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UNDP In Mongolia: The Guide | 1997 – 1999

Editor: David South

Researcher and Writer: Jill Lawless

Publisher: UNDP Mongolia Communications Office

Published: Between 1997 and 1999

Background: This is the original text from the brochure UNDP in Mongolia: The Guide first published in 1997. It, for the first time, provided a rolling update on what the United Nations was doing in Mongolia, offering key contacts and data to help advance human development in the country. It introduced transparency to the UN’s work in the country and made it easier to hold programme and project staff to account.

Mongolia – Population

With an area of more than 1.5 million square kilometres and a population of 2.38 million as of October 1997, Mongolia has a population density of only 1.5 people per square kilometre, one of the lowest in the world. The country has a relatively low growth rate of 1.6 per cent (1995), down from 2.5 per cent in 1989. At this rate, Mongolia’s population will reach 2.5 million by the year 2000.

Despite the popular image of Mongolians as nomadic herders, it is an increasingly urbanized country – 51.9 per cent of the population is urban, 48.1 per cent rural. More than one quarter of Mongolians live in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. The other major urban centres are Darhan (pop. 90,000) and Erdenet (pop. 65,000 ).

The country is divided into 21 aimags (provinces), plus the autonomous capital region. The aimags are:

In the centre: Tuv, Uvurhangai, Arhangai

In the north: Bulgan, Selenge, Hovsgul, Zavhan, Darhan-Uul, Orhon

In the east: Hentii, Dornod, Suhbaatar

In the west: Hovd, Uvs, Bayan-Olgii, Gov-Altai

In the south: Dundgov, Dornogov, Omnogov, Bayanhongor, Gobisumber

The People:

About 86 per cent of the country’s population are Kalkh Mongols. Another 7 per cent are Turkic in origin, mostly Kazakhs living in the western aimags of Bayan-Olgii and Hovd. The rest belong to a wide variety of ethnic groups, including the Buryat, Dariganga, Bayad, Zakchin and Uriankhai. Mongolia’s smallest ethnic group is the Tsaatan, about 200 of whom live as reindeer herders in the far north of the country. 

During the communist period, Mongolia was home to tens of thousands of Russians. Few remain. 

More than 4 million Mongols live outside Mongolia, in Russia and the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia.

Human Development:

– Mongolia’s per capita GDP is U.S. $359 (1995). But this fails to take into account the cashless subsistence and barter economy widespread in rural areas.

– Poverty, though widespread, is difficult to tabulate. 1996 government figures put the poverty rate at 19.2 per cent – 19.8 per cent for rural areas, 18.7 for urban areas. But State Statistical Office figures for October 1997 indicate 36.8 per cent of urban residents and 27.5 per cent of rural Mongolians live below the poverty line. 

– Omnogov, Gobisumber, Hovsgol, Ovorhangai and Bayanhongor are the aimags with the highest poverty rates.

– The average monthly household income in September 1997 was 58,516.7 tugrugs (U.S. $73). Average expenditure was 58,124.8 tugrugs. In 1995, 48 per cent of household expenditure went on food. In poor households, the figure was 64 per cent.

Social Data:

Life expectancy: 63.8 years (1995)

Infant mortality rate: 40 per 1000 

Under five mortality rate: 56.4 per 1000 

Maternal mortality rate: 185.2 per 100,000 (1995)

One-year-old immunization rate: tuberculosis 94.4 per cent, measles 85.2 per cent (1995)

Access to safe drinking water: rural 89.9 per cent, urban 46.1 per cent (1995)

Access to sanitation: 74 per cent (1995)

Adult literacy rate:

 men 97.5 per cent,

 women 96.3 per cent 

Primary school net enrollment: 93.4 per cent

Secondary school net enrollment: 56.9 per cent 

Physicians: 26 per 10,000

Hospital beds: 9.9 per 1000

Daily calorie intake: 2278.2

Data 1996 unless otherwise indicated. Sources: State Statistical Office, Human Development Report Mongolia 1997

Mongolia – Economy

An Economy in Transition:

After 70 years of centrally planned economy, Mongolia is embracing free-market principles with a vengeance. Economic liberalization began under the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party government in the early 1990s. The Democratic Coalition government, elected in June 1996, has vowed sweeping economic changes, including  privatization of state assets, liberalization of trade and promotion of foreign investment.

The foreign investment law now encourages foreign investment in the form of share purchases, joint ventures and wholly foreign-owned concerns. Mining companies are given significant tax holidays. In May, 1997 parliament abolished customs duties expect on alcohol, tobacco and oil products.

All of this has been a shock to Mongolia and Mongolians. The country’s GDP shrank by a third in the early 1990s, though it has slowly recovered since. Inflation topped 300 per cent in 1993, but was brought down to below 50 per cent by 1997. The tugrug fell from 40 to U.S. $1 in 1991 to 800 to the dollar in 1997. Unemployment officially stands at 6.5 per cent – unofficial estimates are much higher.

The government’s ambitious privatization scheme has stalled; manufacturing and exports are down; imports are up. Adding to the problems is the fact that world prices for Mongolia’s major export items – copper and cashmere – have fallen.

