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Archive for the 'Ethnographic Studies' Category

A Brief Timeline of the Recent Anti-Violence Movement in Mongolia

By Guest Contributor , on 21 June 2018

 

Mari Valdur is a PhD student at the University of Helsinki, Finland. She is currently carrying out her fieldwork looking at reproductive healthcare, gender and personhood in Ulaanbaatar

The Publicity of Non-Global Tragedies

While the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements elsewhere largely remain linked to the rights of individual women, in Mongolia, the mainstream movement against violence started in autumn, 2017, with an emphasis on the need to protect children and the responsibility, concern and emotionality of being a parent. The social and news media has been central in giving voice to the emotion-laden stories so they can reach the wider public, where they have provided a platform for people to also advocate for justice.

Surprisingly the onset of the Mongolian movement cannot directly be paralleled with #MeToo – at which core lies the Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein’s long-term sexual harassment and abuse empire revealed in The New York Times’ article in October 2017. Instead, it carries similarities to the extensive international media coverage of other assault and violent deaths reported in August 2017. In that summer month, which usually tends to be somewhat uneventful in media terms, the international media reported extensively about the case of Kim Wall who disappeared after boarding Peter Madsen’s submarine in the Danish waters and the gruesome detail of her death that came to fore as weeks passed. There were several other stories repeatedly highlighted, such as the disappearance of the nine-year-old Maëlys de Araujo from a wedding in the French Alps; and seeking of court approval by the parents of a 13-year-old girl in India for their daughter to be allowed to have a late-term abortion after being raped.

The beginning of the movement against violence in Mongolia aligned with the start of a new school year after a girl was found dead in a hotel. Having gained ground primarily as mothers’ fear for their children, and ‘children being Mongolia’s future’, it soon moved onto including discussions of domestic violence. Like #MeToo, hashtags #NudeeNee (#OpenYourEyes) were adopted, but the extensive circulation of these hashtags has often been overtaken by other strands of the movement.

The Advocacy of Fear, Anger and Suffering

The following chronology looks at a range of causes that were advocated for as part of the broader anti-violence topic; And how these could been seen as having given rise to one another but also created lines of division.

1 February 2017. The current Law to Combat Domestic Violence came to force making domestic violence a punishable legal violation.

1 September 2017. The news breaks about the death of a 13 year-old girl whose body was found at a Bayanzurkh district hotel in Ulaanbaatar on 23 August. She was found with signs of violence, including sexual assault, with a fatal blood alcohol content that is later released as the cause of death by the officials. The girl’s father T. Lhagvasuren appears in the media to describe what he saw when entering the hotel room. CCTV shows that she had been picked up from a bus stop by two men. The news on television addressing this spark considerable fear, concern and compassion in parents.

October 2015. Cases of sexual assault against young children are addressed in the media. Lhagvasuren’s daughter’s case is first expanded to a scandal and later to a movement when the rape of boy younger than two years is reported. Another core story involves a 5 year-old girl who was sexually assaulted by her stepfather, taken to the emergency room and is initially turned away due to the lacked of 10,000 tugrik service fee (around £3 or 3.5EUR). In December the stepfather is sentenced to 18 years in prison. Drawing on statistics, domestic violence is given attention as the main context in which child assault takes place.

16 October 2017. Mongolian President Kh. Battulga starts working towards re-establishing the death penalty in connection to the reported crimes, providing validation and a certain outlet to anger and discontent that the reports have given rise to. The removal of capital punishment from the Criminal Code had come to effect only in July 2017.

24 and 26 October 2017. Lantuun DOHIO, a NGO established in 2012 that carries out different activities against human trafficking and domestic violence and abuse, organises two NudeeNee (OpenYourEyes) demonstrations in Ulaanbaatar. Shortly after they also create a Facebook group for the campaign that is extremely active in the last months of 2017. #NudeeNee and #OpenYourEyes are used on social media.

13 November 2017. Lhagvasuren provides an in depth account on the talk show Tsenzurgui Yaria surrounding the death of his daughter. He refutes the defamatory accounts of his daughter that had started to spread and describes the unfolding events during the past months and the lagging of the whole process in the justice system. The extreme level of distress that he reveals in this interview indicates ongoing processes of victimisation and trauma beyond the criminal act itself in a situation where democratic processes of jurisdiction and prosecution are presumed to be in some correlation with the pressures and attention to the case created by publicity.

18 November 2017. There is another Nudee Nee demonstration on Sukhbaatar Square, which is significantly bigger than the first two.

Image 1: Nudee Nee demonstration on Sukhbaatar Square on 18 November. The signs mostly address the sexual abuse of children. Photo: author

 

27 November 2017. President Kh. Battulga addresses a letter to the Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs proposing the restoring of the death penalty in cases of sexual violence, cruelty and murder of young children, linking it directly to the scandals of the past months.

