects on the livelihoods and cultural heritage of communities living adjacent to the Delta and Lake; and the lack of information and public consultation.

These concerns are relevant and need to be addressed. Addressing these concerns in collaborative way with relevant parties from both, Mongolia and Russia, will be a critical step to move forward to build one water development project out of proposed three.

About Bolormaa

Bolormaa is a researcher at N.B. Keevil Mining Engineering Institute, UBC. Research interests include Integrated Water Resources Management, mining, community engagement and sustainable development.

Blog: Access to clean water for Mongolia’s Northernmost Province

Posted in Bolormaa Purevjav, Environment, Environmental Movements, International Agreements, International Relations, Mining, Mongolia and ..., Policy, Regulation, River Movements, Russia, Water | Leave a comment

Untold 22: Differently-abled Citizens Are the Largest Minority in the World

By Bulgan Batdorj and Anand Jangar

Today, our guest is Ms. Selenge Sambuu, executive director of the “Association of Parents with Differently-abled Children” (APDC). She started as a board member of the association and transitioned to her current position as executive director. The association has existed for over 20 years and Selenge has been working there for 11 consecutive years managing the day-to-day operation. She has a background in engineering but changed her profession to take care of her child with disability.

Photo: Ms. Selenge herself (with the permission of Selenge)

About the APDC

Selenge shared with us the origin story of the association. In the late 1990s, the British Save the Children organization arranged an orientation for parents with children with disabilities in Mongolia. The parents got together through the orientation activities and realized the importance of forming a support group for the parents of children with disabilities and for raising public awareness. Then those parents created the APDC in 2000, to become the voice of disabled children. The association now has 20 branches across Mongolia, four in Ulaanbaatar and 16 in the countryside. The association aims to help children with disabilities and their parents exercise their rights as human beings. Selenge said that “children must be diagnosed with a disability as soon as it is noticed” and get the necessary support from the government. Countries like Japan and the USA have these government support systems and trained professionals. They diagnose disability at an early stage and support the parents and the children in overcoming the challenges.

There are 11,600 children with disabilities in Mongolian. These children must be allowed to learn at local daycares and schools with other children of the same age. Selenge believes that this process will help educate children with disabilities, create public awareness, and encourage a society respectful of children with disabilities. The association focuses on all types of disabilities and supports the parents of children with disabilities. In the last few years, the association focused on providing parents with legal benefits and knowledge to help their children create a prosperous future for themselves.

Photo: Ms. Selenge in the office of the Association of Parents with Differently-abled Children (with the permission of Selenge)

The Main Obstacle to Achieve Fundamental Human Rights

Our guest illustrated the many problems in our society that make life challenging for children with disabilities in Mongolia. Of the 11,600 children with disabilities in Mongolia, around 4,000 (34%) are illiterate and do not get any support, regardless of whether the child lives in the capital or in a remote community in the countryside. These children have problems commuting, participating in events, accessing education, and receiving medical services. Selenge stresses that although the Mongolian Constitution and the Mongolian ‘Law on Education’ state that “every” Mongolian citizen has a right to free basic education, the wording of “every” citizen needs to include “children with disabilities” proactively. “Although children with disabilities may be limited in their abilities compared to ordinary children, this does not mean that these children should be excluded”, she continues. They must be allowed to develop their skills, their abilities, and to push their limits to achieve their destiny.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that citizens with disabilities should be enabled to develop themselves to their full potential. The Ministry of Education and Science of Mongolia adopted the 155th Order in 2018 which states that the Individual Training Program aims to develop children with disabilities following the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Although it is an exciting time, in theory, most of those children with disabilities in Mongolia cannot fully enjoy their right to learn, develop themselves in schools, and participate in anything since curriculums are not designed to serve and meet the needs of those disabled children, and teachers are not trained to work with disabled children. Most of the time, these children are denied admission to schools simply because of their disability. In other words, although there is an order from the Ministry, the system does not exist. If there was a system and support in place, all these 4,000 children with disabilities would enjoy their right to learn.

