In November/December 2000 I worked in Kyiv/Kiev, Ukraine for the United Nations mission on the strategic re-launch of the mission website as a portal, whilst also advising the UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative Douglas Gardner on communications strategy. It was an extraordinary experience on many levels. It was a time when the Internet was fast evolving and required quick thinking and an ability to innovate; it was also a key moment in Ukraine’s history.
But despite those dangers and clear threats from the government of the time, there was a flourishing and inventive Internet and digital economy. The magazine Internet UA (whose editor I enjoyed meeting) gave a great overview of the scene in Ukraine and its creativity. Just as now, the creation of Internet stars who can exploit the medium (in this case sexy videos: a very large online market today) was driving viewers and subscribers. But there was also a vibrant online news media, blogging, commerce and gaming presence as well.
According to ain.ua, the Ukrainian digital economy today is ” … ‘local’ only just figuratively speaking. Ukrainian startups are initially focused on international markets. Product companies are included into international industry ratings. Outsourcing works with clients from all over the world. Global players enter Ukrainian market, opening R&D offices, acquiring and investing into local companies. There are no boundaries.”
It is easy to take digital freedoms for granted now but there was great resistance at the time and, unlike today, many governments were openly hostile to digital technology, online communications and e-commerce.
The UN itself was evolving and embracing the communications and design revolution being driven by digital change. This was the first “dot.com” boom, which had begun in 1997. I had played a key role in pioneering online content for Mongolia (1997-1999) and could bring this experience to Ukraine. In particular, I launched an award-winning web portal for the UN Mongolia mission in 1997 (www.un-mongolia.mn) and also the country’s first web magazine, Ger.
Key content created and launched on the UN Ukraine portal included critical information on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Ukraine, UN Ukraine’s first online magazine to explore perceptions of volunteering and NGOs in the post-communist period, and content preparing for the visit of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, by showing how Ukraine was engaging with global development priorities, for example the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and bringing together UN agencies and entities into a cohesive web and “One UN” experience.
The power of the Internet and the digital economy to engage people, especially the young, despite living in a country with significant political repression of free speech and even physical intimidation and murder, stuck with me. This work also contributed to laying the foundations for Ukraine’s growing freedoms and greater engagement with Europe.
The original website at wildeast.ca (see below) was launched in 2003 and designed and built in London, UK. It served the book very well in the years after but, with the abrupt ending of business trading by the US server host, we have been prompted into revisiting a project that has been on the back burner for some time: to launch the official brand site for Jill Lawless.
For most of us, the name Mongolia conjures up exotic images of wild horsemen, endless grasslands, and nomads — a timeless and mysterious land that is also, in many ways, one that time forgot. Under Genghis Khan, the Mongols’ empire stretched across Asia and into the heart of Europe. But over the centuries Mongolia disappeared from the world’s consciousness, overshadowed and dominated by its huge neighbours — first China, which ruled Mongolia for centuries, then Russia, which transformed the feudal nation into the world’s second communist state.
Jill Lawless arrived in Mongolia in the late 1990s to find a country waking from centuries of isolation, at once rediscovering its heritage as a nomadic and Buddhist society and simultaneously discovering the western world.
The result is a land of fascinating, bewildering contrasts: a vast country where nomadic herders graze their sheep and yaks on the steppe, it also has one of the world’s highest literacy levels and a burgeoning high-tech scene. While trendy teenagers rollerblade amid the Soviet apartment blocks of Ulaanbaatar and dance to the latest pop music in nightclubs, and the rich drive Mercedes and surf the Internet, more than half the population still lives in felt tents, scratching out a living in one of the world’s harshest landscapes.
Mongolia, it can be argued, is the archetypal 21st-century nation, a country waking from a tumultuous 20th century in which it was wrenched from feudalism to communism to capitalism, searching for its place in the new millennium.
This is a funny and revealing portrait of a beautiful, troubled country whose fate holds lessons for all of us.
Mongolië is voor veel mensen nog een mysterieus land dat vooral beelden oproept van woeste ruiters, uitgestrekte grasvlakten en nomaden. Het is een land waar de tijdstil lijkt te hebben gestaan. Als Jill Lawless arriveert in Mongolië treft ze een hoofdstad aan die veel westerser is dan ze had verwacht. De trendy geklede jongeren en moderne discotheken van Ulaanbaatar staan in schril contrast met de nomadische bevolking die nog in tenten op de ruige vlakten leven.
Het wilde Oosten is het onthullende reisverslag van Lawless’ verblijf in Mongolië waarbij je als lezer alle wetenswaardigheden over de lokale politiek, de diverse tradities en de historie van dit intrigerende land leert kennen.
De Canadese Jill Lawless werkte als redacteur in Mongolië bij de enige Engelstalige en onafhankelijke krant The UB Post. Zij schreef ook diverse artikelen over Mongolië voor internationale dagbladen. Momenteel woont en werkt ze als verslaggeefster in Londen.
“Lawless introduces us to Mongolia’s tabloid press, to teenage mineworkers, sharp-eyed young hustlers, nomads whose only possessions are their livestock, Mongolian wrestlers and Mongolian horse races.” Toronto Star
“This readable and reportorial book is the perfect antidote to … those tiresomely difficult, pointlessly dangerous, and essentially fake expeditions undertaken against the advice of local people who know better.” The Georgia Straight, Vancouver
“Wryly funny and wide-spectrum account of Mongolia’s tumultuous rebirthing into the 21st century. Half the population lives in Soviet apartment blocks and watches satellite TV but the other half still eek a living from the exquisite, barren hills while living in nomadic felt tents. Of course, I’d much rather be in the tents… but whatever your preference, you will definitely enjoy Ms. Lawless’ writing. She was editor of an Ulaan Baator newspaper for two years, and she tells it like it is. Very highly recommended.” Mongolian Buryat Civilisation Bookstore
“Jill Lawless’ book is not a scholarly tome per se, yet it is of definite value to the contemporary Mongolian scholar … Lawless’ period is 1997-1999, the heart of the tumultuous and ill-spent years of Democratic Coalition Government… a period of great hopes for democratic flowering and free market enterprise leading the nation to prosperity and progress.” Alicia J. Campi in Mongolian Studies
“Others sent me Jill Lawless’s Wild East: The New Mongolia, a compilation of pieces she wrote when she was editor of Mongolia’s English-language newspaper, the UB Post, during Mongolia’s transition from a socialist people’s republic to young democracy. With the wind shaking the frame of my ger, I lit the stove and read what these and other writers claimed to have found just outside my flapping felt walls.
“By the time veteran journalist Jasper Becker’s Mongolia: Travels in an Untamed Land arrived, I had put aside books written since Mongolia opened up to the West in the early 1990s. Most Western travellers and writers discovered the same sights from the back of a borrowed horse. Only Lawless had investigated the place over time on its own terms. The others, full of pith and vinegar and a standard set of assumptions about what they would find, built books on flights of fancy – golfing across Mongolia, following the path of medieval monks, ‘rediscovering shamanism’ – that were flimsier even than those that had set me in motion. The books were as exciting as museum diorama, papier-mâché models of their ‘medieval’ travels and capitalist fantasies.” Three Years in Mongolia: Trying to be a Travel Writer, Luke Meinzen, Kill Your Darlings, 10 April 2012