Winter 2017-2018. Outdoor events come to a halt, while discussions continue online and in the news media.

8 March 2018. International Women’s Day, which is also celebrated as Mother’s Day in Mongolia. A march takes place that advocates more directly for women’s rights drawing obvious parallels to the international women’s movement.

16 March 2018. Bolortuya (Beverly) Dorjsuren, a woman in her 30s, goes public with the story of a severe assault on her on 8 March that left her injured and temporarily unable to work. She posts on her Facebook timeline and the post is shared 569 times reaching the existing anti-violence groups. In the coming weeks she appears on television and social media sharing her struggles concerning the stalling of her case. Talking to Bolortuya more than a month after the attack, it becomes obvious how advocating for her case to be taken seriously and pushing for progress with it has taken over her everyday life, adding to the stress and cost of her on-going treatment. Unlike many other women who she encountered at the emergency room and police department, she acknowledges that she is in a position to do be able to do this due to her stable financial situation, support of her family and her professionally respected platform.

21 March 2018. Odgerel Chuluunbaatar establishes Huuhdiig hüchirhiilliin esreg taivan jagsaaliin alban yosnii grupp (The Official Group for Peaceful Demonstration Against Child Abuse) on Facebook. Only about a month later on 23 April 2018 it has 416,691 members. Odgerel, who has a son herself, says she created the group in reaction to increasing child abuse ahead of a demonstration the following week. She invited six other mothers to join her moderating the group and did not expect such explosive online following. None of the moderators of the group are linked to the Nudee Nee movement and advocate only against child abuse.

30 March 2018. The president compiles a draft law on the death penalty to decrease and tackle violence against children. The Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs Ts. Nyamdorj has not responded to the president’s proposal to restore the death penalty sent in November. Deputy Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs B. Enkhbayar comments at a meeting with the representatives of the Delegation of the European Union to Mongolia that the ministry has not found a legal basis for this.

31 March 2018. The largest demonstration to date addressing violence against children, No More Tolerance (Dahin Tevchihgui) takes place. It is accompanied by aggressive exchanges online about the death penalty, creating division and making some worry that the gathering could become violent.

Image 2: A photo posted on the anti-violence group of a car decorated with stuffed bears and labels that had been seen driven around on 31 March. Photo: Facebook user Happy Time.

 

9 April 2018. Directly unrelated to the movement, 3333 students wearing deels recite the poem Independence (Tusgaar togtnol) on Suhkbaatar Square in Ulaanbaatar as the president attends the event.

Image 3: School children celebrating Mongolia and Mongolia celebrating children on 9 April. Photo: Kh. Orgil on peak.mn.

 

25-28 April 2018. Lantuun DOHIO in collaboration with Gallery 88 showcases clothes of victims worn at the time of their assault, artwork, personal belongings and audio at an exhibition What Were They Wearing? (Ted Yuu Omsoj Baisan Be?) taking a personal and intimate approach to individual stories and portrayal of violence. Meanwhile, also in April, Lhagvasuren’s daughter’s case is still on-going; Bolortuya continues to post on social media, get treatment and add to the number of her visits to the police department; And the number of members of The Official Group for Peaceful Demonstration Against Child Abuse Facebook group is slowly decreasing.

The Exhausting Ways of Justice

This chronological review presents a handful of events that lead towards a brief and non-conclusive outline of the unfolding the recent anti-violence movement. This movement instigated a sudden rise of public interest and involvement of those who were previously not actively advocating against violence. Therefore, it has not done justice to the important efforts of organisations that continuously work toward moving forward the legal and discourse machine.

The freedom of press is shown to be problematic in today’s Mongolia owing to private ownership and links to politically active figures (see 5 May 2018 Defacto Review). However, it is curious how heavily the ideas of democracy and law enforcement remain linked to the sourcing of public knowledge of, and attention to, the particular cases. This is done through sharing one’s struggles on television or via other media, however taxing it may be. The speed of trials is presumed to be linked to the position of defendants: if they belong to wealthy and influential families there can be quite a lot of stalling and confusion with the validation of pieces of evidence, which become relaxed in their interpretative qualities during prosecution, similarly to what Lhagvasuren describes in the interview concerning the reason of his daughter’s death.

The attention to and discussions of law enforcement have been somewhat overshadowed by the emotion-provoking and releasing appeals for re-establishing the death penalty as well as false news on the existing law of punishment. While the Criminal Code could use certain updates and additions, this becomes a secondary focus in this context, where these laws are not implemented properly, or only eventually through other lanes of victimisation for those involved in lengthy legal processes.

This post was written in early May 2018. For an alternative perspective and a high-profile rape allegations case against a Mongolian MP, D. Gantulga, please see Lily Kuo’s article in The Guardian.

