Экспертные оценки

14.07.2017, 14:53 | Автор: Евсей Васильев, кандидат политических наук, доцент кафедры международной безопасности РГГУ
29.04.2017, 13:07 | Автор: Светлана Погорельская, к.п.н., д.филос. (Боннский университет, ФРГ), с.н.с. ИНИОН РАН, с.н.с. Институт Европы РАН
26.04.2017, 15:10 | Автор: Александр Арский, кандидат экономических наук, доцент МФЮА
25.04.2017, 21:23 | Автор: Иван Рыскаль, Институт стран Азии и Африки МГУ
The Samsara of Mongolian Protest Narrative
02.04.2017, 10:01
We see the first signs of an ancient narrative being rejuvenated, and need to watch this space for foreign policy consequences.

Inner Mongolia is strategic province for regional integration and the ‘One Belt One Road’ project due to its strategic position, stretching along the Northern border of China. Three small internet resources have reported, almost simultaneously, the first on the 21st of March, that up to 200 ethnic Inner Mongolian herders have protested in the regional capital of Hohot calling for full payment of government subsidies and airing other long standing grievances around land rights. The government had convinced the herders to stop grazing their flocks on environmental reserves in return for a regularly monetary subsidy, which they failed to pay, thus sparking the protests. These, in turn, were speculated to have been based on broader grievances in connection with the ongoing trend of the total area of pastureland being decreased in lieu of industry, infrastructure and mining.

The protests were reported by two quite dubious ‘media organisations’, namely, ‘Radio Free Asia’, ‘Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation’. A large Facebook group, ‘Mongolia Live’ also covered the issue, however in a different light, referring to the banning of a Mongolian rap song which had nationalist undertones. The issues were duly ignored by any noteworthy publication. Thus, these minor reports are significant for Russian foreign policy in their intrinsic link to a narrative that has been around since the Qing dynasty and in their stirring up of long-standing grievances between groups in the region.

Furthermore, whether these protests happened or not, whether the rumours are exaggerated or otherwise is irrelevant in that narrative building is a dynamic process and can often turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Unfortunately, the region of Inner Asia is suffering from an economic downturn, so small scale civil unrest is not off the table completely. In this way, we must consider the historic narrative, the currently attempted rejuvenation of the grievance narrative and what we can expect in the future.

The Spinning Wheel of History

Grievances have a way of repeat manifestation if their causes are not removed or the political context changed. For the Inner Mongolian case, two periods must be considered as informing the newest version of the narrative. The late Qing experience and the protests in the region in 2011. The Qing court was forced to sell land rights to its state mining company in 1902, to make up for the government’s catastrophic fiscal problems. Miners were universally unpopular in a place where land was a common good and the private ownership of which was prohibited until the 1990s. In the first decade of the 1900s, the expansion of mining and settlement led to minor brigandry followed by more serious unrest, culminating in the majority of Mongolia splitting off from China during the 1911 civil war. The cause of discontent was the reduction in overall pasture area available for nomads and their lack of dividend from the mining efforts. The civil war did not solve the conundra, and while unrest eventually subsided, the underlying lack of reconciliation between private interest and the collective nature of Mongolian society remains.

Fast forward to 2011, and the Samsara  is spinning an, albeit weaker, but round two. A Mongolian herdsman tragically dies in a road accident, where he is hit by a truck associated with a local mining company. His death leads to increasing protests, so much so that up to two thousand students and ethnic Mongol herders march across West Ujimqin and Hohot. Mergen, the herder, died on May 10th, the first protest was on May 25th and lasted for two days. Grievances aired were reportedly about land rights and the deteriorating ecological situation. There was a serious police response  from local authorities which highlighted the international aspect of the situation. Contrived organisations like the ‘Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre’ (SMHRIC), were heavily involved with increasing publicity of the instability in the region, taking the question from one of redress of a tragedy and land rights to one of separatism. Chinese officials openly acknowledged foreign interference in the protests, as reported by mainstream western media. Thus, the historical issue of pastureland being encroached upon by private landlords and industry was exploited by separatists and their supporters outside of China.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy

