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.
Iran seems to be one of the top crazies in the world today, probably on equal footing with North Korea. Still, there are some important themes in Iranian political development that point to larger problems not specific to the Near East.
When I look at countries where I have limited experience or exposure, I try to think in terms of historical developments leading to current conditions and then compare those developments against other countries. Let’s call it “Comparative Historical Swathing” or CHS, just to be fun. (God, please do not let my ridiculous terminology creations halt my career before it has begun). Iran is a useful example:
1) Iran is the heir to one of history’s great empires/civilizations. Probably no one ever really forgot that the Persian Empire was kind of a big deal, but it is often forgotten that Iran is the modern incarnation of a fascinating political-cultural civilization. It’s hard to give an exact number of how long the territory of Iran has been governed as a single political unit, but suffice to say that it is in the 1000s of years. The fall of imperial and royal rule in Persia was encouraged by European meddling in the country’s internal and external affairs. To see the extent of this manipulation, I suggest reading Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game. Sure, it falls short of academically rigorous, but the history is solid, and it is a wonderfully engaging read.
2) From great power to European pawn is a not a safe combination. Looking just a little east of Iran, China has had a similar historical trajectory. From 1949-1990, China had a special place in the crazy list with all its leaping forward and cultural renovations. The PRC under Mao was a basket case in the same boat as North Korea and Iran today. After at least a 100 years of “humiliation” at the hands of colonial European powers, the Qing Dynasty collapsed in on itself, paving the way for an oppressive Nationalist regime, followed by communist control by 1949. In response to U.S. support for the Nationalist government’s oppressive policies, the CCP displayed anti-Western behavior, attempting to destabilize the current order by encouraging revolution abroad. Iran experienced the turmoil of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 as a national response to the abuse of the Western-supported Pahlavi regime. Their response mirrored that of Maoist China.
3) National Pride doesn’t go away; the need to reclaim greatness appears. A long instilled sense of national pride is confused by humiliation by the hands of an outside force, leading to the need to regain that cultural heritage of greatness. The U.S. has only been the world’s sole superpower for 23 years, and yet any talk of relative or absolute decline sends a chill down the average American’s political spine. Iran, as China before it, is seeking to reestablish its national greatness at any cost.
With those basics points in mind, Iran doesn’t really look any crazier than any other state (which is not to say sane…).That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t think Iran is dangerous, if anything history would suggest that such a country is prone to violence and hyper-nationalism. What it does mean, is that in order to integrate Iran into the modern international system, the U.S. will have to treat Iran like the great power, that it inherently sees itself as. Iran will not react positively to bullying on the part of the U.S. or anyone else, and telling it that it cannot have nuclear capabilities almost forces it to adopt those technologies, least its position in the world be thought of anything less than equal with other great powers.
I remember being shocked during my first trip to Mongolia in 2008 when walking along Peace Avenue, I saw a car belong to the unofficial political group/gang Blue Mongol (Хөх Монгол) sporting a prominent and rather taboo swastika. After asking around, I learned that this was one of several ultra-nationalists groups to be found in UB. At the same time, graffitti on various walls through the city featuring a swastika with the initials М.Ү.Н. (Монгол Үндесний Нам/Mongolian National Party) was readily visible to even the most inattentive observer. In 2009, such vandalism and the same Blue Mongol car could be spotted almost daily, and I remember hearing news reports of Chinese business men attacked, Korean tourists beat, and Mongolian women having their head shaved as punishment for dating a foreign (i.e. Chinese) man. Still other cars and vans with similar messages started popping up, and in the center of the city one could readily spot groups of young men with the tell-tell tattoos and hairstyles readily associated with ultra-nationalist gangs. In the same year, the BBC featured a couple of stories on another nationalist group, Даяар Монгол (roughly translated, Worldwide Mongolians). In 2010, not much had changed. However, as I was telling this story to friends, they asked what the situation was today and I realized an important development: not only have I seen far less М.Ү.Н. tagging, nor have I seen more than a couple of (admittedly hastely profiled) nationalists, I have not once seen that notorious Blue Mongol car that started my casual observations on this topic 5 years ago.
My feeling is that the visibility of such groups have declined in the past couple years, and perhaps some of their political activities have been checked by the authorities to ensure a secure environment for the upcoming elections. At the same, less visibility does not mean the end to xenophobic voilence. Random attacks against foreign business men and women, NGO workers, and so on are still to be heard, and anti-Chinese statements make up a significant proportion of graffitti. So, the question remains: What happened to the visibility of such groups? Have they spintered apart as such de facto gangs are prone to do? Do they lack any larger support structors to maintain themselves? Obviously these questions are not easy to answer, but the observations above might have a lot to say all on their own.