 

 

Anti-offshore Movements as the Place of Political Mobilization and Discourse Setting

By Guest Contributor , on 12 May 2018

 

This piece is by Sanchir Jargalsaikhan, a political scientist and activist broadly concerned with economic and political development in Mongolia and in the Global South. Sanchir was recently a visiting scholar at the Emerging Subjects Project at UCL. His main area of research focuses on problems of late and uneven development, democratization process in post-socialist countries, issues of trade, and investment, extractivism, poverty and debt in the developing world. He has an interdisciplinary research agenda that combines political theory, global political economy, and Central Asian and Russian studies. This blog post is a continuation on Sanchir’s last entry to the Emerging Subjects Blog. 

 

Our colleagues at the Mongolia Focus blog wrote couple of posts that discussed the Oyu Tolgoi mine and the current wave of corruption investigations and arrests, most recently involving former Prime Ministers Ch. Saikhanbileg and S. Bayar. Marissa Smith’s attempt to “turn the conversation to larger systematic factors” compliments this post very well. In my last entry on the Emerging Subjects blog, I elaborated on the genesis of anti-offshore movements in Mongolia. Today, I will take up a micro lens and attempt to dissect one of these movements.

The last few years in Mongolia have been characterized by growing social discontent amidst continual economic decline. Many Mongolians who are angry about present economic conditions think that they cannot find any outlet within the political system and therefore have been more and more attracted to act in an extra-systemic manner. In the absence of effective political channels and class based political parties, competent civil society organizations must exist if widespread grievances are to be voiced. However, our socialist legacy and poorly executed transition to liberal democracy has rendered our civil society incapable of effectively voicing people’s concerns. During the state socialist era, civil society wasn’t conceived as a distinct sphere detached from and in tension with the state. It was totally controlled by the state, starting from trade unions and ending with children scout programs. As was the case with almost all state-socialist countries of that time, civil society mobilization in terms of political party development and labour union strength that formed the basis of progressive populism in many mature democracies, was absent in Mongolia. However, this fundamental weakness was not properly addressed during the transition. The assumption was that weakening the state will necessarily strengthen civil society, as if it was a zero-sum game. When the government was scaled down and withdrew from its wide ranging socio-economic obligations, an enormous vacuum was created that was filled with different forms of civil society permutations spurred by Mongolia’s growing political liberalization. Besides the international donor community,there are numerous religious and philanthropic associations operating in Mongolia. These include movements related to environmentalism, feminism, alternative lifestyle, minority rights movements, LGBT activism and many other forms of ‘lifestyle politics’. This new form of political activism has been hailed as a symptom of a novel, ‘post materialist’ world (Giddens, 1994), no more occupied with questions of the distribution of wealth.

It is commonly believed that of the 44,000 registered Civil Society Organizations (CSO) in Mongolia, about 2000-4000 of them are more or less active. Yet, the availability of numerous civil society organizations often precludes policy and advocacy stratification. What happens in practice is that no single CSO is powerful or vocal enough to attract an adequate response from the general publicor the government. Ottaway’s (2000) take on CSOs describes Mongolia’s current situation better than I could. In her view “many CSOs act as trustees rather than genuine representatives of the constituencies on whosebehalf they lobby, and therefore, it is not clear that they have very strong roots in society.” The result is a weak civil society that is largely dependent on international organizations for assistance with operations and finances and/or on different vested interests. This is the structural reason for very low levels of actual political participation in Mongolia. This feature of Mongolian politics distinguishes it from many developed countries where civil society organizations, such as trade and labor unions have become mediators between political parties and working-class voters. Absence of effective mechanisms to articulate and represent people’s interests has made ordinary voters prone to populist politicians and parties. Mongolian civil society leader Undarya (2013) summarizes the state of the field perfectly:

“… at the threshold of anew decade wrought with risks as well as opportunities due to the mining boom, the field [civil society] is not adequately equipped to play the crucial role it needs to play – toempower citizens and communities to stand up against corruption and humanrights violations, to hold government and private sector accountable and chart amore equitable course of development. To play this role that only civil society canplay, consistent policy measures are needed to strengthen the field.

 

People’s Anti-Offshore Committee or Ard Tumnii Onts Zövlöl’s (ATOZ):

Figure 1: Mandate for entry.

 

From September 2017 to February 2018, I visited several meetings and forums organized by ATOZ, a large movement that advocates bringing embezzled money from offshore accounts. From the outset, I became convinced that people participating in these events are casualties of various social, political and economic processes which, over time, have been internalized and reproduced in a very defeatist form of dissent – deep anger towards elites, democracy, and anything in between. The general feeling of being left out of what “was theirs” and what “was promised” rendered these discussions very inefficient from an advocacy and political stand point.

