Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lattimore Conference Web Pages

The ACMS Library has created a dedicated section of the library website to showcase information and digital materials related to the ACMS conference entitled “Owen Lattimore: the Past, Present, and Future of Inner Asian Studies.” To see these web pages please visit

Register Today – ACMS Conference

“Owen Lattimore: the Past, Present, and Future of Inner Asian Studies”
August 20-21, 2008, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The American Center for Mongolian Studies (ACMS), International Association of Mongol Studies (IAMS), and National University of Mongolia School of Foreign Service (SFS) invites members of the public to participate in a two day conference on the theme of Owen Lattimore (1900-1989), the renowned scholar of Inner Asia and China. The conference will feature keynote speeches from Lattimore’s grandson Evan on behalf of the Lattimore family and Professor Ch. Dalai, a close personal friend and colleague of Owen Lattimore during the opening day’s lunch.

The conference will also feature presentations of academic papers, an exhibit of Lattimore’s work, and two special film presentations about life in Mongolia in the 1970s.

More information about the conference is available at Participation is open and free to the public; however, participants must register by August 15th, 2008 by sending an e-mail to, visiting the ACMS at National University of Mongolia Building No. 5 Room 304, or calling the ACMS at 11-350-486.

Mongolian Statistical Yearbook

As a superb example of information about Mongolia being available but not practically accessible, one of our interns this summer has come across the URL for an electronic version of the Mongolian Statistical Yearbook at the National Statistics Office. You'll note that the URL has no domain name but rather an IP address. It has not been indexed by Google, so although the document is on the Web, you have to know where it is to find and use it. Makes me wonder how many other useful documents are just floating out there at http://randomIPaddress/?

Check out the yearbook at

Thursday, July 24, 2008

E-Government Portal

Yesterday I heard about an e-government portal on the web designed for the Mongolian government. Although it is live, the developers and the Mongolian government have not begun advertising it widely yet. It has Mongolian and English interfaces. It is nicely designed, but I have not had a chance to see if it also contains useful content. Have a look for yourself at

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Headless State by David Sneath

In April David Sneath of the Inner Asian Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge gave a lecture at the ACMS that drew from his then forthcoming book "The Headless State: Aristocratic Orders, Kinship Society, and Misrepresentations of Nomadic Inner Asia" (Columbia University Press). Over the Naadam holiday I had an opportunity to read the book.

This is hardly an academic review of the book, but rather one lay person's impression of the work. Overall I was quite intrigued by the main argument Dr. Sneath builds throughout the book supported by evidence in many instances that debunks what he considers long held but inaccurate interpretations of society
at the aggregate levels of community or within distinguishable polities in Inner Asia. The traditional Anthropological descriptions of Inner Asian Society, according to Dr. Sneath, have been used to support theoretical models which describe "pre-state" polities as clan or kin based tribal systems.

Within these models, the tribal society creeps towards non-kin based forms of administrative organization that is indicative of the modern state. These are theories of political evolution in which tribal society is an inferior precursor to the more evolved and resilient nation state. As a consequence, the historical interpretations of societies in Inner Asia have often been framed in terms of underdevelopment and approaching but ultimately receding from being a state-like entity back towards an ideal form of nomadic and pastoral society which is suited for the harsh environment of the steppe. These models, however outmoded or possibility discredited in certain areas of social science, seem to continue to find their way into historical and popular understanding of Inner Asian society. What Dr. Sneath argues, convincingly to me, is that the political and social order on the steppe has and continues to be far more complex than the perennial perception of egalitarian nomads living freely and rather haphazardly on the plains, only occasionally organizing themselves under a charismatic leader into a state-like entity of marauding hordes.

The book is interesting on many levels, but one of the points that resonated with me was his description of the Great Mongol Empire not as a singularly unique event or a revolution on the steppe under the charismatic leadership of Chinggis Khaan, but rather as an exceptional form of many of the administrative and state like systems in use before the Mongol Empire and even after its decline. The reason for this resonating with me was a comment a faculty member from the University of Missouri's School of Journalism made on a recent tour of sites related to the Mongol Empire. He said that the history of Inner Asia he learned in school often gave the impression that people such as Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan sprang from nowhere and after a time their empires receded back to nowhere. But, standing where Temujiin was crowned as Chinggis Khaan, the son of a great Khan himself, it became clear to this faculty member that at the very least an aristocratic order existed.

