Sunday, April 5, 2009

National Museum and Presidential Politics

My wife and I went to the National Museum this weekend in search of a new display which contains artifacts discovered in Khotont Soum in Arkhangai Aimag. Khotont is where I spent my Peace Corps days, and I had numerous opportunities while living there to hike through areas with Turkish era monuments and artifacts. Our visit to the museum was a sort of expression of local pride. The soum is right on the southern edge of the Orkhon Valley, and in recent years more and more archaeologists have begun venturing into the soum looking for more evidence to understand the intricacies of life on the steppe in the first millennium. Alas, we did not find the display, but we did find that the museum has undergone significant changes over the last year.

Many of the display halls have been renovated and display cases for the most part are very nicely arranged. I have always been a fan of the national costume hall, and I was pleased to see that it had been renovated and, in fact, the museum is adding more costumes to the display cases. But, among the many changes, the most interesting change was the 20th Century History hall which was the last display area before exiting the museum. It has transformed into the Democratic and Free Market Transition hall with displays of protests in the early 1990s, economic and social changes throughout the last two decades, and commemoration of individuals who took part in bringing about the change. Throughout the hall there were speakers pumping in sounds of speeches at rallies, the noises of crowds, and, of course, the national anthem.

I asked the museum worker when the hall was changed. She indicated that the Democratic Party or Democratic Union (she wasn't sure who) gave money for the renovation a few years ago. It must have occurred recently, though, because my last visit to the museum in June 2008 still had the old display cases. I thought the hall was a great improvement over the previous hall, and it included some really interesting information like a satellite image of Ulaanbaatar with marks indicating where underground pro-democracy youth movements operated in the 80s and the official declarations for acquiring personal passports under the law of the Mongolian People's Republic and present day democratic Mongolia.

This weekend was the start of the presidential campaign season in Mongolia, and it was somewhat fitting to make the "discovery" of the new hall at the museum this very weekend. The presidential race will be a rematch of the 2005 race. There might be a lot to be cynical about with that fact. However, the museum did remind me, at least, that a lot of pride remains in Mongolia about the county's history and future. These are not easy choices to make and these are not easy times in Mongolia (if ever there were), but people in general seem to remain with an overall positive frame of mind. This belief was reaffirmed as we passed Zorig's statue after leaving the museum and we saw that someone had put a string of flowers around his neck. The ideal is alive and well in the minds of people even if the execution is sometimes flawed in reality.

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