Selenge shares that the APDC is discussing and continuously submitting proposals to the law. Amendments to the ‘Law on Education’ and the ‘Law on Primary and Secondary Educations’ will add a supporting program service for students with disabilities in schools. This service will help students with disabilities commute to school, will assist in hiring professional teachers specifically trained to teach students with disabilities as well as teaching assistants sign language interpreters, psychological counsellors, and therapists. Furthermore, it will introduce after-school programs, and much more. Selenge and the APDC office hope to collaborate with many like-minded organizations such as NGOs to receive aid from private sectors, and work with welfare services to create a system to support the children with disabilities.

What Are the Biggest Problems for the Parents of Children with Disabilities?

There are many problems that the parents face. The government does not provide enough advice and information regarding disability. Due to lack of information, parents end up trying to treat their children’s disability while forgetting to educate and develop their children, which results in the loss of the precious ‘Golden Age’ of learning, a vital time in the early brain development of these children.

When parents first see their newborn child being disabled, they often experience a feeling of dejection and despair, and the government does not have any emotional support services. Parents usually have two ways of responding to their children’s disability.. For one, they try to help their children too much, which results in the kids becoming overly dependent which discourages these children from forming a sense of independence. The second way is that the parents try to treat untreatable disabilities, such as amputated limbs, because the family members of the children with disabilities cannot accept the disability. As the parents lose valuable time trying to ‘treat’ these disabilities, the children grow into uneducated and illiterate adults who have no future for themselves.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has a different perspective. Aside from a person’s disability, societies often worsen the living conditions of the these people by adding various barriers. For example, a grocery store can incapacitate a person even more by not adding ramps for the handicapped in wheelchairs.

Photo: Ms. Selenge (with the permission of Selenge)

Mongolian Society’s Attitude towards Citizens with Disabilities

Although the citizens with disabilities are the largest minority group, and will always be a part of the society, they are a marginalized community. In the absence of social awareness and advocacy groups, the APDC formed as a grassroots movement to enlighten the Mongolian society and give the voiceless a voice. She said that numerous protests are organized in Mongolia by various organizations to help the people with disabilities. As for the international context, the first revolution for the disabled took place in the USA in 1970. The citizen with disabilities protested by crawling up the stairs of the US Capitol to let the congressmen and congresswomen know that they forgot about helping the people with disabilities. As a result, the Rehabilitation Act 504 was enacted in the US to ban discrimination of the people with disablities. In Mongolia, the Mongolian Ministry of Social Welfare initiated a law that showed support for the rights of persons with disabilities in 2016. Also, the Mongolian government committed to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009. The APDC tries to ensure the government’s commitment to fulfill the terms of the convention.

Reflections

Mongolia still has a long way to go to match the global advancements in inclusion and diversity efforts, and this includes infrastructures for the people with disabilities. However, people like Selenge, advocating and championing Mongolia towards a path that is accessible, fair and equal, are truly worth celebrating. Listening to the interview reminded us that we have to lend our voices to organizations that are led by the guests of the Untold Podcast until everyone exercises their rights as global citizens, and equal beings.

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

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

New to Ulaanbaatar, Feb 2022

By Bulgan Batdorj 

After four years, I finally got to go to Ulaanbaatar in February 2022. Although I was in regular contact with my family and friends, I was overjoyed to see them in person. The home welcoming of UB starts with the airport, the long line at the luggage pick up and taxi drivers by the gate. Somehow, Chinggis Khaan was not quite the same as Buyant Ukhaa airport, although it was shinier, fancier I still reminisce about Buyant Ukhaa.

The weather was unexpectedly colder as it ranged from -20 to +160 during the day, it dipped to -17 at night. I was expecting warmer weather since we passed the coldest part of “ес”, a traditional measurement that estimates the strength of coldness. However, the cold weather meant that I got to wear my reindeer boots. Then, despite my excitement, the reindeer boots were so out of style. This winter footwear trend is replaced by felt shoes and Dr. Martens. In addition,  Canada Goose and Arc’teryx got even more popular since first mentioned by Julian in his list of things that arrive and disappear in UB. Many would agree that UBians are stylish, and appearance is a rather important indicator of how UBians judge one’s success and capability unless you are a white person (yes, Mongolians are racist, too). This social appearance and the related perception of prestige and anxiety in the society seem to be rather high given the amount of time, money, and efforts dedicated to looking good with the help of cosmetic procedures and expensive cars. I admit that I felt judged for wearing my out-of-style reindeer boots.

