I recently came across an older article published in The Kazan Times, which attempts to take on modern racial ideas in contemporary Mongolia, namely the highly problematic distinction between “true Mongols” and not-so-true Mongols. (I more often here this expressed as жинхэнэ/цэвэр Монгол and эрлийз, or real/clean Mongol versus hybrid, but terminology in this case seems irrelevant).
In part, I agree with the article that the distinction between real and not-so-real Mongol is controversial at best, ahistorical at worst. It pulls from the same ideological pool of dangerous virulent nationalism that's used to justify the xenophobic attacks of hypernationalist gangs, etc. But, the author ends up making the argument that by not recognizing Mongols outside of Mongolia as true Mongols, that the Mongolian state is betraying the national interest. This I find to be completely false.
The author relies on a glance at ancient history, referencing Chinggis Khaan’s Empire and his uniting of the Mongol tribes under one banner as evidence that today’s Mongolia has failed its people.
Put simply, ancient history is not enough. Yes, at one point, all "Mongols" were united as a political unit, but now this is not the case, and proposing that Inner Mongolians and Buryats (or Kalmyks, and so on) should be recognized as the same as Outer Mongolians is to ignore vastly differing historical experiences over hundreds of years. Yes, Mongolia only became independent 100 years ago, but Inner Mongolia was administratively distinct since the 1700s, and Buryatia has been part of Russia since the 17th century. To suggest that Mongolians (by which I mean Mongols in independent Mongolia) should automatically feel a sense of solidarity and seek to support all Mongolic peoples based on a sense of shared nationality and ethnicity is not only naive, it is almost as offensive as “true Mongol” racism, to begin with.
Isn’t it inherently problematic to argue that all Mongols are the same? Inner Mongolians have a much different history than (Outer) Mongolians. They live in an autonomous region that is over 80% Han Chinese, forcing them to use Chinese for most official purposes. Likewise, Buryatia’s population is over 50% Russian, with the Russian language a much more often used language in the republic than Buryat. Different languages and political/demographic realities are just the start. Let us not forget that Buryat Mongols have been a separate cultural group from eastern Khalkha since a clear “Buryat” group could be identified. Likewise, there are tribal distinctions between Inner Mongolians and Mongolians-proper.
I hesitate to even take on the issue of Hazaras. Hazara’s have been part of the Afghan political landscape for centuries, PERHAPS originating from a military contingent sent to the country during the Mongolian Empire, but nothing is conclusive on this issue. They speak a dialect of Persian (albeit with some distinctly Mongolian words thrown in), they are Shia Muslims and live in Afghanistan, a far cry from Mongolia in almost every way. Expecting Hazaras and Mongolians to identify with each other is odd, to say the least.
Backing up a bit, let me point out again that I am by no means arguing in favor of the racism that Inner Mongolians in Mongolia face, and I find the “hybrid” distinction to be distasteful garbage. Nor am I saying that Mongolia, or any state should ignore the human rights abuses committed in Inner Mongolia. What I am saying is that pan-Mongolism and its close cousin, Mongol irredentism, is equally as problematic in as far as it serves to deny historical, cultural, and linguistic differences, brushing over diverse peoples with a unitary paintbrush.
What is more amazing to me is not the divisions in Mongolic society, but rather the amount of cooperation and mutual solidarity that does exist. Rather than questioning why some Mongolians don’t accept other Mongolic peoples as “real Mongols”, isn’t it more interesting to ask why the Mongolian government apparently felt a strong enough sense of solidarity with Hazaras in Afghanistan that it has offered a number of scholarships for Hazaras to live and study in Ulaanbaatar? Isn’t it amazing that anti-Chinese sentiment pops up when abuses of Inner Mongolians make the headlines? Is no one interested in the fact the Kalmyks and Mongolians have managed to construct meaningful cultural relations despite their geographic and historical differences? These are the questions that might actually matter.
At the end of day, it is certainly not an issue to be decided by foreigners, including myself. Mongols, Mongolians, and Mongolic peoples decide and work out these issues on their own. As an invested observer, however, I would certainly argue against a belief that Mongolia as an independent and modern state is at all obliged to act as some kind of pan-Mongolian support group. Indeed to do so would be politically dangerous, confirming long held Chinese fears of Mongol irredentism and likely prompt actions against its sovereignty by both its neighbors.
The national interest of Mongolia is to survive as an independent political entity, able to balance its neighbors and work globally to ensure its survival. The idea that Mongolia should be an advocator for all Mongols/Mongolic groups is NOT in the national interest, it is a danger to it.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.