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07.21.08 Mongolian Riots, a MIIS Perspective

Ever wonder how Monterey Institute students spend the dog days of summer??? Some by studying their languages at Middlebury College, others by interning in Monterey or Washington D.C. or Istanbul or Berlin…even Mongolia! Earlier this month, GSIPS student Molly Ammons was caught amidst the “state of emergency” declared in Mongolia. Like other MIIS students before Molly, her internship – which focuses on implementing Mongolia’s Millennium Development Goals – took her to the front lines of a political crisis. While busily completing this internship, Molly’s also conducting research on North Korean refugees and migration within Mongolia.          

Keep reading for Molly’s firsthand perspective of the Mongolian political riots:

Last night at midnight I answered a frantic call from my Mongolian co-worker. “Absolutely do not leave your apartment. Don’t come to work tomorrow morning. Don’t leave your house at all until I call to say it’s okay. Call your friends to let them know that it’s not safe for anyone to be on the streets.”

Early yesterday evening, as I blissfully hiked in the sun-soaked hills outside of Ulaanbaatar, peaceful post-election protests turned violent. Just two blocks from my apartment opposers of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party shot explosives into MPRP headquarters with Mongolia’s Prime Minister inside. He escaped unharmed, though looters, arsonists and vandals succeeded in causing mass chaos in the downtown area. Gangs of young men lit cars on fire in front of the parliament building in Suhkbatar Square, broke into the National Art Gallery and damaged works, and raided downtown shops. Early morning news reports confirmed three people dead in the violence. Over 60 others, including foreign journalists, have been injured. President Enkhbayar has declared a four day state of emergency and curfew.

The protests began as a reaction to the alleged vote rigging by the MPRP party heads. Official first counts awarded MPRP 41 of the available 76 parliamentary seats, which minority parties say is a sham. They state defiantly that election results have been manipulated. The Democratic Party and other minority parties are up in arms. Gold, copper, zinc, iron and uranium mining will gross billions of dollars in Mongolia in the next ten years. These parties are desperate to secure power positions in determining the spread of wealth.

I walked to work after my coworker called mid-morning to let us know it’s safe to be out in daylight. The streets are unusually quiet. Most foreign embassies and all UN employees were told to stay home from work today. The senior department head of the Mongolian Academy of Science, a fellow Russian speaker, just stopped by my desk to chat.

“There must be,” he said, “equal levels of order, adherence to law, and human rights in Mongolia. Right now, we have none of these.” The violent masses, he said, were victims of poverty gaps. Left behind after business privatization, they rise up now not because of political ideology, but because they are poor and angry. This 30% of the population lives in an extremely rich nation but will likely never enjoy a share of the wealth.

I’m beginning to think that the state of emergency is not just in Ulaanbaatar, but anywhere poverty and hopelessness are left unchecked.

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