The state retains at least 50 per cent ownership of the nation’s flagship enterprises, including the national airline, MIAT, the Gobi cashmere company and the power stations.

Mongolia has a resource-based economy, exporting mostly raw materials and importing mostly processed goods. The top exports are mineral products, textiles, base minerals, hides, skins and furs and animals and animal products. The major imports include petroleum products, industrial equipment and consumer goods.

Mongolia’s major trading partners are its two neighbours, China and Russia, though Korea and Japan are becoming more important – and the number-one export destination is Switzerland. 

Sidebar: The rural economy

Half of Mongolia’s population is rural, and herding remains the backbone of the Mongolian economy. Agriculture accounts for 30 per cent of the nation’s GDP. The number of herding households grew during the economic turmoil of the early 1990s, and now stands at more than 170,000; there are 30 million head of livestock in Mongolia. Herders produce meat, skins and furs; more and more herders are investing in cashmere goats, a substantial money-earner. 

Cultivation of crops, on the other hand, is limited. Before 1990, Mongolia was self-sufficient in cereals and even exported to the Soviet Union. But the sector suffered badly in the early 1990s. The 1997 harvest was 239,000 tonnes, 56 per cent of 1991-95 levels and only 40 per cent of pre-1990 harvests. Mongolia must now import 40 per cent of its cereal needs, a factor that contributes to a vulnerable food-security situation. Cultivation of vegetables is up, but remains minor – only 31,000 tonnes in 1997.

Sidebar: Rich in resources

Mongolia is resource-rich. This vast territory contains 15 per cent of the world’s supply of fluorspar and significant deposits of copper, molybdenum, iron, phosphates, tin, nickel, zinc, tungsten and gold, as well as at least 100 billion tonnes of coal.

Copper is the nation’s number one export. 

Minerals account for more than a third of Mongolia’s GDP and earn half of its hard currency. Gold production is increasing.

Mongolia also contains significant reserves of oil, which could transform the economy. But infrastructure and transportation limitations mean that commercial extraction is limited. The completion of a pipeline to China could change all this.

Economic Data:

Exchange rate: $1 = Tg 808 (Nov 1997)

GDP: Tg 185.5 billion (1996)

GDP per capita: Tg 228,605 (1996)

Inflation: 325 per cent (1992), 53 per cent (1996)

State budget expenditure: Tg 203.6 billion (Jan-Oct 1997)

State budget revenue: Tg 176 billion (Jan-Oct 1997)

Foreign aid (1991-97): U.S. 478 million

Official external debt: Tg 522 billion (Oct 97)

Industrial output: Tg 270.6 billion (Jan-Oct 97)

Exports: $334.2 million (Jan-Oct 97)

Imports: $343.3 million (Jan-Oct 97)

Workforce: employed: 791,800, unemployed 65,700 (Oct 97)

Source: State Statistical Office 

Mongolia – Politics

Seven decades of communist rule in Mongolia began to crumble in 1990, when the collapse of the old Eastern Bloc brought the first pro-democracy demonstrations. The ruling Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party, which had already initiated a Mongolian version of glasnost, permitted the nation’s first multiparty elections in July, 1990. 

Superior organization helped the MPRP win both the 1990 and 1992 elections (taking 71 of 76 parliamentary seats in the latter), but reform picked up speed. In 1992, the country adopted a new Constitution that enshrined human rights, private ownership and a state structure based on separation of power between legislative and judicial branches.

In the June 1996 election, major opposition groups united to form the Democratic Coalition, made up of the National Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Believers’ Party and the Green Party. Somewhat to its own surprise, the Coalition won a healthy 50 of 76 seats in the State Ikh Hural, or parliament. The composition of the Hural is now: National Democrats 35, Social Democrats 15, MPRP 25, Mongolian Traditional United Party 1.

In addition to their economic reforms, the Democrats have carried out radical restructuring of government, slashing the number of Ministries from 14 to 9.

The government has a healthy majority, but tensions sometimes emerge between the coalition partners. Mongolia’s transition to democracy has been remarkably peaceful, and the young democracy is robust – there are now more than 20 political parties in the country. 

But economic hardship has caused resentments. In the 1997 Presidential election, voters elected N. Bagabandi, the candidate of the MPRP. In the fall of 1997, the government had to face demonstrations from students and pensioners and an opposition campaign that led to a confidence vote in parliament — a vote the government easily survived. 

Political structure:

Mongolia has a parliamentary system of government, with a 76-seat legislature called the State Ikh Hural. The President, directly elected for a four-year term, is second in authority to the legislature, but he appoints judges and has the power of veto (which can be overturned by a 2/3 vote in parliament).

Chronology:

1911 collapse of Manchu Qing Dynasty; Mongolia declares its independence

1919 China invades Mongolia

1921 with Soviet help, Mongolia gains final independence from China

1924 Mongolian People’s Republic declared

1990 pro-democracy protests; Constitution amended; first multiparty elections

1992 second multiparty elections; new Constitution adopted

1996 Democratic Coalition elected as Mongolia’s first non-communist government, headed by Prime Minister Enkhsaikhan

1997 N. Bagabandi from the MPRP elected President

Voter turnout: 

1996 elections: 92.2 per cent

1996 local Hural: 64.0 per cent

1997 presidential: 85.1 per cent

Mongolia – Society and Culture

Mongolia has a unique and durable traditional culture, centred around the herding lifestyle. Herders remain semi-nomadic, moving their animals with the seasons as they have for centuries

Many urban Mongolians retain strong links to the land, both literal and sentimental, and the country’s performing and visual arts often celebrate the landscape and the animals — especially horses — that are central to Mongolian life. Mongolia has several distinctive musical instruments and styles, including the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle), the long song (urtyn duu) and the throat-singing style known as khoomi.

