It is a pity that Tania Branigan overstates the influence of «Mongolian neo-Nazis» in her article (Mongolian neo-Nazis: Anti-Chinese sentiment fuels the rise of ultra-nationalism, 2 August). She says that «a new strain of Nazism has found an unlikely home» in Mongolia and that «ultra-nationalists are … becoming more sophisticated and, quietly, more powerful» here. To illustrate this assertion, Branigan’s article carries an alarming photograph of six swastika-bedecked Mongolian skinheads rigidly standing to attention with their right arms thrust in a «Heil Hitler» salute.
As a regular visitor to Mongolia since 1993 and a resident in Ulan Bator over the past 18 months, I find this skewed depiction of life here to be demeaning and unfair to Mongolians.
Certainly Mongolian society faces challenges. Yes, there is a small handful of malcontents who make up these rightwing fringe groups. Their influence, however, has been steadily on the wane for years as indicated in the article: «Others in Ulan Bator … suspect the groups’ menacing stance and claims of 3,000 are bluster». Franck Billé of Cambridge University thinks there is «a lot of posturing». He is right.
Yes, Mongolians are worried about China’s economic might. Their past as a former colony of China and the present circumstances of their cultural cousins in Tibet give rise to justifiable concerns about the long-term intentions of their southern neighbour.
Yes, there is a strain of prejudice against China, as shown in a hip-hop track Don’t Go Too Far, You Chinks with its distasteful chorus «shoot ‘em all». This hateful song, however, is not «widely played in bars and clubs» as Branigan suggests. Mongolians find it repugnant.
Yes, Mongolians are a proud people. They have to be; there are precious few foreign Mongolophiles around who sing the praises of their culture and history.
However, Branigan’s description of rising xenophobia on the mean streets of Ulan Bator simply does not gel with my own experiences of an open and hospitable people who are keen to adopt international business standards, who share our values of free speech and participatory democracy, and who are anxious to be seen as members of the international community.
Mongolia is the unsung success story of Asian human rights. The country made a bloodless transition to democracy in 1990 and has never made any move to repudiate participatory politics. Attendances at Buddhist temples, churches and mosques reflect the complete revival of religious freedom. The good, the bad and the ugly of Ulan Bator’s daily newspapers reflect the national commitment to freedom of expression. Mongolian business people wish to abide by international standards of conduct and are proud of a commercial environment where foreign investment is warmly welcomed. Mongolians have every right to feel proud about their country and often say that they are «the easternmost extension of Europe». In terms of our higher values, they are.
There is a dearth of understanding about Mongolia in the west. Sadly, in the absence of any image of Mongolia in the public mind, the image of six Mongolian skinheads in Branigan’s article will linger on long past its sell-by date.
Michael Aldrich, an international corporate attorney who has lived in Asia for over two decades.