The upcoming elections are forcing people to step back and evaluate the results of Mongolia’s unprecedented economic development over the past couple years. Last year Mongolia’s economy grew 17.3% in 2011 and there is little signs of this growth slowing down in the foreseeable future. With huge mineral reserves throughout the country, including the now infamous Oyuu Tolgoi and Tavan Tolgoi mines, the question is no longer “Will Mongolia develop?” it is “How will Mongolia develop?” or perhaps more to the point “Who will benefit from Mongolia’s development?” Perhaps the Democratic Party’s slogan, Олуулаа Хөгжих үү, Цөөхүүл нь xөлжих үү (Will many develop or will just a few get rich?) is the best representation of what is currently on the minds of the Mongolian people.
In Europe and the US we are increasingly torn over the utility of re-disbursement and whether there is any truth in the so-called trickle-down-effect. While this question is certainly pertinent to Mongolia as well, there is also an interesting twist: the scapegoat to the South, better known as China. Anyone that has ever looked at Mongolian politics or society, even casually, has undoubtable noticed that Mongolians seem culturally inclined to be wary of China and often perceive numerous Chinese threats. In this article, I would like to explore the fears that Mongolians hold toward China regarding territorial integrity/sovereignty and national survival. Regardless of China's recognition of Mongolian independence and huge economic ties between the two countries, fears of national survival continue to be a key point of concern for some Mongolians.
As a small country situated between giants (The Russian Federation and the Peoples' Republic of China), sovereignty and territorial integrity are very real security concerns. In 1691, the territory of Mongolia was completely absorbed into the Qing Dynasty, in 1911 Outer Mongolia declared its independence, and following the 1921 communist revolution the country stood firmly in the USSR sphere of influence. Since the 1990 Democratic Revolution, Mongolia has designed its core foreign policy and security interests in terms of neutrality, balance, and survival. Mongolia has declared itself official neutral should a conflict arise between Russia and China, and does not allow either country to have any military posts in its territory. By maintaining strict neutrality, Mongolia is ensuring that neither China nor Russia should perceive a strategic advantage to controlling Mongolia; the advantages of buffer statehood, you might say. By ensuring balance not only between Russia and China, but also ensuring good relations with the US, Japan, EU, South Korea, and other nations/institutions outside of its geography- the Third Neighbor Policy- Mongolia is able to ensure that its foreign policy and security ties are not limited to Russia and China. This is all in the context of national survival and ensuring Mongolia's continued sovereignty and independence.
The Mongolian understanding of security and survival is not limited to the strictly political. Rather, Mongolians have been concerned with their survival as a distinct people and ensuring that so-called pure Mongolians continue to dominate the political and demographic landscape. While some aspects of these concerns might be shared by almost all states as a result of globalization (which, admittedly, remains a rather vague notion at best), many aspects of Mongolia's concern seems distinct to its status as a small state with a small population. Maintaining a distinctly Mongolian ethnic group is as much about political survival as it is about cultural survival.
Nobody wants to turn into the next Inner Mongolia. Tibetans and Uighurs have pointed to Inner Mongolia as their potential future if they do not receive more protection for their rights, customs, and language. Inner Mongolia is a nightmare-type situation for Tibetans, Uighurs, and Mongolians in Mongolia-proper for many reasons: the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region's (IMAR) population is less than 15% Mongolian; is dominated by Han Chinese migrants; and, many Mongolians in the IMAR no longer speak their native language. The purpose of this post is not to reveal the situation in the IMAR, but rather to point out that Mongolians in Mongolia itself, perceive a chance that they might one day be in a similar situation to Inner Mongolia. What is more revealing, perhaps, is that fact that opinion in Mongolia seems to be split between two rival camps: Those that don't consider Inner Mongolians to be real Mongolians; and those that want to support their Mongolian brothers across the border.
The phrase Цэвер Монгол (Pure Mongolian) seems to come up in more and more conversations I have, but it has quickly become clear that the exact meaning changes between different users. For example, Халх Монголчууд or Khalkha Mongolians might often refer to themselves as the only pure-Mongols. Alternatively, any Mongolian “tribe” in Mongolia-proper might say that they are pure-Mongols, while those living in Russia (Бурят/Халмаг, Buryat/Khalmyk) and the IMAR might be impure in some undefined way. One sure fire way to not be цэвер монгол is to come from a 100% Mongolian family. The word эрлийз (hybrid) is the politically incorrect word of choice for many Mongolians when referring to someone that is only a fraction Mongolian by blood. The worst option, of course, is to be ½ Han Chinese. Not only are such people not pure-Mongol, they are representative of the kind of extinction that the fanatical hyper-nationalist Mongolian mind has nightmares about.