After seven decades of communism, Mongolians are once again celebrating their traditional culture, and embracing the image and legacy of the most famous Mongolian of all time – Chinggis Khan, who in the 13th century initiated the Mongol Empire, the greatest land empire the world has ever known. He gives his name to everything from a brand of vodka to a luxury hotel, and centres for academic Chinggis research have been set up.

In sports, Mongolians favour the “three manly sports” — wrestling, archery and horse racing — that form the core of the annual festival known as Naadam. Mongolian wrestlers have won a number of medals at international competitions and are even entering the field of Japanese Sumo.

The 1990s have seen a flowering of freedom of expression. Mongolia has an extraordinary 525 newspapers and a wide range of magazines, while the first private radio and television stations have been established. 

Religion:

Mongolians have been Buddhists since the 16th century, when the Mongolian king, Altan Khan, was converted by Tibetan lamas. In the pre-revolutionary period, Mongolia was ruled by a series of Living Buddhas, or Jebtzun Damba. The eighth, and last, Jebtzun Damba was removed after the communist takeover.

Traditionally, monasteries were centres both of learning and of power. It’s estimated Mongolia had 100,000 monks, or lamas, in 1921 — one third of the male population. In the 1930s, this power became the focus of a ruthless series of purges that reached a climax in 1937. Most of the country’s monasteries were destroyed, and as many as 17,000 monks were killed.

Today, Mongolia is once again embracing its Buddhist heritage. Monasteries are being restored, and are once again crowded with worshippers. The Dalai Lama is an enormously popular figure and has visited the country several times.

For many Mongolians, Buddhism is flavoured with traces of Shamanism, an even more ancient spirituality.

Mongolia also has a significant Muslim community — about 6 per cent of the population. These are mostly ethnic Kazakhs living in the far west of the country. The opening-up of the country has led to an influx of Christian missionaries, and this remains a source of some tension and debate.

A Young Country:

Mongolia is a remarkably young country — more than 60 per cent of the population is below the age of 30, and 40 per cent of Mongolians are younger than 16. This young generation, with its embrace of Western styles and ideas, is changing the complexion of the country. Western pop music and North American sports like basketball have a huge following among Mongolia’s youth. So, too, do homegrown artists like the pop groups Nikiton and Spike and the singer Saraa. 

Social Data:

Television sets: 6.2 per 100 (1995)

Newspapers: 2 per 100 (1995)

Number of telephones: 82,800

Marriage: 10.9 per 1000 over 18

Divorce: 0.7 per 1000 over 18

Number of pensioners: 287,200

Crimes reported: 20,454 (Jan-Oct 97)

As percentage of same period in 1996: 114.4 per cent

Data 1996 unless indicated. Sources: State Statistical Office, Human Development Report Mongolia 1997

More from Jill Lawless:

Read a story by Jill in The Guardian (9 June 1999): Letter from Mongolia | Herding instinct 

Read a World Health Organization (WHO) report on substance abuse and alcohol consumption (WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004) citing Jill here: https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/en/mongolia.pdf?ua=1 

Further Reading:

Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists

The Mongolian Economy: A Manual of Applied Economics for a Country in Transition

The transition to a market economy: Mongolia 1990-1998

Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2018  

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In Their Own Words: Selected Writings By Journalists On Mongolia, 1997-1999 | 6 January 2010

Launched in 1999 towards the end of my two-year assignment in Mongolia, this book is a unique resource for a developing country: a one-stop compilation of journalism chronicling the ups and downs of life in a country where the political and economic system has been turned on its head. You can download an edited selection of the book from Google Books here: In their own words: Selected writings by journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999

Now also available at the University of Toronto: https://search.library.utoronto.ca/details?3403065

The UNDP Mongolia Communications Office aided many journalists to cover Mongolia from 1997-1999. Two examples are below:

“Herding instinct” by Jill Lawless, The Guardian, 9 June 1999.
“A Mongolian Shopping Spree Fizzles” by Thomas Crampton, The New York Times, June 25, 1998.
Top journalists covering Asia in the late 1990s contributed to the book.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2020

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Freedom Of Expression: Introducing Investigative Journalism To Local Media In Mongolia 1999 | 25 January 2016

By David South, UNV Information Officer

UNV News

05 June 1999

Bonn, Germany: “The training allows us to learn about western theories of journalism,” says Mr. Nyamjav, editor of the Erkh Choloo (Freedom) newspaper. A UNDP project in Mongolia has brought journalists from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, to run an investigative journalist training programme for their colleagues in the rural community of Moron. The programme introducing investigative journalism to students consists of a workshop and various field assignments. Here, I report on day two of the training.

