Melody Mongolia

2009-10-1

Чингисийг хайрлах монголчуудын хайр дундаршгүй


International Herald Tribune сонины 2009 оны 8-р сарын 3-ны өдрийн дугаарт энэ нийтлэл гарсан байсныг өнөөдөр л шивж оруулж амжлаа. Гадныхан бидний тухай юу гэж ярьж буйг сонирхоорой.

 

Amid search for Identity, a rush to venerate, and profit from, a conqueror.

BY DAN LEVIN

Jesus Christ lords over Rio de Janeiro, a quartet of American Presidents gazes patriotically from the face of Mount Rushmore, and Lenin keeps watch over his erstwhile namesake, St. Petersburg. But if there were a global contest to honor larger-than-life men on a colossal scale, Mongolia might just vanquish them all-again. Genghis Khaan, the legendary horseman who conquered half the known world in the 13th century, has returned to the steppes of Mongolia, and this time, he charges admission.

About an hour’s drive east of Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s drab capital, Genghis Khaan first appears on the horizon as twinkling speck, rising on the plains as a shimmering mirage. As one approaches, he takes the breath away: a 40-meter, or 131-foot, giant on horseback, wrapped in 250 tons of gleaming stainless steel. Visitors who pay 10.000 togrog, or about $7, can take an elevator and emerge from between his straddling legs to gaze at the lush Mongolian steppe from the deck atop his steed’s head.

If some Western visitors find such bling rather kitschy, locals are smitten with reverence.

“All Mongolian people are proud of this statue,” said Sanchir Erkhem, a 26-year-old Mongolian sumo wrestler who was posing for photos on the platform during a trip home. “Genghis Khaan is our hero, our father, our god.”

The giant statue of Mongolia’s most famous personage, known locally as Chinggis Khaan, is the latest in a legion of monuments and products that have appeared here since the country threw off Communism nearly 20 years ago. Planes now land at Chinggis Khaan International Airport, students attend Chinggis Khaan University and tourists can stay at the Chinggis Khaan Hotel. The khan’s bearded visage graces cans of energy drinks, vodka bottles and cigarette packs, as well as the money to pay for these goods.

Politicians have been eager to jump on the Genghis bandwagon. In 2006, the government unveiled yet another statue of the conqueror, this time sitting on the capital’s main square.

In recent years, Parliament has been consumed by a debate over whether the government should retain sole power to license Genghis Khaan’s face and image, although the legislation has yet to pass.

The rush to venerate-and profit from-the founder of a great transcontinental empire comes as Mongolians seek a national identity after centuries of dominance by foreign powers. Already touchy over Genghis Khaan’s global reputation as bloodthirsty villain responsible for the deaths of countless people, Mongolians are reveling in new opportunities to re-brand him and, by proxy, their country, which has long been overshadowed by neighboring Russia and China.

The massive steel-clad statue, part of a planned theme-park called the Chinggis Khaan Statue Complex, is perhaps the most ambitious and costly manifestation of Genghis pride. The Genco Tour Bureau, a Mongolian company, has so far spent about 7 billion togrog, or $4.8 million, on the statue. Still unfinished are plans for a constellation of 200 gers, or round felt tents, that will house sleeping quarters for visitors, restaurants and gift shops. (the next stage of the project is scheduled to be finished next year.)

Inside the base of the statue, which opened last September, visitors can view a replica of Genghis Khaan’s legendary golden whip, sample traditional cuisine and experience some decidedly un-nomadic customs, like billiards.

Although there’s no evidence to back up their claim, the company contends that the site is where Genghis Khaan found the whip, traditionally considered an auspicious omen, that inspired future conquests, which took the Mongols as far west as Hungary and south into India. Like Genghis Khaan, the company is intent on expanding its empire. Several kilometers away at a “13th-century national park” the more adventuresome can milk horses, spin wool and watch a shaman ceremony. A spa, hotel and golf course are also in the works.

“This is about national pride,” said Damdindorj Delgerma, chief executive of the genco Tour Bureau, which sold shares to the public to raise 10 billion togrog for the project. “Mongolians are happy when they see this statue, and now people from all of the world will come to learn about the importance of Mongolia in history.” 

Ms. Delgerma said 40.000 people had visited the complex, although on a recent weekday the statue was nearly empty. Still, locals are hopeful that the site will bring much-needed income to the steppe, which has been especially hard hit by economic crisis, as well as educate those who come to gawk at the statue.

“Foreigners have no idea who Chinggis Khaan really was,” said Khaliun Ganbold, 21, a tour guide who was bidding her time near the gift shop. “All they know is the bit of information they read on Wikipedia.”

The public relations war over Genghis Khaan and his reputation has been raging for centuries. First revered by nomadic Mongolians as a brilliant military leader who unified warring tribes to found the world’s largest empire, the man who was born as Temujin but later became known as Genghis Khaan, or Universal Ruler, was mythologized as a shaman before Buddhist monks appropriated him as an incarnation of a deity descended from a line of Indian and Tibetan kings.

According to Christopher P. Atwood, a professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University, Mongolians rediscovered Genghis Khaan’s role as fighter during the early 20th-century quest for independence and swiftly reclaimed him as a national hero. In 1949, however, the Soviet Union and its missions in Mongolia began a revisionist campaign to tarnish him as a “reactionary” figure who damaged the “productive forces” during his wars of expansion. Rituals honoring his legacy were banned, and stamps adorned with his face were destroyed.

“It was impossible to treat him as an uncomplicated national hero, which is what Mongolians wanted,” said Mr. Atwood, author of the Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire.

With its unalloyed glorification of Genghis Khaan, the theme park avoids any such nuance, although tourists may come away thinking Genghis is more Mickey Mouse than Mongol, based on the mugs, hats and T-shirts emblazoned with his image that are for sale. Ms. Ganbold, however, does not see any conflict between history and marketing.

“tradition respects our grand ancestors’ names,” she said. “to really honor him, it’s much better to use his name on only premium merchandise.”

Other Mongolians skew a bit more toward realpolitik in their devotion to Genghis Khaan, even if they are happy to drink to his memory.

“He was a cruel man, but he led our country to greatness,” said Tuguldur Munkhochir, 25, a bank. “If you look at Lincoln, Hitler and Julius Caesar, it’s kind of the same thing. ” 


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