Returning to my original question at the start of writing this post: How does this factor into politics/elections and are the candidates responding to it? While answering this question will require further research, the simple way out is to say “its complicated”/ “that’s a good question.” Indeed, for a casual blog post that might be enough. Still I will venture some insights here. First and foremost, we must remember that Mongolia has an extremely low population of just over 3 million people. While some 6 million Mongols live in the IMAR, these peoples are often judged to be over Sinified and, therefore, not цэвер монгол. So, if we accept that only Mongolians in Mongolia are actually true Mongols, then we are left with a population of only 3,179, 997 potential Mongols. Of course, roughly 5% of that population is Kazakh-Mongol, and another 5% are not Khalkha. For the purposes of this blog post lets just assume that all Mongolians in Mongolia can be considered, at minimum, pure enough. So, 3,018,147 pure Mongolians. Mongolian nationalists, even those that we might call moderate, fell that is their 3 million up against some 1.2 billion Han Chinese. If accept at face value that China is a threat to Mongolian sovereignty, then the odds hardly seemed stacked in their favor.
Historical memory (as opposed to hard historical fact) potentially play a major role in oft-stated concerns about the potential extinction of the Mongolian race. Indeed, when Mongolia was part of the Qing Empire- a time referred to in Mongolian as Манжийн дарлалт/Manchu Oppression- the Mongolian population greatly decreased. With the establishment of an independent “Outer Mongolia” and the establishment of the communist People’s Republic of Mongolia, the population increased as living standards evolved. What we see day, seems to be a continuation of the similar fears. After its colonial experience in the Qing Empire, and its satellite-nation-type relationship with the USSR, today’s Mongolia is determined to maintain as much sovereignty as it can as a small state.
Mongolia’s particular type of ethnic nationalism is tied directly to small statehood and fears of survival as a state and people. It is distinct from American “white supremacy”, Chinese nationalism, or Russia’s skinhead gangs. American “white supremacy” is based on notion of racial superiority; Chinese nationalism is more directly tied to its status as a rising power in confrontation with US hegemony; and Russian skinheads seem to be a mix of racial superiority, confrontation with the international system, and general criminal behavior. Mongolian nationalist groups, on the other hand, have convinced themselves that their people are in danger of disappearing in a state that is economically tied to China, and a population to small to resist a perceived influx of Chinese migration. I propose then, that we treat our study of Mongolian nationalism as uniquely connected to small statehood. While the “Third Neighbor Policy” might mitigate Chinese influence in Mongolian politics, it has been unable to avoid a simple fact: China is the largest market for Mongolian goods. As such, the PRC is by far Mongolia’s largest trading partner, and avoiding some Chinese presence in the country is essentially impossible, if Mongolia wants to develop further. Russia remains less problematic, probably due to ethnic differences, but also due to a slightly more positive experience under Soviet Union servitude.
Having presented a condensed argument, let me say, in a normative fashion, that I do not support Mongolian nationalism. Indeed, it is a dangerous development that should be addressed before it gets out of control. I do not think that Mongolians are in danger of becoming Sinified, and find assertions of a huge influx of Chinese migration to be overstated at best, and completely fabricated at worst. Such nationalist groups as Даяар Монгол and Хөх Монгол have been known to harass and attack Chinese people in Ulaanbaatar, and will even target Mongolian women that have chosen to date a Chinese man. While Chinese are often targeted first, Korean and Japanese citizens as well as some Americans have also been targeted. Mongolian nationalism (perhaps all hyper-nationalists movements) is about control. They claim the right to control Mongolian women's bodies by demanding that they produce pure-Mongolian children; they attack LGBT Mongolians for not doing having children and not staying in line with arcane notions of Mongolian masculinity; they declare all Chinese (or all Koreans, or all Japanese, depending on the group) to be responsible for crimes committed by individuals. For example, I was told by a teacher, who normally seems to be more liberal in her thought, that since some Koreans have abused Mongolian women that the whole lot must be dangerous. Naturally, my argument that Mongolia's criminals do not entail that the whole population of Mongols are thugs did not go over so well. Despite the morally unjust nature of hyper-nationalism (as opposed to simple national pride, which is a positive thing), I find it more productive for now to approach the topic with a level of academic unbiased inquiry, so as to identify trends without the haze of moral disgust. Linking nationalism and small statehood seems to logically add up, and I look forward to addressing it more in the future.
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.