Dr. Sneath drives this very point home throughout the latter half of his book, presenting historical evidence to demonstrate that steppe society has been marked by a complex aristocratic order and political intrigue that has been generally reserved for historical treatments of Western civilizations before modern nation states formed. The evidence presented in the book points to a highly administrative social structure with fluid movement of aristocratic groups at the top of these societies. In other words, the history of Inner Asia has not been the supplanting of one tribe by another, but rather the supplanting of one aristocratic order by another with the rest of society, and more importantly the administrative structures used to control the society, remaining relatively unchanged.

Overall the book is an interesting read, and Dr. Sneath offers a compelling argument supported by historical evidence, logic, and instances of proof by contradiction with numerous points of accepted wisdom. I recommend the book if you have any interest in Mongolian history or nomadic societies.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

ACMS Digital Book Collection

The ACMS is pleased to announce its newest online digital collection: Selected Mongolian Laws and Regulations 1917-1940. The collection contains nearly 1,600 digital scans of laws and regulations written in Mongol script, and it covers an interesting array of topics from the Mongolian People's Republic constitution to regulations about harvesting pine cone seeds. The project received support from the US Department of Education TICFIA program under the Local Archives and Libraries at Overseas Research Centers (LALORC) project. To view the collection, visit

Saturday, July 5, 2008

President Gives Public Statement

President Enkhbayar gave a public statement on MNB just before the state of emergency was set to expire last night. It was a conciliatory statement aimed at appealing to people's sense of duty to do what is right for the common good of the country. He asked in a very Kennedy-esque style for people to think about how they can serve Mongolia and not how Mongolia can serve them personally in this time of crisis. He also stressed that Mongolia, especially its leaders, needs "sharp intellects" and not "sharp rocks" to solve the problems of the country. He also stated that the current government would investigate alleged irregularities in the election and work to ensure that the final results are accepted and legitimate. He called on everyone to learn how to make a fair and equitable culture at all levels of society. In general he asked that Mongolia move forward and learn from this experience.

The full transcript is on the website in Mongolian: President Enkhbayar's Statement.

State of Emergency Set to Expire

The state of emergency is set to expire this evening at 11:30pm. From the look and feel of things, however, you would think it ended Thursday morning. Since then the soldiers have been off the streets, and all the major roads have reopened. Some of the larger restaurants have remained closed because of the ban against public gatherings, and there is still a general prohibition on alcohol sales. However, other than these inconveniences the state of emergency has been a laid back affair, more reassuring than oppressive.

An article on indicated that experts have advised razing the MPRP building and constructing a new headquarters. It's strange enough to see that building gutted by fire, and I think it will be stranger still for it to be gone. I think this will have a significant psychological effect on Mongolian politics. Only time will tell whether this effect will be positive or negative.

The political fall out from the riot is just beginning, I am sure. This is in many ways like Mongolia's Hurricane Katrina. It exposed the social and economic injustice and the perennial failure of leadership in Mongolia, and it also jolted people, especially the politicians, into realizing that failed policies can have frightening indirect consequences when a perfect storm of events forms. The irony is that this election was probably the fairest and most transparent in Mongolia's democratic history, but the government has failed in its responsibilities. It is not difficult to convince some people that incompetence is an insidious form of political corruption, as opposed to an absence of leadership and vision. I am an optimist about Mongolia. It takes three steps forward for each step back, and I am confident that the vast majority of people will make the right decisions to turn this tragedy into an opportunity to take ever more steps forward.

Friday, July 4, 2008


I just came across two very different portraits in leadership. They are interviews with Democratic Party leader Elbegdorj and Democratic Party ranking member Bat-Uul. The contrast between the two is striking. One has to wonder if this contrast will have an effect on people in general. See for yourself and compare.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day Two of the State of Emergency

Last night was sort of a key test to see if the events on July 1 were an perfect storm of events not likely to occur again or just the beginning of more civil unrest to come. The night seems to have passed without event, or at least I cannot detect anything from the local and international media or my colleagues. It is raining this morning, and it does provide the redemptive mood that so many ham fisted film directors use to metaphorically tell the audience that the protagonist's soul has been cleansed.