Although my trip coincided with the reduced COVID-related regimes, people were very disciplined in wearing and changing their masks compared to here in Canada. It perhaps is related to UB’s air pollution as people are trying to protect themselves. In addition to the mask, I saw the indoor air filters in many middle-income households as one of the ways to cope with and reduce the effects of air pollution. Since I was in UB last time, the indoor filters were surely not a thing (though Julian noticed it in 2019).  Another interesting addition to households was coffee makers. The indoor air filter was not acquired by every household I visited but I had an option to either drink milk tea or coffee at almost every family I visited except my 82-year-old grandma.

Things that have not changed

The things I  prepared for were the traffic and air pollution in UB. The traffic starts at 7.05am on workdays and only 5 minutes made the difference between being stuck in traffic for 40 minutes or reaching my destiny in 8 minutes via taxi. The traffic gets to be much more manageable in the evenings after 8:30 pm.

The bustling energy of big and busy UB is so hypnotizing. My short visit was not enough to reacquaint myself with the city architect, fashion trends and the food. Although Mongolian dishes are not globally popular, I was over the clouds eating my parents’ buuz, my sister’s ums kitaa (better not translate for those who are squeamish), and sheepshead. Also, I was surely in a treat for a of wild boar meat, and bulganii airag, delicacies. Surely worth every single day of my four years of wait.

Posted in Air Pollution, Bulgan Batdorj, Change, Food, Pop Culture, Reflection, Social Change, Ulaanbaatar | Tagged | Leave a comment

Some observations of the war – Buriyat soldiers

By Bulgan Batdorj 

The war caused displacements of millions and thousands of casualties. The United Nations voted to condemn Russia and called for withdrawal. Mongolia abstained in the vote (please more on Mongolia’s government response in this Bolor’s article). The Mongolians are divided behind the formal “neutrality” position over this war. Marissa’s timeline on events in Mongolia and here relating to the invasion of Ukraine shows the varying motivations. Whether the motivation is national security, nationalism or democratic identity, there are some supporting Ukraine, some supporting Putin and some who are painfully aware of Mongolia’s geographic, economic, political and social links to Russia.

One of the reoccurring themes that Mongolians seem to be rather united is the social media posts of the buriyat soldiers fighting this war in Ukraine. The people of Buriyats, Tuva, and Kalmyk are Mongolian people who shared history, land, culture and nomadism.

Buryats in Mongolia were mass executed during the great political purge in the 1930s. We hear stories of how all buriyat men were arrested from their homes never to return, or fought the war but were prosecuted regardless. The social media posts related to the buriyat soldiers connect the present to the past griefs.

Post below: Former PM, Mendsaikhan Enkhsaixan: Russian military leaders are accusing, arresting, and convicting many officers and generals in the name of the Russian Federation’s Security (informal translation).

The Agiimaa Janchivdorj post says: This is one of the ways Russians purge. My grandfather and uncle were both prosecuted as Buriyat soldiers in the Mongolian military army. The family suffered. I hid my Buriyat ethnicity as a child (informal translation).

These social media posts on the buriyat soldiers remind Mongolians of the dark days of repression, manipulation, and hopelessness regardless of their perception and remind us of the time Mongolia was not in charge of its fate. Not only the reminiscence is worrying, but also the implications of the war in present times, and in the future are sombre for Mongolia. But now, I pray for all lives and livelihoods lost in this war.

 

 

 

Posted in Bulgan Batdorj, Military, Russia | Tagged | Leave a comment

Mongolia and Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine – Part 2

By Marissa J. Smith

It is now a month since the start of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This post follows up from a previous one and relates events that have occurred in the last two weeks.

While the Mongolian government and Mongolian media continue to express “neutrality,” other Mongolian voices on social media contest these and have continued to identify Russia as the aggressor. Most lately, this past weekend demonstrators assembled at the Russian Embassy after the Russian Embassy’s twitter and Facebook accounts directly called out “attention!” (ankhaarlal) to the Mongolian Democratic Party and “other supporters of American liberal hegemony.”

3/19

In December 2019, former mayor of Ulaanbaatar and major longtime member of the Democratic Party, E. Bat-Uul, was sentenced to four years in prison related to his son’s company winning tenders for Bat-Uul’s signature ger district development projects. On March 19 his lawyer stated that Bat-Uul’s right to publish was being denied, and that Bat-Uul wished to publish an essay, “Is Putin is reviving colonialism?” stating “Moscow should never be allowed to direct Mongolia again.” The essay is now available on Baabar.mn.