9:00 a.m.

Eleven student journalists and the two trainers, Ms Oyunsetseg and Mr. Batbold from the Press Institute of Mongolia, quickly run through the day’s schedule. The journalists will spend the next two hours interviewing subjects for their stories. All the journalists say this is the first time they’ve explored in detail this sub-category of journalism. Not all the students are experienced journalists, but this is made up for by the quality of the two facilitators, both of whom keep the workshop lively.

11:30 a.m.

The debate begins over the choice of stories. One team has chosen to look at poverty alleviation projects at the Bak (local government) level. They want to write a story looking at poor accountability for loans, the practice of nepotism and the ability of recipients to start small businesses. The team investigating power black-outs wants to conduct further interviews with the poorest people affected by such interruptions.

4:00 p.m.

Back at the offices of the Erkh Choloo newspaper, editor Nyamjav discusses the week’s news with his graphic designer. The skills of the staff impress me. While they have only one computer and barren offices, the paper won an award from the Press Institute for being the best local paper in 1997. The newspaper will be cut off from local government subsidies for printing at the end of this year and is already making plans to find other sources of revenue. Nyamjav is pleased with the results of the UNDP project, saying: “It has noticeably changed our stories – I know how to criticise reporters and push them to be more investigative.”

8:30 p.m.

Outside Ulaanbaatar a petrol shortage has hit hard. At a Moron filling station drivers patiently wait for new supplies to arrive or to receive their ration. Not only is there no fuel, there is also no electricity. On a field assignment the journalists investigating the power black-outs interview Mr. Sukhbaatar the power station director who says 3,500 households owe the utility Tug 27 million (US$27,411). It is the poorest households that are unable to pay in the Ger districts. A Ger is a Mongolian felt tent. Without payment, their power is cut off.

9:00 p.m.

I am asked to conduct a one-hour discussion of my experiences as an investigative journalist in Canada and England. The debate afterwards is lively. A common question is how to deal with pressure from government and corporations to alter the content of stories. The difficulty the regional journalists have in distributing newspapers to remote communities is a common complaint. They ask how international donors could help in this matter, pointing out that in the past the government subsidised newspaper distribution to a greater extent. They would like to be linked with international journalists in some way, preferably through an association.

A useful source of information: www.un-mongolia.mn

“Introducing Investigative Journalism to Local Media in Mongolia”, 03 July 1999, World Volunteer Web.
“Freedom of Expression: Introducing investigative journalism to local media in Mongolia”: UNV News, June 1999.
“Communications Coordinator David South (right) meets regularly with the Communications Team.” UNV News 05 June 1999 (page 25).
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Ger: Mongolia’s First Web Magazine (And A Pioneering Web Project For The United Nations) | 12 January 2016

Ger Magazine was hosted on the http://www.un-mongolia.mn website from 1998.
  • Editor-in-chief: David South (1998-1999)
  • Logo design: P. Davaa-Ochir

“The years 1998 and 1999 have been volatile ones for Mongolia, with revolving door governments, the assassination of a minister, emerging corruption, a banking scandal, in-fighting within the ruling Democratic Coalition, frequent paralysis within the Parliament, and disputes over the Constitution. Economically, the period was unstable and rife with controversies.” Mongolia in 1998 and 1999: Past, Present, and Future at the New Millennium by Sheldon R. Severinghaus, Asian Survey, Vol. 40, No. 1, A Survey of Asia in 1999 (Jan. – Feb., 2000). pp. 130-139 (Publisher: University of California)

Ger Magazine was launched on September 9, 1998 (Ger is the Mongolian word for both the traditional tent dwelling and home). The theme of youth in the transition was explored by a combined team of Mongolian and foreign journalists. The Ger Magazine project had basically three goals: first, raise the quality of journalism in the country, secondly, introduce the country to a wider global audience and, thirdly, by being the country’s first online magazine, prove the internet was an effective way to communicate.

Issue 1

Issue 1 of the magazine investigated what life was like for youth during the transition years (post-1989). Stories tackled the struggle to find work in the free market, the booming pop music scene and how it is leading the way in business entrepreneurship, reproductive health, the basics on Mongolian culture, and vox pop views from Mongolian youth.

Issue 2

Issue 2 of the magazine investigated modern life in Mongolia during transition. The team of journalists were hitting their stride by this issue. Stories probed the proliferation of bars and the problem of alcoholism, corrupt banking practices and the loss of savings, how the young were the country’s leading entrepreneurs, Mongolia’s meat and milk diet, “girl power” and the strong role played by women, the burgeoning new media, the rise and rise of Buddhism, and Mongolia’s dynamic fashion designers (this article inspired foreign fashion designers to embrace the Mongolian ‘look’ in the next season’s designs).