Parliament held an emergency meeting as prescribed in the rules governing declarations of state emergencies last night. The first 10 minutes of the meeting were broadcast live on MNB, but a motion was made to close the meeting to the public. This was seconded and passed with a vote of 48 to 14, if my memory is correct. Although some international media outlets refer to MNB as "state television," it is technically a national public television station. The word state just makes it seem more ominous than it really is. The point of mentioning this is that the broadcasts from MNB so far have seemed to provide equal time to all parties, and it has not shied away from reporting on what happened on July 1. Whether they are being objectively critical, I cannot say, but they are certainly not trying to whitewash or ignore the situation.

The Election Committee announced the near final results (?) of the election yesterday. MPRP took 44 seats, the Democratic Party 27 seats, Civil Will Party 1 seat, Civil Coalition Party 1 seat, and an independent candidate 1 seat. The list of winners and their vote percentages are at By the numbers you can see that 2 seats are still not decided. I have yet to see evidence that provides a reasonable doubt that fraud was perpetrated on a mass level in the election. I keep hearing rumors from people regarding instances of fraud and some politicians are also talking about proof, but it all seems to start with "I know someone, who heard from someone, that someone..."

It is an exaggeration to say Ulaanbaatar is in lock-down. Life yesterday seemed to go about as normal, but I think people are tense and on edge. I can only speak for myself, however. It's more of the "unknown, unknowns" that Rumsfeld once referred to for me. There is really a sense of confusion about what will happen next, and there is a failure of leadership on the part of the government and the leaders of the political parties to put people at ease with reassuring actions and to quell irresponsible rumor mongering. This may be to due to the fact that even they are confused about what is going on and the extent of the unknown, unknowns the country faces. Although it sounds terrible, the state of emergency declaration was a good move on the part of the President, and I hope that he continues to show leadership by lifting the emergency in the next 48 hours after everyone has had a chance to calm down and gain some much needed perspective. The party leaders also need to work towards some sort of reconciliation within the law. I am hopeful this will occur, because I think the vast majority of people (including the politicians), regardless of who they want to place the blame on, were horrified by what occurred. It was completely antithetical to the way most people solve disputes.

Hopefully this will be one of my last entries on this topic, and I can return to informing you about library furniture and conferences.

What is Really Going On?

After reading some of the latest international news regarding the rioting yesterday evening, I am actually surprised by some of the distance between the words of the stories and the reality of the streets. The most striking thing to note is the number of people who were supposedly protesting. It appeared to me from the television feed of the event that at most several hundred people were actually protesting and ultimately turned to acts of vandalism. The vast majority of people appeared to be bystanders who had come out to watch a truly unprecedented event in Mongolia's democratic history. I have seen estimates of 8,000 to 20,000 protesters out in the streets, but that just seems absurd to me based on what I saw. But, then again, I was watching from the television, and I could not hear what every person in the crowd was saying. So, as with all things in Mongolia, where accurate information is concerned, people may argue for years about who was doing what and where the blame lies.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Photos of the Day After

The streets of Ulaanbaatar are quiet, but the fact that armored personnel carriers with soldiers armed with AK-47s are standing at major intersections around the center of town reminds one that something terrible happened here last night. At least one rumor I have seen in print can be debunked. The rioters did not set fires on Sukhbaatar Square or anywhere near the Chinggis Khaan monument, or least this morning there was no evidence of this. The Cultural Palace is indeed gutted, and the losses at the National Gallery and the philharmonic are allegedly significant.

The pictures below show some of the damage caused by the rioters. The MPRP building and the Cultural Palace can be seen burnt in one of the pictures, and there are several vehicles burned out as well.

Cultural Palace and Art Gallery Destruction

The Cultural Palace and National Art Gallery were set ablaze in addition to the MPRP headquarters. Numerous important works were damaged. However, students from the National University of Mongolia Art School and other individuals apparently rescued several works of art from the flames. [source:]

More Reports

The latest report from the General Police Agency Communications center is that over 400 officers and other personnel were injured in the riots. About 90 people from that were also injured enough to receive medical attention. Eleven officers were in serious condition. [source:]

Also according the BBC the riots spread to the Cultural Palace, National Art Gallery, and Opera Theatre.

It appears the damage is more extensive than what I could originally see on television. President Enkhbayar has declared a state of emergency for the next four days within the Baga Toiruu (Little Ring Road) and a curfew of 10pm to 8am. More of the presidential decree at

The Morning After

Even during a period of national crisis it seems the television news agencies do not deviate from their usual late morning start. About 7:30am MNB began broadcasting again about the situation. All is calm around the MPRP building, but it does appear 3 people died. The identities of the decreased were not clear to me.