Former president Elbegdorj, who demonstrated alongside Bat-Uul in 1989, tweeted a comparison of Bat-Uul and Navalny.

3/21

The twitter account of the Russian Embassy to Mongolia tweets a TV interview of former Mongolian foreign minister L. Erdenechuluun broadcast on Facebook. In his 2017 Historical Dictionary of Mongolia, Alan Sanders notes that Erdenechuluun challenged the Mongolian policy of “permanent neutrality” architected by Elbegdorj 2015, writing in major daily Udriin Sonin that he “wondered whether the neutrality policy, amending the Mongolian defense and foreign policy guidelines, had been discussed with the Russian and Chinese leaders and what they thought of it” (pg. 625).

3/24

Mongolia abstains from a second UN vote condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian Embassy of Mongolia tweets to “The Mongolian Democratic Party and other supporters of the American liberal hegemony” that “Trump’s advisor has spread the truth.” The linked Facebook post has been deleted, but context indicates it refers to Roger Stone’s claims that the US was funding “bio-labs” in Ukraine.

Conversations on Facebook about the low availability of foreign currency are also observed.

3/25

Demonstrators assemble at the Russian Embassy to Mongolia and call for the ambassador to leave Mongolia and “go home.”

Video on Facebook is also available here. In addition to the long yellow banner, “No War,” and other signs from earlier demonstrations, participants also carry the flag of Mongolia, as well as at least one flag of the Republic of Kalmykia, Republic of Buryatia, and (further behind) the Republic of Tuva.

The twitter and Facebook accounts of the Russian Embassy shared longer statements in Russian and Mongolian defending their comments (though the first Facebook post has been removed).

In addition to the physical demonstrations at the Embassy themselves, the tweet and the and the Facebook post have attracted many Mongolian replies.

Posted in Civil Society, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, International Relations, Mongolia and ..., Protest, Protest, Russia, UN | Tagged | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Decoding an Asian Diaspora

By Anoushka Chandarana, Anthony Coompson, Jemimah Ogundele, and Narayanan (Hari) GL

Currently, there are around 34,000 Mongolian-origin people living in Canada and the U.S., around half of whom have lived there for over five years. Issues faced by this small, scattered community remain woefully under-documented.

In 1992, as Mongolia drafted a new Constitution to shift from state-socialism to a democracy, one of the fundamental rights it provided to its citizens was freedom of movement. Through Article 16, the country gave its citizens the freedom to travel or reside abroad, and to return to their homeland. This marked the birth of the post-Cold War-era Mongolian diaspora – Mongolians who traveled to and settled in different countries. As diaspora numbers increased, documentation in their homeland improved, and the Mongolian census started counting the population abroad separately.

This piece introduces the Mongolian diaspora in North America. First, it looks at the number of Mongolians living in North America (Canada and the U.S.) and the likely duration of their stay. Examining the city-wise split of the diaspora, the article also talks about Denver, which became an unlikely launchpad for Mongolian expatriates moving to the U.S. in the 1990s.

The North American Dream

122,301
Mongolians living abroad

  • 14% increase from 2010
  • Actual figures could range from 130,000 to 200,000
34,480
Mongolians in Canada and the U.S.

  • Around 27,000 in the U.S., 50% have lived there for 10+ years
  • 7,480 Mongolians in Canada
3,000
Mongolians in Chicago and LA
Continue reading
Posted in Anoushka Chandarana, Anthony Coompson, Canada, Demography, Diaspora, Jemimah Ogundele, Mongolia and ..., Mongolian Diaspora, Narayanan GL, United States | Leave a comment

Mongolia and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

By Marissa J. Smith

It is now over two weeks since the start of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This post is a summary of events concerning events relating Mongolia and the invasion so far. It includes coverage of:

  1. Mongolian government responses, which have not contested Russian actions. I also include responses by the Democratic Party and prominent party members, that have been condemning the invasion, but it must be remembered that these currently have vanishingly little power in the current Mongolian government.
  2. Mongolian media coverage, which has mostly amplified Mongolian government positions.
  3.  Mongolian social media, which has recorded at least one protest that was interrupted by police and ultranationalist groups. Global hashtags have been picked up, but those explicitly supporting Ukraine have been mostly overtaken by the much less explicit “no war,” though the latter is a slogan that the Russian government has aggressively opposed (with reports in the last few days of people in Russia even being arrested for demonstrating with blank signs). In the last few days, signs of Russians fleeing into Mongolia have emerged.