Editor-in-Chief: David South, UNDP Communications Coordinator
EditorA. Delgermaa, UB Post newspaper
TranslationA. Delgermaa
Photography: N. Baigalmaa, David South
Design and layout: B. Bayasgalan, UN Homepage Webmaster

“This is the second issue of Ger. We have chosen the theme “Modern Life” to introduce people outside of Mongolia to the complexities of life in today’s Mongolia – the good, the bad and the ugly as a cowboy film once said. Ger is a project that draws upon the best journalists of this country. Under democracy Mongolia enjoys a flourishing free press, with over 800 officially registered newspapers for a population of 2.4 million! Ger has chosen A. Delgermaa of the UB Post newspaper to edit this issue. The UB Post is one of two English language newspapers in Mongolia and is owned by the Mongol News Company, a publisher of five newspapers, including the daily Today newspaper. Ger is a project to improve the quality of journalism in Mongolia, while introducing the people of the world to Mongolian journalists and this wonderful country. We hope you enjoy this issue of Ger. Please send us your comments. 

Ger is not an official UNDP publication but a project to improve the quality of journalism. Opinions expressed in the magazine do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the United Nations Development Programme. Articles may be freely reproduced so long as credit is given and the editors are notified. Ger is published in English and Mongolian. 

Contributors

Ms. A Delgermaa: A reporter with the UB Post English weekly newspaper, which enjoys a good reputation among readers. Delgermaa is a young journalist and started her career in 1997, after graduating from the English Department of the Foreign Service School, Mongolian National University. She is a regular contributor to UN publications and has been published by Inter Press Service. She thinks Mongolia needs more psychologists to give courage to those many who are yearning for a better life. Like many young Mongolians she also wants to study abroad, to learn how journalism is practised in other countries.

Ms. N. Oyunbayar: Also a reporter with the UB Post newspaper, Oyunbayar, is a graduate of Ekaterinburg University in Russia, where she qualified as a Russian language teacher. She left her pupils in Sukhbaatar aimag, where she was born, some years ago and decided to undertake a personal crusade against wrongdoing by becoming a journalist for the UB Post. She is an award-winning journalist and a member of the Mongolian Free Democratic Journalists Association. She loves to cook and enjoys learning about new cuisines. 

Ms. T. Mandala: A historian and journalist, she is a reporter with the “Weekend” weekly newspaper. She has been a journalist for two years, has written several interesting interviews with politicians, including the Mongolian parliamentary speaker R. Gonchigdorj and MPs Da. Ganbold and E. Bat-Uul. She explores issues like life after death and she wants to be a public defender in a court one day. 

She is a successor of her grandfather Khodoogiin Perlee, who is a famous historian in Mongolia. And studies religion, especially Buddhism and Shamanism. 

Mr. D. Dorjjav: A psychologist and a lecturer at the Administrative Management Department of Mongolian National University, he is married and has two girls and a boy. He is currently working on his doctoral thesis. His wish is to help people to open themselves up and discover their abilities. His plan for the future is to contribute to the psychological understanding of life in Mongolia. Dorjjav’s hobby is to talk to people and exchange opinions.

G. Enkhtuya: Born in the year of the pig (there are twelve years in the lunar calendar), a professional in marketing, trading, journalism, she is currently studying law in the Institute of Legal Studies, Mongolian National University. She is also a reporter for Odriin Sonin independent daily newspaper, once the largest state-owned newspaper until the start of 1999. She likes to cook when she is liberated from her official duties.

Jill Lawless: An Honourary Foreign Member of the Mongolian Free Democratic Journalists Association, Jill has been the editor of the UB Post newspaper since 1997. Jill regularly contributes to Agence France-Presse, Far Eastern Economic Review, Deutsche Welle and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She is happiest riding camels in the Gobi desert. 

Michael Kohn: Michael is the editor of the Mongol Messenger and contributed to the first edition of Ger. He is a regular contributor to Associated Press and the Far Eastern Economic Review. Michael is an avid traveler and is an expert on hitchhiking across Mongolia.  

Ms. N. Baigalmaa: Photo journalist for Onoodor (Today) newspaper, the number one independent newspaper for three years. “Photo journalism is always interesting. I really enjoy taking action photos.” She is fed up of taking photos of static photos of people standing or sitting and has devoted her life to photo journalism. One never boring thing for her is her two sons and a girl. Sometimes she loses her sports jacket to her oldest son, now taller than her.”

Stories

Depositors’ blues: Banks fail to reform and become solvent.In the absence of a trustworthy formal banking system, Mongolians are sticking to an elaborate informal banking system driven by pawn shops

by G. Enkhtuya

“Mongolia is currently in the clutches of a full-blown banking crisis. On the surface life appears normal on the streets of the capital. Workers busily renovate apartments to open as shops and restaurants, while other workers march to the many building sites throughout Ulaanbaatar. But there is no doubting the situation is serious.”

Young Mongolian entrepreneurs lead the business revolution

By Michael Kohn

“Under communism, L. Bayasgalan studied fungus. Under capitalism, she’s used her scientific knowledge to build her own organic vegetable business. The 35-year-old is in the vanguard of a budding army of Mongolian entrepreneurs cashing in on the impoverished landlocked country’s nine year transformation from the world’s second oldest communist state to a free-market democracy.”

Meat, milk and Mongolia: 
Misunderstood and often maligned, the Mongolian diet does make sense

By N. Oyunbayar

“A stroll down any Mongolian residential street is usually the first introduction to a visitor of the savoury odours of the traditional meals of this country. If you are invited into somebody’s ger (or traditional tent dwelling) or apartment, you will probably have an opportunity of tasting buuz, khuushuur and bansh.

