Der Zuschauer

A Journal of Essays and Reportage on Drama, History, and Literature

Grabbe, Here

with 5 comments

We provide an extract of Aleksander Wat on Monogolia.

“So, in Moscow, in 1942 I was in prison with the commissioner from the Ministry of Health in Monogolia…What does that mean? It turns out that collective farms were not introduced in Monogolia, and they didn’t touch the majority of the monasteries, and they left the old Monogolian customs alone, they were so old. There were ministries, and the ministers were Mongolians. And in every ministry there was a security commissioner with his own secret office. The Mongolian minister had a limousine, a villa, servants, and girls, and, besides that, as a doctor my friend the commissioner would supply him with hashish or opium…They had orgies…in the NKVD building, he and those NKVD people…At that time no one was permitted to travel to Monogolia, but a group of French communists…arrived there. They took a picuure of a cemetery where dogs were ripping apart the corpses that hadn’t been buried deeply enough out of sheer slovenliness. The ground was stony. The delegation…returned to Moscow with that photograph, and there was a scandal…And that was a People’s Democracy. Without collective farms, where the customs and the religion had been preserved. And so I thought Poland would be a sort of Western European Mongolia.” 114/115

From Aleksander Wat’s My Century: The Odyssey of a Polish Intellectual. Edited and translated by Richard Lourie. New York: New York Review Books, 1988.

We also would like to present the following information in regard to our ongoing investigation as to whether Leon Trotsky ended up in Ulan Blator during the war years.

Mongolia (pronounced /mɒŋˈɡoʊliə/; Mongolian: Монгол улс (help·info),) is a landlocked country in East-Central Asia. It borders Russia to the north and China to the south. Ulan Bator, the capital and largest city, is home to about 38% of the population. Mongolia’s political system is a parliamentary republic.

At 1,564,116 square kilometres, Mongolia is the nineteenth largest, and the most sparsely populated independent country in the world with a population of around 2.9 million people. It is also the world’s second-largest landlocked country after Kazakhstan. The country contains very little arable land, as much of its area is covered by arid and unproductive steppes, with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south. Approximately thirty percent of the country’s 2.9 million people are nomadic or semi-nomadic. The predominant religion in Mongolia is Tibetan Buddhism, and the majority of the state’s citizens are of the Mongol ethnicity, though Kazakhs, Tuvans, and other minorities also live in the country, especially in the west.


With the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Mongolia declared independence in 1911. The new country’s territory was approximately that of the former Outer Mongolia. To no avail the 49 hoshuns of Inner Mongolia as well as the Mongolians of the Alashan and Qinghai regions expressed their willingness to join the nascent state. In 1919, after the October Revolution in Russia, Chinese troops led by Xu Shuzheng occupied the capital but their dominance was short-lived. The notorious Russian adventurer “Bloody” Baron Ungern who had fought with the “Whites” against the Red Army in Siberia, led his troops into Mongolia, triumphing over Chinese in Niislel Khüree. He ruled briefly, under the blessing of religious leader Bogd Khan before he was captured and executed by the Red Army assisted by Mongolian units led by Damdin Sükhbaatar. These events led to abolition of the feudal system and ensured the country’s political alignment with Bolshevik Russia.

Mongolian People’s Republic

In 1924, after the death of the religious leader and king Bogd Khan, a Mongolian People’s Republic was proclaimed with support from the Soviets.

In 1928, Khorloogiin Choibalsan rose to power. He instituted collectivisation of livestock, the destruction of Buddhist monasteries and the Mongolia’s enemies of the people persecution resulting in the murder of monks and other people. The Stalinist purges beginning in 1937, affected the Republic as it left more than 30,000 people dead. Japanese imperialism became even more alarming after the invasion of neighboring Manchuria in 1931. During the Soviet-Japanese Border War of 1939, the USSR successfully defended Mongolia against Japanese expansionism. In August 1945 Mongolian forces also took part in the Soviet offensive in Inner Mongolia . The Soviet threat of seizing parts of Inner Mongolia induced the Republic of China to recognize Outer Mongolia’s independence, provided that a referendum was held. The referendum took place on October 20, 1945, with (according to official numbers) 100% of the electorate voting for independence. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, both countries recognized each other again on October 6, 1949.

In January 26, 1952, Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal took power. In 1956 and again in 1962, Choibalsan’s personality cult was condemned. Mongolia continued to align itself closely with the Soviet Union, especially after the Sino-Soviet split of the late 1950s. While Tsedenbal was visiting Moscow in August 1984, his severe illness prompted the parliament to announce his retirement and replace him with Jambyn Batmönkh.