This post does not examine Mongolia’s position betwixt and between Russia and Ukraine, which definitely merits its own post. (Teaser — President Zelenskyy spent part of his childhood in Erdenet.)

And please also take a look at Bolor Lkhaajav’s piece, How Is Mongolia Responding to the Russia-Ukraine War? – The Diplomat.

2/21

Russia recognizes Donetsk and Lukhansk People’s Republics

2/22

Mongolian state broadcaster MNB reports that no Mongolian permanent residents in Ukraine had requested to leave the though the government was working evacuate 35 Mongolian students

2/24

Invasion begins

2/27

Contract signed by Gazprom for the Power of Siberia pipeline, to cross Mongolia, carrying gas from Russia to China

2/28 – 3/1

Demonstrators on Sukhbaatar Square were confronted by neo-Nazi nationalist groups and police

 

The incident was referenced by singularly important Satso demonstrating Mongolian concerns over how the Russia-Ukraine war will effect Mongolia.

Democratic Party condemns the invasion:

Democratic Party announcement

“In the last few days, the Kremlin leaders led by Putin using the means of the Russian military forces to launch a special military operation against a UN member state, an independent and sovereign democratic Ukraine. The Mongolian Democratic Party (MDP) strongly condemns this. We demand an immediate end to this practice, which threatens the lives of many civilians and causes enormous economic damage.

Russia’s move is unjustifiable and a serious threat to peace and stability in Europe and the world.

At this difficult time, members and supporters of the Mongolian Democratic Party are expressing their solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Ulaanbaatar
2022.02.28

MEMBER OF THE INTERNATIONAL DEMOCRATIC ASSOCIATION
THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF MONGOLIA”

Independent news outlet Eagle.mn was among those who published the DP announcement on “the Ukrainian matter.”

Posts about Buryat soldiers in Russian forces (one demonstrates racism towards Mongolians and Buryats, including by Ukrainians) shared widely on Mongolian social media.

See also this tweet,  and this tweet.

3/2

Mongolian Foreign Minister B. Battsetseg comments that “Mongolia values peace and is of the position that it is important to cease fire immediately.”

2021 Presidential candidate D. Enkhbat conducted a twitter poll measuring anxieties about the effect Russian economic collapse would have on Mongolia. (Results almost evenly split between it being beneficial for Mongolia and dangerous for Mongolia).

(3/2)

Mongolia abstains in UN vote to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine

(3/3)

An image of the Ukrainian flag high on the storage silos of major Mongolian flour producer appears on twitter. It was retweeted by former DP Prime Ministers M. Enkhsaikhan and S. Bayar, while a reported police visit to Altan Taria was criticized by D. Enkhbat.

(3/4)

A new law against “fake news” in Russia heralds the closure of numerous news outlets in Russia

On March 4th, protestors with “no war” signs were back on Sukhbaatar Square. Former President Elbegdorj, who tweeted “Glory to Ukraine” one day prior, joined them.

Demonstrations on the occasion of International Women’s Day (3/8) have since become more visible.

(3/9)

Mongolian government news agency Montsame reports that Aeroflot’s Ulaanbaatar-Moscow flights had been “indefinitely suspended,” as well as AeroMongolia’s Irkutsk flights.

This was two days after Aeroflot grounded all international flights, reportedly related to many of its planes being leased from owners in Europe.

Russian-language social media activity regarding flight from Russia to Mongolia increasing on Facebook. Mongolian respondents replying that the flights had been suspended, and that bus and car travel at the Altanbulag-Khiakhta crossing (between Ulaanbaatar and Irkutsk) was not possible.

(3/12)

Tweets reporting that Mongolian customs has seized silver, gold, and diamonds in luggage widely shared:

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Guest Post: Stepping Up Climate Action Represents a Clear Win for the Environment, People and the Economy

By Annaka Peterson

Building a green economy and investing in climate action has been on the agenda of the Government of Mongolia for some time, and it is an increasingly important part of the national development agenda. It goes without saying that there are many challenges to building a green economy in Mongolia, but there are also some big opportunities. There is plenty to discuss and debate on this topic, so let’s start with Mongolia’s NDC.

