Mongolian Disco

Sven Zellner


MONGOLIAN DISCO. A rush for natural resources like coal and gold has filled pockets in Mongolia, one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. But the country is also facing rising inequalities.

A city in transformation. Genghis Khan, 800 years of nomadic culture, a country four times the size of Germany with less than three million inhabitants, a boom in the mining industry and a capital city growing in leaps and bounds – all this is Mongolia. Soon half the population will be living in Ulan Bator and I find this extreme development hard to comprehend. The evolution from a nomadic to an urban society has happened at incredible speed: in only a dacade cars have increased threefold, the number of inhabitants from 700,000 to 1.2 million, with the worst recorded levels of city pollution anywhere, and sky scrapers springing up christened with names like Central Tower and Blue Sky Tower.

As a result of the boom in natural resources, a new class of super-rich has emerged, similar to the oligarchs in Russia, but with the significant difference that Mongolia’s super rich prefer to remain in the background. During the extremely harsh winter of 2010, nearly one-quarter of all farm animals died and the price of meat doubled. In the city, all prices are on the rise. The loss of green pastures as a result of the tough winters, coupled with the shortage of water caused by mining, have forced many nomads to migrate to the capital with two-thirds of the population living on the outskirts in massive yurt districts. Countless coal-burning stoves pollute the air, representing an enormous health hazard, and the gap between rich and poor is growing, the numbers of homeless people increasing, and unemployment is high.

Rich and famous. Kyokushuzan Noboru was born as Davaagiin Batbayar in Mongolia. He lived in Japan for seventeen years working as a professional Sumo wrestler. He was the first Mongol to make it into the Sumo Makuuchi division, which made him rich and famous in Japan. He chose not to accept Japanese nationality, returning to Mongolia in 2006 after his Sumo wrestling career was over. He is a Democratic politician and was a member of Parliament till 2012. Batbayar explains that there is no middle class in Mongolia and that the gap between the rich and the poor is constantly increasing. According to Batbayar, Mongols have to learn that team work is essential for success. In addition, the country needs innovation from abroad. To finish, we ask him what is an Er Hun’s understanding of manhood. The question makes people laugh. Batbayer is serious. “I am the best answer to that question. I earned self-confidence through sumo wrestling, because it forced me to measure my strength against other men. I have lived like a Khan and have achieved everything through my own effort. I started out as a cleaner and had nothing. For that reason I also believe that my country will get ahead.”

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