Culture of Mongolia

Mongolian Culture has been heavily influenced by the Mongol nomadic way of life. Other important influences are from Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, and from China. In the 20th century, Russian and, via Russia, European culture have had a strong effect on Mongolia. Not only Genghis Khan but also the nomadic peoples have had an influence on Mongolian fine arts.

Traditional values

Among the topics that are mentioned from the oldest works of Mongolian literature to modern soft pop songs are love for parents and homesickness, a longing for the place where one grew up. Horses have always played an important role in daily life as well as in the arts. Hospitality is so important in the steppes that it is traditionally taken for granted. Mongolians have an affinity for heroes, and the Mongolian word for hero, baatar, appears frequently in personal names, and even in the name of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar.


Ger is the Mongolian word for yurt, and yurts are part of the Mongolian national identity. The Secret History of the Mongols mentions Genghis Khan as the leader of all peoples who live in felt tents, and even today a large share of Mongolia’s population lives in yurts, even in Ulaan Bator. In Mongolian, ger also means home, and a number of other words are derived from this word stem. For example, gerlekh means to marry.


In the 17th century, Tibetan Buddhism, or lamaism, became the dominant religion in Mongolia. Traditional Shamanism was, except in some remote regions, suppressed and marginalized. On the other hand, a number of shamanic practices, like ovoo worshiping, were incorporated into lamaist liturgy. Lamaism has often been accused of low morality and held responsible for being the main cause for Mongolia’s backwardness by outside observers in the late 19th/ early 20th century, on the other hand the role of the Buddhist church was generally unquestioned by the Mongolian population.

Tibetan Buddhism is a ritualistic religion with a large number of gods and goddesses. This inspired the creation of religious objects including images in painting and sculptures.

After the Stalinist purges in the 1930s, both Tibetan Buddhism and shamanism were virtually outlawed in the Mongolian People’s Republic. In Inner Mongolia, traditional religion was heavily affected by the Cultural Revolution. Since the 1990s, a number of Christian sects are trying to gain a foothold in Mongolia. There are also about 4% Muslim Mongolians.

Customs and Superstitions

Mongolians traditionally were afraid of misfortunes and believe in a variety of good and bad omens. Misfortune might be attracted by talking about negative things, or by persons that are often talked about. They might also be sent by some malicious shaman or enraged by breaking some taboo, like stepping on a yurt’s threshold, desecrating waters or mountains, etc. The most endangered family members were children, and that’s why they would sometimes be given non-names like Nergui (Mongolian: without name) or Enebish (Mongolian: not this one), or boys would be dressed up as girls. Before going out at night, young children’s foreheads are sometimes painted with charcoal or soot in order to deceive evil spirits that this is not a child but a rabbit with black hair on the forehead.

When passing ovoos on a journey, they are often circumvented, and some sweets or the like are sacrificed, in order to have a further safe trip. Certain ovoos, especially those on high mountains, are also sacrificed to in order to obtain good weather, ward off misfortune and the like.

For a child, the first big celebration is the first haircut, usually at an age between three and five. Birthdays were not celebrated in the old times, but these days, birthday parties are popular. Wedding ceremonies traditionally include the hand-over of a new ger to the marrying couple. Deceased relatives were usually put to rest in the open, where the corpses would be eaten by animals and birds. Nowadays, corpses are usually buried.


The most important public festivals are the Naadams (Mongolian: games). The biggest one is held each year on July 11th-13th in Ulaanbaatar, but there are also smaller ones on aimag and sum levels. A naadam involves horse races, wrestling, and archery competitions.

For families, the most important festival is Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian: white month or white moon), which is roughly equivalent to Chinese New Year and usually falls into January or February. Family members and friends visit each other, exchange presents – very popular presents for all opportunities are khadags – and eat huge quantities of buuz.


The oldest completely passed down work of Mongolian literature is probably also the most well-known abroad: The Secret History of the Mongols. It does, however, contain passages of older poetry. Otherwise, few examples of Mongolian literature from the time of the Mongol empire have come down in written form: fragments of a song about the mother and the area where one grew up were found in a soldier’s grave at the Volga river in 1930, 25 manuscript and block print fragments were found in Turfan in 1902/03, Pyotr Kozlov brought some fragments from Khara-Khoto in 1909.