“These Mongolian national meals are made with minced meat seasoned with garlic or onion (it can be anything from mutton to beef to camel to horse to gazelle) covered with flour and steamed in boiling water, fried in oil and boiled in water. For many visitors to the country the vast quantities of meat consumed can at first be surprising. But it is not long before a visitor finds their favourite Mongolian food, be it buuz, khuushur or a number of other treats. A Canadian living in Ulaanbaatar once told me, “the Mongolian national food contains a lot of meat, but I like the buuz.

“The meat-dependent diet arises from the need for hearty food to stave off the cold and long winters. Traditionally nomadic herders, Mongolians have for centuries been dependent on mostly animal products for their dietary staples. Now after over nine years of transition, the traditional diet has been used as a shield against hunger and for the wealthy, subject to the influence of imported foreign foods and cuisine. When the Russians pulled the plug on Mongolia’s aid in 1991, the economy went into a severe crisis. For many Mongolians it was their first experience of serious hunger. The staple traditional diet of meat, milk and flour saw many people through this crisis, when food imports from the former Soviet Union dropped off.

“Mongolians traditionally have turned to foods that are high in protein and minerals, relying less on more seasonable foods like vegetables and fruits. This means a diet heavy on meat and dairy products, the latter when sour in the summer time thought to clean the stomach. It isn’t just about meat though. Mongolians do also eat cereal, barley and natural fruits and plants native to the country.

“Out of necessity Mongolians have found creative and ingenious ways to use the milk of all five of the domestic animals in the country: sheep, cattle, goats, camels and horses. Orom is the cream that forms on top of boiled milk; aaruul are dried curds and can be seen baking in the sun on top of gers in the summer; eetsgii is the dried cheese; airag is fermented milk of mares (female horses); nermel, is the home-brewed vodka that packs a punch; tarag, is the sour yogurt; shar tos, melted butter from curds and orom, and tsagaan tos, boiled orom mixed with sometimes flour, natural fruits or eesgii. The method of drying the dairy products is common in preparing them. The Mongolians prepare enough dairy products for the long winter and spring.

“The traditions of using, producing and preparing these foods are stronger outside the main cities, where the population is more reliant on the vast herds for food. B. Baljmaa (Mongolians generally use their first names), a dietitian and nutritionist at the National Nutrition Research Centre, says there is a genetic compatability for the food.

‘Before 1992 there wasn’t much research in this area. But now we know from our research that Mongolians are better able to absorb foods with more acid. So, traditional food should be kept in the country.’

“Since 1997 Mongolians have seen a substantial increase in the variety and quantity of imported foods, many of which were only thought of as exotic 10 years ago. Since the start of 1999 the Soviet-style market stalls now compete against western-style supermarkets, with trolleys and shelves proudly saying “Made in Mongolia.” In markets like Dalai Eej, Dorvon Uul, Food Land and Mercury it is possible to buy delicious prepared and canned foods, candies, biscuits, and unknown and unused before by Mongolians, products like oranges, bananas, plums and American chickens.

“On top of the canteens and cafes serving Mongolian food, there are now many restaurants, canteens, bakeries and tea shops which serve meals from Russia, Italy, India, China, Japan, Korea, England, France, Senegal and Turkey. Most of these restaurants are located in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Mongolians have taken to the new tastes. “I think Mongolians like roasted chicken and fish when they go to the foreign sit-down restaurants, and hot dogs and pizzas in the fast foods shops,” says I. Narantsetseg and her husband J.Battulga. Both were dining in the Seoul restaurant, and are happy they can go out for food: “it is a very good thing that there are opening a lot of restaurants where friends and family can go and enjoy food in comfort.”

“Isobe Hiroshi, manager of Seketei, a high-end Japanese restaurant, told me “only 20 per cent of our customers are Mongolians. The vast majority of our clients are foreign, especially Japanese people who are working and traveling here. I think Mongolians have still not grown used to sushi and sashimi, the raw fish prepared in our restaurant. But I hope we will welcome more and more Mongolians in the future.”

“The traditional diet in the cities is more changed, more european. And with comes its own dangers for Mongolians says the Nutrition Centre’s Baljmaa:

‘There is a big problem of importing poisonous foods and food which probably will cause the nutrition-related diseases common in more developed countries,” she continues.”While the trend around the world amongst health-conscious people is towards natural products for their food, some Mongolians use some food which can cause troubles for their health. For example, fast food made with more oil, salt and sugar are considered the biggest dangers for human health. On the plus side prices for these imported foods are higher and only the wealthiest people can afford them; the poor people can’t buy and eat it no matter how much they desire. This means their poverty is protecting their health. We should boost our efforts to raise awareness on what foods protect your health.’

“Help in improving nutrition awareness a poster portraying a ger details the food habits of Mongolians and the nutritional value of common foods.

“Now I want to present to you recipes of processing and preparing some Mongolian national products and meals:

“From ancient times, Mongolians use abundant and peculiar methods of processing meat and preparing food.. One of the more popular methods of processing the meat is to prepare borts (dried meat) for use in winter. Borts is made from the meat of cows, goats and camels. Here is a recipe for camel borts presented by Dr. Sh. Tserenpuntsag who engages in the research of the meat.

