Sunday, July 13
It has been intriguing to read the news about the recent riots in Ulaan Bataar, capital of Mongolia in the mainstream newspapers of Australia. I was in Ulaan Bataar as a tourist at on the night of the protests that lead to the destruction of the headquarters of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP or MAXH in Cyrillic). Many Mongolian people told me before the elections and after the elections that the head of the MPRP was corrupt and a bad leader. After the elections they told me with absolute certainty that it was widely known that there had been rigging of the ballot boxes … during the Saturday night when they were counting the votes there had been numerous black-outs in the buildings where they were counting the votes. The Democratic Party had been ahead up until around 1 or 2am in the morning of Sunday prior to the black-outs, afterward there was a dramatic swing in many electorates to the MPRP who eventually claimed victory. In one electorate of Bulgan aimag (province) one of the runners for a parliamentary position told me candidly that the MPRP representative had paid many of the nomadic people of the area 20’000 Togruk (approximately US$20, which is around a week and half’s average pay in Mongolia) to vote for them in the lead-up to the election.
Mongolian people have a very robust and healthy democracy, many people have a moderate to good education and believe that every person has the intelligence to make up there own mind about politics. They constantly have discussion about many topics and are very involved in what they all believe is necessary for the future of their country. Since the fall of communism in 1989, Mongolia has been plagued by many problems to do with their political leaders. Corruption has remained an issue, the MPRP retained power for most of the time since the system change. The leaders of this party have been rumoured as being linked with the Russian mafia and have been seen by the people of their country as holding their country back from economic progress. Mongolia has many natural resources which they have been unable to tap by themselves due to lack of capital or experience. The result has been that many foreign companies have come into Mongolia to mine the resources and have exported out of the country with very little benefit going to the people of Mongolia, a form of economic colonisation you might say. Many Mongolian have strong opinions about this issue and want a system that benefits them more, more joint ventures, higher percentages of the profits coming to the Mongolian government who sets up growth funds to benefit the education system and the building of infrastructure.
On the Monday after the election, many angry people gathered out the front of the MPRP building not far from Sukhbataar square in central UB. The building also housed numerous other businesses that rented rooms from the MPRP. The people demanded that the MPRP stand down or a recount of the election take place. Police attended the scene which gradually became more and more out of control. The fence in front of the gardens was pulled up, people broke the glass on the front of the building and attempted to enter the building. Police attempted to push protesters back, only to be outnumbered and eventually pushed back into the building. The footage from inside the building showed the police attempting to spray protesters entering the building with a weak jet from a garden hose with the effect of getting the protesters a bit wet. Eventually the protesters set fire to the building through the windows and some looting began. Nearby the Mongolian National Museum of Modern Art was also set on fire destroying some reported 4000 or so artworks possibly from smoke damage and there was some looting of other nearby buildings. The television broadcast of this event had been, up until around 11pm, constant. There are around four free-to-air channels in UB which suddenly turned to static except for NBM, the government channel. A curfew was put in place with the conditions of no-one to wander the streets between 10pm and 8am, the main roads in and out of UB were to be closed (smaller roads remained open), main market places were closed and the military were present around the central area of the city. This remained in place for four days. The police and the government stated that they would identify the trouble-makers from the riots from the video footage and charge them. What started off as justifiable anger eventually turned into what was seen by many outsiders as opportunistic vandalism. Many Mongolians I spoke to felt that the destruction of this building was an important symbol of the people’s will and anger. The government was shaken by this event and announced a recount of the election ballots. One person died in the building itself, and on the Tuesday morning it was reported that another three people were found dead from police bullets in the street outside. The curfew had it’s intended effect and things calmed down considerably afterward. On the Friday I returned to Australia.
The Age newspaper had a small article about the riots stated with very little details other than to say that the riots caused instability which meant that foreign traders could not access the natural resources of the country to help bring the country out of poverty. Curious, no mention of the record of the government, no mention of the possibility of election-rigging. The article merely blamed the people of the country for ruining their own chances of having the peace required to allow foreign companies to take away their natural resources.
This was a Reuters article. A very simplistic one. Of course I understand that such articles cannot contain all the local details required to give a whole picture, especially in one that is about a country that not much of the world knows or cares about. But this was the first such riot ever in this country. It takes a lot to make a Mongolian person so outwardly emotional: this was remarkable. Surely Reuters would find the presence of corruption or election-fixing something worth commenting on. It seems to me to be a fairly large omission, or perhaps I am naïve. I was only a tourist in this part of the world and I don’t know the extent of the story. Perhaps the finer details are easily lost on passers-by. If they wrote this article based on someone else’s reporting, then who was it? Was it the MPRP party officials? Was it a Russian connection? Was it Chinese? Who knows, but this of course begs the question, how much else in world news misses such information? Probably a lot … don’t believe all you read kids.
Over and out
bB foreign correspondent.