Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Post-Election Riot One Year On

Things have been so hectic at the center lately that July 1 came and went without me taking notice of any events to remember the post-election riot last summer. I've seen a few articles in the newspaper examining the effect of the riot on the political landscape in Mongolia over the last year, but I missed the official or unofficial events organized to mark the day. A straw hat poll of different people around the office and at a reception Thursday evening indicated that I didn't miss much. Surprising, really, that someone didn't organize an ceremony to mark the day. That said, I don't sense a top-down conspiracy to suppress the memory of July 1, 2008 but rather a collective desire to let bad things remain in the past.

This was driven home by a colleague who said, "It wasn't that big of a deal." I definitely disagreed, and I reminded him that the mood in the city last summer was one that was decidedly dark; that is, until Tuvshinbayar won Mongolia's first gold medal in the Olympics. That moment was a moment of redemption, which was typified by the scene on the steps of parliament when political enemies Prime Minister Bayar (MPRP) and then MP Elbegdorj (DP) stood hand-in-hand above their heads intoxicated letting loose primal screams to the crowd in the square. Clearly the city and the country was in need of a catharsis. It was a big deal--the riot. The collective amnesia in this regard is something I find understandable and yet puzzling at the same time.

It is understandable, because leaving the past in the past is a desire most of us have when bad things happen. What is puzzling is that there doesn't seem to be a politician or a political group that feels the exact opposite. I have heard that families of the victims killed the evening of July 1 are petitioning to have a memorial erected in the park in front of the old MPRP building, possibly on the very spot Lenin's statue currently stands. But, this apparently has not gained momentum or a broad base of support. In a purportedly polarized political system, though, it is baffling, in a sense, that political leaders have not taken this issue up as political bludgeon against rivals. The event has enough fodder for both sides to use to their advantage. Repressive government, out of control opposition, failed social elite, you name it, and that evening has a political hook for your position. The lack of such political maneuvering, however, may lend credence to the hypothesis that Elbegdorj's presidential victory retroactively legitimized the parliamentary elections and therefore fully delegitimized the basis of the riot, making it become in the minds of most people what it probably always was--an act of political bravado and bluff that spun widely out of the control of the organizers. If this is true, it makes sense politically why people would choose to forget. It is a minefield of an issue that really holds no value to anyone with political ambitions.

In the end, the epilogue written for the July 1 riot may not be all that impressive or interesting. That in itself is interesting, though, because when one thinks back at that night in an honest way it really looked like things were falling apart.

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