The building itself was completely gutted by fire, and around the building lay burnt out vehicles and spent bonfires. Prime Minister Bayar appeared at one of the hospitals that was treating some of the more serious injuries around 5:00am this morning. The doctors seemed a bit overwhelmed.

Now the clean up begins. Several high level government meetings are planned over the next several days to discuss how to move forward. At this point outside the epicenter life in Ulaanbaatar is moving forward as usual.

International Coverage of the Situation

International coverage of the situation in Ulaabaatar is not in depth, but overall it appears fairly accurate based on what I have seen. BBC News is the only news agency to exaggerate the number of protesters, putting the number into the thousands. To be sure, more than a thousand people were standing around watching the events unfold, but I would put the number of actual "protesters" participating in the chaos at no more than several hundred. The vast majority of people appeared to be just watching, and there were no examples that I could see of the violence being directed at anything but the police and the MPRP building, which is bad enough in itself, but thankfully not so chaotic that innocent bystanders were also victims of the violence. Whether they may have been victims of rubber bullets or tear gas fired by the police is another story, of course. Eagle Television did show one teenage boy and an elderly man who had been hit in the head and neck, respectively, by rubber bullets, but the circumstances of them being hit were not clear.

Protest Turns Into a Riot

It has been a tense evening in Ulaanbaatar. A protest that began around 1:30pm this afternoon in front of the MPRP (ruling party) party headquarters descended into chaos by early evening. Currently it is 11:54pm and the MPRP building is almost completely engulfed in flames and smoke, and according to the live news feed of the scene the police have quit the area. It appears from the images on television that at most about 200 people are ransacking the building and otherwise participating in a unfettered demonstration of violence and vandalism. All the activity this evening has been focused on the MPRP Building.

What I have seen is a bit too amazing to believe. The protesters and police had pitched confrontations which included rubber bullets fired from shotguns and automatic rifles, tear gas, and batons. These had only temporary effects on the situation, and the protesters were able on several occasions to regroup and recharge the police, causing them to retreat to defensive positions. I actually saw just as many police officers throwing stones at the protesters as the protesters themselves due to the fact that the vast majority appeared under equipped. The saddest example of this was the fire hoses the police were using to disperse the crowd which had the water pressure of lawn sprinklers.

Eagle Broadcasting Company provided a live feed for the entire event from the roof of the Democratic Party headquarters which was just West of the scene. Although every channel showed at least some footage of what was going on. At one point the area appeared to have up to several thousand people, but only about 100 or less were actually committing acts of violence and vandalism.

The Director of the Communications Center for the General Police Agency reported about an hour ago that approximately 45 people had been injured and a couple dozen police officers. So far, thankfully, there have been no reported deaths.

President Enkhbayar called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, which included other major party leaders who participated in the elections, to discuss the situation. It was broadcast on television, and it did not appear to produce a resolution but rather served as a venue to air further grievances about the fairness of the election. The government looked hopelessly unprepared to handle the situation.

In addition to the MPRP building several cars in the parking lot were also set ablaze. At one point the protesters commandeered a tractor and drove it at the police, causing them to once again retreat. Later in the evening the tractor shovel was used to hold a large mass of burning material, and the protesters drove it around the parking lot while dancing on the tractor frame and body. Complete chaos could describe the scene within the protesters, yet hundreds, maybe thousands, more bystanders looked on like they were watching a theatrical performance. It looked like contained, and one might say almost restrained chaos. People were not dragged about and beaten. The vandalism appeared to not spread to other buildings near by.

The news reported that the majority of people that were arrested before the police quit the area were intoxicated. I heard other information that the violence and vandalism was kicked off by bystanders egging drunk protesters on to escalate the situation. From the images on the live feed, it appeared that many were drunk based on their behavior and body movements. There were numerous signs of looting from the businesses that rent space on the first floor of the MPRP building, and I even saw a situation in which young hoodlums told a television cameraman to shut off his camera while they looted an office.

It appears that everything is contained (voluntarily on the part of the vandals) around the MPRP building with no wider movement through the city. It remains to be seen what this city is going to be like in the morning. The MPRP building is completely destroyed, so it certainly will not be the same city, or country for that matter.