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Swarthmore College

Publication Date

Fall 2004

Program Name

Mongolia: Culture and Development


In 1996, as the Mongolian delegation entered the Olympic arena in Atlanta, a Russian announcer let his tongue slip and heralded the country as a true independent nation, because nobody depends on them. The comment triggered a scandal which was suppressed under a deluge of meaningless public apologies, yet merely eight years later, the Russian announcer’s insult seems to barely even apply anymore. With Mongolia’s entrance into the international community of interdependents, free from dictatorial control for the first time during the age of globalization, it has plunged into an era of change. The outcome of this transitional period will decide the future of the Mongolian nation. This essay explores the consequences of Mongolian nomadic cultural change, the international progression in developing countries away from traditional cultures into which it fits, and its role in the turbulent political history of Mongolia. This paper also explores Mongolia’s role as part of a widespread development pattern in the world today shared by all modernizing nations struggling forward in the shadow of those democratic giants that they follow so closely. In looking into the Mongolian case, the hope is to gain a specific perspective on a pervasive effort involving millions of people across the globe and perhaps shed light on the widespread phenomenon. What is it about Mongolian traditional culture that clashes with democracy and the nation’s entrance onto the free market scene? To what extent is this part of a larger global trend away from traditional cultures and towards modernization along capitalist lines? How will this affect Mongolia in the future? The paper is divided into three sections. Part 1 focuses on the origins of the Mongolian nomadic cultural heritage, a discussion of nomadic traditional values, and the affects that the Soviets had on customary Mongolian culture. Part 2 focuses on an anthropologically informed discussion of three different types of indicators currently pervasive throughout Mongolia, showing the clash of traditional values and heritage with modernization reforms. Part 3 discusses the democratic era in Mongolia, the political ramifications of cultural change, the markers of modernization already becoming visible throughout the country, and what the future may hold All of the personal research for this paper was conducted in Mongolia, using field based methods of interviewing and observation throughout the country. Statistical information collected from nomadic family interviews comes from roughly 30 interviews conducted across the Gobi region, in Darkhan in the North, and in Delgerkhan on the central Mongolian steppe. A map of the areas visited can be found in Appendix B. The statistical information collected from nomadic families is reflected in the graph in Appendix A. All other personal observations come from four months of living, eating, and breathing the Mongolian cultural, geographical, and political climate.


Political Science


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