What is Mongolia’s NDC you ask? Let’s start with some basics about what NDCs are in the first place.

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), are country level commitments to address climate change issues under the Paris [Climate Change] Agreement. As part of the Paris Agreement, all countries agreed to work together to: limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to try to limit warming to 1.5°C; increase the ability of countries to deal with the inevitable impacts of climate change; and, make all financial flows consistent with a low GHG emissions, climate resilient pathway. Countries put forward their national targets to contribute to this global effort in nationally determined contributions (NDCs). NDCs have to be updated and submitted to the UNFCCC every five years to take stock of progress to date and increase efforts to achieve the long term objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Mongolia’s updated NDC – what do all the numbers mean?

In November 2019, the Government of Mongolia approved its updated NDC. The NDC commits to a 22.7% reduction in total national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030, compared to the projected emissions under a business as usual (BAU) scenario. To achieve this a number of actions across key sectors are planned including: increasing energy production from renewable energy sources and improved efficiency of energy production; energy efficiency and saving measures in transport, construction and industrial sectors; reduced headcount of livestock and improved livestock manure management in the agriculture sector; and other measures to better manage waste and industrial processes.

In addition to the 22.7% unconditional GHG emissions reduction target the NDC also identifies additional mitigation goals. These additional mitigation goals include a conditional target of 27.2% reduction in total GHG emissions if carbon capture and storage and waste-to-energy technologies are implemented with international support. Additionally, if further actions to remove GHG emissions through forests and land use are considered, the emissions reductions would increase further to 44.9% by 2030. Forest and land use related emissions and removals of GHG emissions or sinks (LULUCF) are treated as a special category and thus not included in the main unconditional target of 22.7%.

If that wasn’t confusing enough Mongolia’s NDC also includes eight broad adaptation goals and needs for financial support, technology transfer and capacity building.

In the last 80 years, the mean temperature in Mongolia has increased by 2.25°C, more than double the global average temperature increase. Making Mongolia one of the regions exposed to intensive global warming. According to analysis of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, these climate changes have resulted in declines in rainfall, chronic drought and increased exposure to secondary impacts such as dust storms. The intensity of climate-related hazards like heat waves, drought, and floods are expected to increase putting pressure on Mongolia’s ecosystems and agriculture production and increasing the disaster risks faced by communities. Mongolia is currently developing its National Adaptation Plan (NAP) to strengthen its efforts to reduce climate risks and support efforts to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change.

Challenges and Opportunities for Climate Action

The two biggest sources of GHG emissions in Mongolia come from the energy and agriculture sectors – coal and livestock, both central to the economy and daily life. Almost 67% of the emissions reductions pledged for 2030 are expected to come from the energy sector, but meeting the 30% renewable energy (RE) target (installed capacity) looks challenging. While there are plans to scale up new RE, there are also plans to further increase coal capacity to meet growing demand for power and heat. There has been some progress increasing RE and important policies and regulations have been put in place, however the fundamental conditions still favor conventional energy. Low, subsidized energy tariffs, high curtailment risk, limited system capacities to manage variable renewable energy resources and the lack of a clear long-term investment signal to the market are all barriers to scaled up investment in clean energy.

While enacting policies today to cut GHG emissions and build resilience in the future is a difficult choice for most policy makers, the longer we wait to address climate change the bigger problem it becomes and there are immediate co-benefits to be gained from climate action. Achieving the NDC would not only help to address climate change, but also have other benefits for Mongolia. Reducing key air pollutants by as much as 40% and generating 59,000 more jobs per year on average in the energy sector alone. With air pollution costing an estimated 5.6% of GDP in 2019 and the need to boost job creation during this pandemic recovery phase, investing in climate action is a clear win.

About Annaka

Annaka Peterson currently lives in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She is the Country Representative for the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) and has spent the last 15 years working on climate change issues at local, national and global levels. Annaka studied in the Masters of Asia Pacific Policy Studies (MAPPS) Program at the University of British Columbia and received her BA from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Annaka is passionate about making our economies better for people and the environment.

Posted in Annaka Peterson, Climate Change, Environment, Environmental Movements | Leave a comment