Monday, November 16, 2009


Because of its extremely harsh climate, Mongolia has been inhabited almost exclusively by nomadic tribes of cattle farmers since ancient times. This large country had only sporadic small villages of Samoyeds and Uyghur’s, as well as some others who lived under Chinese influence. Back at that time, there were occasional attacks by them on individual tribes in China, on the Silk Road than went through Western and Central Asia. In the medieval period, the legendary Genghis Khan managed to unite the Mongolian tribes and establish a state that ruled a world empire, which spread all the way to Central Europe. His grandson Kublai Khan was the founder of the Yuan Dynasty in China, and empowered Buddhist monk rule in Tibet. After several periods of frailty, a great empire was created under the rule of Timur Lang, which was later inherited by the Chinese Qing dynasty. After its downfall in 1911, Mongolia proclaimed independence, but it took until 1921 (despite Russia’s assistance) to finally force out the Chinese forces. June 11 is celebrated as a national holiday, called Naadam. The price of the expulsion of the Chinese occupation army was paid, however, by the great dependency on the then USSR. In 1924, the Mongolian People’s Republic was declared, which became a USSR satellite nation. A national holiday is celebrated on 26 November in honor of the establishment of the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924. As a result of the ambitions of the Soviet leaders to develop Mongolia into a modern communist country, the traditional nomadic cattle breeding culture was almost completely obliterated, which caused great economic problems. The Soviets even influenced a change in the alphabet. Namely, Mongolians used their traditional Mongolian alphabet until 1921, and they switched to the Cyrillic alphabet after the revolution. Nowadays, all Mongolians use the Cyrillic alphabet, and only a smaller portion of the population is familiar with the traditional alphabet, which is also in official use. During the Stalinist purges, many Buddhist monks were killed. Almost all Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia were destroyed forever, including all their cultural treasures and libraries.
The winds of change in Eastern Europe in 1990 brought about a democratic movement to Mongolia as well, and the first free elections were organized in 1992. Today, the democracy in Mongolia is more stable than in any other country of Central Asia.
A half of the Mongolian population still pursues the nomadic lifestyle, whole families move in search of work, food and pastures, erecting their unique tents, the so-called gers or yurts (round tents with six beds arranged in a circle and a cattle dung stove), along the roads. Mongolians are primarily involved in the agricultural production of meat, milk and wool. In addition, they grow some crops, potatoes and vegetables. The share of agriculture in the total gross domestic products is – the same as industry – below 30 percent. After 1990 and the breakdown of communism, the people have tried to return to their roots and nomadic life. However, after a long period of stagnation the economy has started to strengthen recently. This growth relies mainly on services. However, the result of this growth has not affected the poor population very much. More than one-third of the citizens still live below the poverty threshold. The difficult years of reforms have however increased the share of private entrepreneurship to around 80 percent, but at the same time this has increased social division and the differences between the urban and rural areas.
Vast area of steppes, mountains and deserts are characterized by a very low density of population. Even through their numbers have doubled over the last three decades, there are still less than 3 million citizens living in Mongolia. It is easy to find the reason for this low density of population. Out of the 1.5 million square kilometers that Mongolia covers, only 10 percent is covered in forests (mainly in the northern and western mountains), and less than 1 percent is arable. Climate conditions make this area extremely harsh and cruel. Its position on the Central Asia plateau gives Mongolia one of the most extreme continental climates. The difference in average temperatures between day and night are unusually great, while the one between winter and summer temperatures reaches up to 100 C. That is why Mongolia boasts the southernmost areas of permafrost which, apart from the top few centimeters, never melt, as well as the northernmost deserts on the planet Earth.

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