 

Figure 2: “One of my brothers is quite active in this petty ATOZ movement. But he doesn’t know term “offshore” and instead calls it “ovt shaar.”

 

What was clear was that these movements had very little resemblance to the ones lauded or ridiculed on social media. There have been several different waves of perception concerning these types of movements. The rise of environmental NGOS’s and movements that opposed proliferation of mining activities throughout the country, was often labeled as a rise of “slackers” and “racketeers”. The famous publicist Baabar went as far as describing them as “600 шантаажчин” or “600 racketeers.”

 

Figure 3: “ATOZ is the last chance to save our people!”

 

Another trend is to describe the people engaged in these activities as types of saviors and imbue them with responsibilities far exceeding their true potential. Since political parties do not represent Mongolian citizens interests and do not  allow people a platform to air grievances, these movements give a sense of hope that non-systemic movement could garner enough support to influence decision-makers or even contest an election.

 

Figure 4: A delegate is presenting and reading a poem.

 

The second main point that I observed was the division between ATOZ members into groups according to different potential strategies. One group was quite hesitant to approach politicians and was clearly suspicious of any type of “ulstorjilt” or doing politics. This group organized its meeting in a large hall that is owned by National Labor Union. Delegates from many aimags /provinces/ districts were allowed to present at the main podium along with main speakers. In between these speeches, singers performed and pledged their support for the cause. In order to speak on the podium people wrote their names on the queue spreadsheet paper and presented in that order. The time allotted to them was on average longer than at any meeting or gathering that I have attended in recent memory. Many participants delivered energetic and fiery speeches that concerned structural problems affecting Mongolian society as opposed to concentrating on specific issues such as offshore practices.

 

Figure 5: Tax specialist from Switzerland is presenting.

 

The other group’s meeting was held two weeks later at another hall that was rented. This group was explicitly working with the current president Kh.Battulga and his administration on the issue of offshore money. At the event I attended, two tax professionals who were invited from Switzerland through President’s Secretariat gave very technical presentations. The general impression was that a set of technocratic steps could be a way to fight tax evasion through offshore schemes. The audience was allowed to ask questions only after all the presentations were done and very little time was left. One person summed up the lingering feeling that was left at the end of the meeting, this is “politics as usual, where knowledable people come in, preach something and leave without trace.”

 

Figure 6: “Lets save our state from traitors [offshore account holders] and release our people from MANAN [MANAN or cloud refers to dominant two political parties stranglehold on Mongolian politics] bondage.”

Two overarching themes dominated both of these events: skepticism about foreign/hybrid interests, which was perceived primarily as a reason for the loss of national identity and sovereignty; and skepticism about politics, elites and democracy as well as about politicians embodying these processes, who are increasingly believed to only protect their own interests. Skepticism about loss of national identity and national independence arises from two interrelated suspicions. The first suspicion concerns the suspected widespread influence of foreign interests, be they government sponsored or corporate and the hypothetical infiltration of Mongolian society and politics in particular, by hybrids. The second suspicion was underlined through very colorful comment by one of the presenters at the ATOZ meetings. According to him: the “Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) and the Democratic Party(DP) are both skeletons and I am proud that I denounced my membership years ago. Glue, wood and a horn make up a bow.  Thieves, bandits, and prostititues make up [modern political] parties.” These suspicions have been frequently used by different political parties at an increasing rate that consequently reinforces latently held beliefs and worries by repudiating claims of politicians in vicious negative feedback spirals. These trends found its clearest manifestation during the 2017 Presidential elections and are likely to persist in future.

 

Figure 7: Discussion during the interval.

However, a parallel theme that I was able to observe as I was participating in ATOZ meetings and demonstrations was that sense of many disengaged or disenfranchised people finding solace and community with one another. People were donating substantial amounts money [by their standards] to the cause and participating with great vigor and energy. A lady from Khovsgol province in North-Central Mongolia even volunteered to work as a secretary if ATOZ set-up an office in Ulaanbaatar. What was even more evident was people’s desire to understand and/or modify complex socio-economic terms built around a technocratic discourse. One delegate from a western province came up with an ingenious idea. According to him, “changing the term off-shore to “ovt shaar”” [cunny bastard] would “make it more relatable” since any person who owns an off-shore account is by definition a thief and bastard. Taking these different aspects of the movements into consideration begs the question – is it possible to attribute these movements and their underlying reasoning to only material or political motives? What if these movements play parallel functions and acquire their own life with a different internal logic? From this point emphasizing non-strategic aspects of protest, such as its discursive potential and subjectivities of different actors, certainly complicates the idea of rational social movements. They direct us to pay more attention to the varied aspects of the action framework of these movements.

 

References

Giddens, A. (1994). Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Ottaway, M. (2000). Funding Virtue: Civil Society Aid and Democracy Promotion. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.