1. Separate the meat from its layer of fat, as fat will spoil in drying.
2. Cut meat into strips about 20-30 centimeters long and two to five centimeters thick.
3. Hang to dry in a well-ventilated room.
4. Leave for four to five months.
5. Cut into small strips for use in any dish you like.

“If soaked in water, the meat will expand up to two and half times in size. It should then be cooked for 18 minutes.

“The main method of cooking the meals of the Mongolians is boiling and steaming, considered the most healthy method in cooking by researchers the world over. Here is a recipe for buuz from the Nutrition Centre. It is considered one of the national meals of the Mongolians and is cooked by steaming and is a good fast food.”

Girl power in Mongolia: What is the status of gender after nine years of transition?

By D. Dorjjav

“As American author Arthur Schlesinger once said, the main breaker of peace in our time is social differentiation. It is unfortunate that, despite developments in human civilisation, modern times have brought only new manifestations of this phenomenon, based on people’s mind, feeling, life style, goals and dreams.”

Money may be tight, but Mongolians are still going online, booting up and sending emails

By Jill Lawless

“Inside Mongolia’s former Construction College, a slab of brightly painted concrete overlooking Ulaanbaatar, murals on the peeling walls still depict beefy workers engaged in heroic labour. The stern visages of Marx, Engels and Lenin loom above the central staircase.

But students these days have neither communism nor construction on their minds. The building is now the School of Computer Science and Management of the Mongolian Technical University.”

The real Mongolian gets the nod from Western fashion designers. Mongolia’s top fashion designer, Solyolmaa, gives Ger a quick lesson on Mongolian clothing

By A. Delgermaa

“Last year’s fashion runways were dominated by one influence: Mongolian traditional design. If a designer wanted to show they were boldly embracing natural fibers and furs, then the refrain ” my show is all Mongolian” would be proudly boasted to the media. The country has become a synonym for sartorial flare and rugged beauty. It also doesn’t hurt that one of Mongolia’s top exports, cashmere wool, is in vogue, from Japan to Europe to the United States. After years of being isolated from the west under the umbrella of the Soviet Union, Mongolian fashion is proudly strutting the catwalks of the world.”

Cashmere is king but Mongolia still struggles to reap the benefit

By A. Delgermaa

A Mongolian cashmere designer once opined that Mongolians are lucky that most goats in the country are capable of producing fine cashmere. And while Chinese cashmere dominates the marketplace, Mongolian cashmere is by far the purest and finest.

About 30 cashmere companies contributes tens of millions of dollars a year to the country’s wealth (though nobody is quite sure how much because most cashmere sales go unreported to the government). But the revenue isn’t what it used to be due to problems in the domestic industry and a drop in the world price. Z. Ayur, chief secretariat of the Gobi company, thinks it doesn’t have to be that way. “Unfortunately we lose half of our raw cashmere to China,” he says.” The Chinese buy cashmere at a high price, not depending on the quality. This means national manufacturers lack raw cashmere to process into garments.” He thinks raw cashmere exports should be banned or subject to a duty of 100 to 150 per cent. Mongolia’s weak infrastructure plays a part as well. It is cheaper for herders to travel to the Chinese border with cashmere than to bring it to the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Often when they are at the border with China, they are subjected to some hard bargaining by Chinese brokers, who exploit the fact herders can’t afford to walk away empty handed. 

Cashmere has always been considered a luxury and expensive. But in the past two years it has lost its fusty image as only for old people. Trendy designs have attracted a vast market of younger cashmere consumers. “I guess in the past it was dear and expensive and designs weren’t very appealing to the younger set,” thinks Gerelmaa, the chief designer of Gobi company. 

The Gobi company is one of the few state enterprises left over from the socialist period that still makes money (and is due for privatization this year – a prime pick for foreign investors). 

In 1972 the United Nations funded projects to experiment with starting a cashmere garment industry in Mongolia. This innovative thinking led to a joint Japanese-Mongolian venture in 1981 to start the first cashmere manufacturer, Gobi. These days it still produces one third of the country’s cashmere products. 

Mongolian Wool and Cashmere Federation head Tsendmaa is optimistic about the drop in the world market price.” It will soon go back up again,” she says with confidence. “The reserve of cashmere in the world will run out soon. What happened with the drop in prices is typical of any industry when it overproduces.” What worries her most is the flood of Mongolian cashmere going to China, where Chinese workers process and knit the garments and reap the job benefits.

While cashmere is still known for its use in classic turtle, crew and v-neck jumpers, things have changed. “Before we mostly exported classic styles in off-white, brown, grey, black, bark, blue or dark red to Japan or Germany,” continues Tsendmaa. “Now Americans order more fashionable cashmere for the young. The designs of short jumpers that expose bare chests and waists are cheap to produce (less material) and suitable for young fashions.” 

Italian, French or Belgian customers are fussier and demand greater variety in designs. These countries determine the vogue for cashmere wear and use the most high tech knitting technology.