Other pieces of literature have long been orally traded and typically consist of alliterative verses. They include the proverbs attributed to Genghis Khan, and the epics around the Khan’s life, or the one about his two white horses. Other well-known epics deal with Geser Khan. Famous Oirad epics are Jangar, History of the four Oirad’s Victory over the Mongols, Khan Kharangui, Bum Erdene, etc.

Beginning from the 17th century, a number of chronicles have been preserved. They also contain long alliterative passages. Notable examples are the Altan Tovch by Luvsandanzan and another anonymous work of the same title, Sagang Sechen’s Erdeniin Tovch, Lomi’s History of the Borjigin clan (Mongol Borjigin ovgiin tüükh), and many more.

Already at the time of the Mongol empire, samples of Buddhist and Indian literature became known in Mongolia. Another wave of translations of Indian/Tibetan texts came with Mongolia’s conversion to Tibetan Buddhism in the late 16th/ early 17th centuries. Beginning in the 1650s, copies of religious texts like the Kanjur and Tanjur and also of epics like Geser Khan began to be appear as block prints. These prints were mainly produced in Beijing, but also in some Mongolian monasteries.

In Mongolia’s time under the Qing dynasty, a number of Chinese novels were translated into Mongolian. At the same time, social discontent and an awakening Mongol nationalism lead to the creation of critical works like Injanash’s historical novel Blue Chronicle or the stories about “Crazy” Shagdar.

Beginning with the works of Tseveen Jamsrano and other Buryats in the 1910s, many important works of Russian and European literature, or at least those that were not politically incorrect, were translated into Mongolian in the 20th century.

Religious theatre plays about the Tibetan hermit Milarepa were already performed in the 18th and 19th centuries. The oldest Mongolian drama known today, “Moon cuckoo” (Saran khökhöö) was created by Danzanravjaa around 1831. The play got lost in the early 20th century, but in the meantime other theatre groups had developed. The first professional Mongolian theatre was founded in Ulaanbaatar in 1930. In the socialist period, every aimag got its own theatre. Since the 1990s, a number of small privately owned theatre companies, like Mask or Shine üe prodakshn have been founded. They heavily focus on light comedies and skits, and also regularly produce clips that are distributed on DVD or the internet.


Mongolia has a very old musical tradition. Key traditional elements are throat-singing, the Morin Khuur (horse head fiddle) and other string instruments, and several types of songs. Mongolian melodies are typically characterized by pentatonic harmonies and long end notes.

In the 20th century, western style classical music has been introduced, and mixed with traditional elements by some composers. Later on the full palette of Pop and Rock music has also been adopted by younger musicians.


In socialist times, movies were treated as a propaganda instrument by the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party. The first topics were popular legends and revolutionary heroes like in Sükhbaatar. In the 1950s, the focus shifted to working class heroes, as in New Year. The 1970s saw many documentaries and everyday life stories as in The Clear Tamir.

After democratisation, filmmakers turned to international partners for support, as in the Japanese-Mongolian co-production Genghis Khan. Independent directors like Dorjkhandyn Turmunkh, and Byambasuren Davaa created movies that connected ancient traditions and mythology, and how they may relate to life in a modern world. Byambasuren’s The Story of the Weeping Camel was nominated for an Academy Award as foreign documentary in 2005.


Popular board games are chess, and checkers. The chess figures are noyon (noble) = king, bers (cp. bars “tiger”) = queen, temee (camel) = bishop, mori (horse) = knight, tereg (cart) = castle, khüü (boy) = pawn. The rules are (nowadays) the same as in European chess. Domino is also quite widespread. Indigenous card games existed in the 19th century,but are now lost.

Sheep anklebones, or Shagai, are used in a number of different games, as dice, or as token. “Rock, Paper, Scissors”- and Morra-like games are also played. Wood knots and disentanglement puzzles have traditionally been popular.

Written by herrdramaturg

June 14, 2008 at 8:17 am

5 Responses

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  1. When I paint I wear no clothes. I would eat any of these sluts out. I work at Bloc Eleven.

    Lori Pasco

    June 19, 2009 at 6:24 am

  2. She said she bopped. Well, I do to.

    Sally Campbell

    June 19, 2009 at 6:27 am

  3. Well, we’ve all laid our shameless asses out on a sofa and had a few; how about writing a novel?

    Becky Thatcher

    June 19, 2009 at 6:30 am

  4. Nice spread; they didn’t call me Downtown for nothing.


    June 19, 2009 at 6:32 am

  5. I, well, hell, call me slut.

    Sweaty Betty

    June 19, 2009 at 6:36 am

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