In the present day, the same media outlets which were involved in exaggerating and exacerbating the 2011 regional unrest, are starting a second round of the same narrative. Their editors know that, despite significant improvements in the region since 2011, as directed by the Beijing government, the cause of discontent has not been removed and remains to be exploited. Even if the protests went on as reported, which cannot be confirmed due to the untrustworthy nature of aforementioned publications, they were completely insignificant, numbering 200 in a state of almost 25 million people. Their importance is not immediate but long term. The protest in the 20s of March 2017 contribute to the overall simmering grievance narrative which has been forming since the later nineteenth century. Thus, these reports can form a self-fulling prophecy, whereby with the economic downturn in the region, sleeping grievances awaken again, and perhaps lead to low level unrest. Inner Mongolia, with its boundaries hugging the northern Chinese border, could thus be more of an informational target with the New Silk Road project than before. Such unrest would be ripe for informational exploitation by those who would not want to see the Silk Road project implemented. The narrative has internal problems however, the current appeal to nationalism being ridiculously ironic, in that back in independent Mongolia, herders are being treated jus the same, if not worse. We should expect a potential ramping up of the informational campaign if there are changes in the overall socio-economic context in the region.


Practical policy solutions would focus on alleviating the environmental stress of Mongol herders. Finally solving the issue of land rights in a compromise that both allows herders to pursue their lifestyle and does not cause the government or regional corporations losses would be perfect. In fact, working towards an improvement of nomadic 02.04. ПЕВЦОВlives could be a great informational opportunity for all involved. The main ‘enemies’ of nomads are heavy industry and the infrastructure that comes with it. Here there are three possible avenues, one of which may be a somewhat radical approach. Firstly, seeing as both Russia and China have nomadic populations, the creation of a joint subsidy and development fund for these peoples could subdue their feelings by fiscal transfer. Secondly, an incorporation of ‘animal bridges’ (An example from the Netherlands inset) into the New Silk Road infrastructure could both be a public relations victory and genuinely improve the lives of local herders for little financial cost to the project. Thirdly, a complicated and radical solution could be the creation of a regional ‘nomadic zone’ across the three states of Russia, Mongolia and China. This would be an area of steppe where nomads can cross borders freely provided they show required documentation and abide by customs controls. The initial problem was born out of excessive demarcation of herding boundaries in the late Qing period. The continuation of this process perpetuated exploitable disgruntlement in the region. Such a step would not only greatly integrate regional governments and economies but also return nomads to their fenceless and free lifestyle. By putting an end to ancient grievances through essentially giving nomadic herders endless pasture, the governments involved would have much reputation to gain, protecting the environment, tradition and ethnic minority interest. Eventually, a policy solution for the land disputes in the Inner Asian steppe will need to be found. It is better to act pre-emptively and develop one now, than to risk as higher price later.

Further Reading

Aberle, David F., Chahar and Dagor Mongol Bureacratic Administration: 1912-1945 (New Haven, 1962)
Kuzmin, Sergei L., ‘Buddhism and Statehood in Mongolia at the Beginning of the XX Century: The permutations of the state-faith relationship during the establishment of independence’ (PhD Diss. Federal Government Institute of Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 2016) (Кузьмин, Сергей Львович, ‘Буддизм и государственность монголии в начале хх в.: трансформация отношений религии и государства в процессе становления независимости’, (Диссертация на соискание ученой степени доктора исторических наук, Федеральное государственное бюджетное учреждение науки институт востоковедения РАН, 2016))
Pevtsov, Michael, Notes on the travels across Mongolia and provinces of North China (Omsk, 1883) (Певцов М. В., Очерк путешествия по Монголии и северным провинциям Внутреннего Китая (Омск, 1883))
Monk Iakinph, Notes on Travels in Mongolia (St. Petersburg, 1828) (Иакинф, монах, Записки о Монголии, (Санкт-Петербург, 1828))
Myadar, Orhon, ‘Imaginary nomads: the myth of nomadic Mongolia and fenceless land discourse’, (PhD Diss., University of Hawaii, 2007)
Wu, Jianguo, Zhang Qing, Li Ang, Liang Cunzhu, ‘Historical landscape dynamics of Inner Mongolia: patterns, drivers and impacts’, Landscape Ecology, 30 (2015), pp. 1579-1598
Автор: Emil Pevstov, Durham University, UK
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