Contemporary cashmere fashion in France or Italy can combine fur or silk. Colours have also been revamped, with the young going for light blue, light pink, snow white, off-white and light green. Italians and Americans like metal grey with rose or pink. Mixing up the colours in sporty stripes and lines is also popular.

Cashmere is very practical, warm and light. “It is not suitable for the office,” says Gerelmaa.” Cashmere wear is more suitable to wear for a night out or just for hanging out. But of course it is not for sport!” 

Fashionable Mongolian cashmere is becoming a strong competitor to Chinese, Italian, Scottish or American cashmere. “The raw material is pure and the design is more fashionable.” And a happy Gerelmaa likes the sound the cash register makes in Japan: “In Japan classic Mongolian style is sold for more than US $1,200 in the Takashimaya Store, in GINZA.” Now if more of that kind of hard cash found its way back to Mongolia, the country would definitely be better off. 

Mongolians call them mannequins, but this model has something to say and a good head on her shoulders

Interview by A. Delgermaa

It could be said that there is no girl who does not dream of becoming a model. Many Mongolian girls, particularly Ulaanbaatar city girls, are flocking to attend courses in modeling in the last few years. Some say models are mushrooming in Mongolia, a country known for its fresh-faced people and robust physiques. 

Ger interviewed S. Ikhertsetseg, one of the twin top models of Mongolia.

When did you first appear on the fashion stage?

“When we were 15 we played piano for the state concert on International Women’s Day on March 8. The ( Best Fashion) company was in trouble and they did not have anyone to wear some leather fashions for the show in the concert. It was fortuitous that we were asked to be the models. We kept it secret from our parents until we received a prize from Mongolia’s top fashion show, Goyol (or beauty) , in 1988. That was a year after the state concert. Being a fashion model was not considered so desirable as it is now. We were busy studying at music school and our parents did not know what we were doing.”

What do you think of today’s models?

“In the early days of fashion shows in Mongolia in the 1980s, we did not have many competitors. These days there are many beautiful Mongolian models we have to compete with, but only a few are very good. If someone is lucky, they have the potential to compete at the world level. Personally, I don’t like models who are too trained by courses.”

Do you think becoming famous is pure luck?

“Of course it is luck. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of hard work. You must send photos to agencies, and then only then, will someone see your photo – that is luck.”

What about design and fashion in Mongolia? Are Mongolians fashion sensitive?

“I can not say Mongolians are sensitive to fashion. I think our designers should work harder. Design is not a dress or a suit. It is everything, the whole cornucopia of details. I do not think we are going to compete with Europe, which has a long history of making clothing, rich in colors or designs. There is a big difference between fashion in the West and in Mongolia.”

Mongolia has a lively free press who sometimes step over the line when it comes to gossip and scandal reporting. These so-called “yellow” newspapers have damaged many people’s reputations. This had also happened to you. Some newspapers called the two of you the Barbie girls in Beijing, earning a lot of money.

“Yes, they did say those bad things. We replied to them.”

Was it before the court?

“No, that is a personal question.”

What was the result?

“The newspapers didn’t do that again.”

What do you do now?

“Both of us keep up the fashion work and also teach piano. Music is our profession and love. We founded the Association of Models of Mongolia to protect their rights and strengthen their position in the society.”

Impact

The stories have been featured in many books on the country, and the magazine was recommended as a good resource by the Lonely Planet guidebook. 

This was not only the first publication of its kind in the UN, it was also a pioneering online venture and remarkable for a country lacking the advantages of wealthier countries.

An online survey of the state of Mongolia’s media and its history (www.pressreference.com/Ma-No/Mongolia.html), had this to say: “An interesting variation from some of the other publications available is Ger Magazine (published online with guidance from the United Nations Development Program, UNDP), which is concerned with Mongolian youth in cultural transition. The name of the magazine is meant to be ironic because a ger is the Mongolian word for yurt—a yurt being traditional nomadic housing—but the magazine is about urbanization and globalization of Mongolian youth.”

Citations

A Complete Guide on Celebrations, Festivals and Holidays around the World by Sarah Whelan, Asteroid Content, 2015

Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media by Jeff Summer, Gale Group, 2001

Mongol Survey, Issue 8, The Society, 2001

Mongolian Culture and Society in the Age of Globalization by Henry G. Schwarz (editor), Center for East Asian Studies, Western Washington University, 2006

Nations in Transition: Mongolia by Jennifer L. Hanson, Infobase Publishing, 2003

Teen Life in Asia by Judith J. Slater, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004

World Press Encyclopedia: A Survey of Press Systems Worldwide, Volume 1 by Amanda C. Quick, Gale Group, 2003

Some of the team behind Ger:

Editor-in-Chief: David South

Logo Design: P. Davaa-Ochir

Layout and Online: B. Bayasgalan

Contributors: A. DelgermaaMichael KohnJill LawlessPeter Marsh, and N. Oyuntungalag.

Read the Wikipedia entry here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ger_magazine

Read the full content by searching the www.archive.org wayback machine via the http://www.un-mongolia.mn website: https://web.archive.org/web/19990420090143/http://www.un-mongolia.mn/

Ger Magazine contributor Jill Lawless’ book Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia here: https://wildeasttravelsinthenewmongolia.wordpress.com

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021