That’s the name of our latest class. Credit for the title goes to Doug, one of my three awesome co-teachers, who agree that we must subject our 65 students to a crash course on Mongolian political cartoons. This summer, I’ve returned to Darkhan. I’m training our new volunteers in cross-culture and community development.

We geeks feel especially alive — Mongolia will hold a parliamentary election on June 29. Back in 1990, the Mongolian Politburo resigned in a bloodless revolution. Ever since then, Mongolians have participated in free, fair, contested elections.

In 18 years of democracy, though, the MPRP – aka Old Commies – have tenaciously clung to both the parliament and presidency. While the Democrats held the presidency in 1993-97, and Parliament in 1996-2000, their shock therapy economic policies spooked people out dreadfully.

On that election day in 1997, a 62-year-old voter, Baljinnyam told the Associated Press: “I cherish the democracy that we now have, but I voted for Bagabandi [the MPRP candidate] because capitalism is coming too fast to Mongolia and leaving too many people without jobs. (Quote borrowed from an excellent guide to Mongolian politics written by a team of current PCV’s.)

But today, one week before the parliamentary election, only a knife’s edge of a margin separates the two main parties; the MPRP polls at 38%, and the Democratic Party clocks in at 37%.


Thank you, Temur, for translating a bit of the Ahan Dvvsin Duu:

Tertee Moskvagiin tsetserlegees Orosyn hus duulna
Tergel sartai dornoos orgen Sibir duulna

The Russian birch sings from a Moscow park
Wide Siberia sings from the East where there is full moon

And Temur also offered this interesting comment.

Javkhlan is from Uvs which is the reddest aimag in MGL. The MPRP gets 80-90% of votes there. Almost every Uvs person is proud that both Tsedenbal (ruled Mongolia during 1953-1981) and Batmunkh (ruled Mongolia in 1981 – 1990) are from Uvs aimag.

The MPRP, or “Huvsgalt Nam,” is the party of the former communists. 

What a weird music video. It’s about the Eternal Friendship of Russia and Mongolia — still a big hit today! Ahan dvvsiin duu means “big brother little brother song.” Javhlan (the young dude) is our biggest star. If you listen to it, “oros” means russian and “Moskvagiin tsetserlegees” means “We come from a Russian kindergarten” (I think).

My USSR-born friends have asked me some interesting questions about Mongolia’s relationship with Russia. Like, “Does Mongolia still really love Russia that much?”

Well, no. As my copy-machine-shop friend Zulaa told me, “Amerikand hairtai, Orosond dund zereg durtai. Hyatadand uzen yaddag.” (We love the Americans, we medium-like the Russians, and we frickin’ hate the Chinese.)

I mean, what have Russians done for Mongolia lately? Nothing. According to Youtube comments — “The Russians were damn thieves and they’re still grabbing our treasures from our mines.” “If Javhlan didn’t sing this, it would never play so much on TV.”

But the video just shows you how deeply years and years of Soviet propaganda wormed into Mongolians’ heads. Now those songs and brotherhood images have become part of Mongolia’s cultural vocabulary. People will happily belt out the familiar “little brother” song, even though they only kinda like the Russians.

I think a good analogy would be the way Americans see the 1950’s. Some people want to bring the USA back to the 50’s, just like some Mongolians wish they could go back to Russian domination. In both cases they’re the minority. Still, practically all Americans enjoy 50’s diners and oldies music. Putting footage of Lenin parades on TV is the Mongolian equivalent of showing girls in poodle skirts doing the twist.

When the Soviets came to Mongolia, they established universal literacy and killed thirty thousand lamas. They built railroads and demolished monasteries. They introduced nutritious root vegetables like turnips; they also made sure that strong vodka replaced mild airag as the country’s favorite drink.

While many Mongolians detest the Chinese, folks feel ambivalent about the Russians. In 1921, after kicking out the Manchus, Mongolia proclaimed itself a communist country. Soon Mongolia fell under the sway of the Soviet Union.

When I ask about communist times, Mongolians tend to list the good things about the Russians first. They mention the bad parts almost as an afterthought. Our host sisters still sing us this ditty: “Boroo, boroo, orooroi, orosni mamo ireerei.” (Rain rain please fall, Russian children please come.) 

Russians built Mongolia’s second-largest city, Darkhan. Darkhan means “Blacksmith” in Mongolian. The Economist debates whether Darkhan is a good or bad legacy, describing it sourly as “grim and industrial.”  Here are a few glances at Darkhan. (from training this summer)

Socialist realism at the supermarket

This is the big Nomin supermarket — its front entrance still bears this gaudy Socialist Realist sculpture.

The guy on the left (next to the horses) looks Mongolian, and the dude on the right bears Russian features. It gets better if you go inside. A five-foot-high bust of Lenin adorns one wall. Lenin faces a similar bust of Mongolia’s own revolutionary hero, Damdiny Sukhbaatar.


New kids on the apartment block
Darkhan has many 1960’s Soviet apartments, but this one might be my favorite.


Although I didn’t get a photo of the other building I really like, which is scrawled:  “Pablic Enima ? “