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Mongolia Reform Group Marches to Rock Anthem

January 24, 1990|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was, after all, the official, Communist Party-run Mongolian tourist bureau that set up a press conference with dissident leader Zorig for several visiting foreign journalists immediately after the Sunday protest, at which he declared emphatically: "We think we will have a democratic government within this year."

Indeed, the Politburo of the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party has been more than tolerant of Zorig's movement. The nation's 63-year-old president and ruling party leader, Jambyn Batmonh, has cast himself as a reformer and publicly said he is following Gorbachev's lead. And although his 90,000-strong ruling party is the only legal party in Mongolia, Batmonh's aides have indicated that a multi-party system may well be in the offing.

"The constitution does not prohibit opposition parties," declared Terbish Chimeddorg, spokesman for Mongolia's Foreign Ministry, during a press briefing for foreign reporters visiting Ulan Bator last week. "The party considers it possible to have the multi-party system in the country."

Mongolia-watchers in Beijing said that statement was a strong indicator that the democracy movement is rooted more in nationalism than in dissent.

"Watching it unfold, you get the feeling this is more a pro-nationalist and pro-Mongolian movement than it is anti-party or anti-government," said a diplomat who left Ulan Bator on Monday. "For example, during the rally, we saw Mongolian national flags that included all but one of the standard symbols. The sun, the moon, the Buddhist \o7 yin-yang \f7 circle and the three-pronged flame depicting the past, present and future were there, but the five-pointed star of communism, which is part of the official flag, was missing."

There is another, far more dramatic example of the movement's nationalist roots: Genghis Khan.

For decades after the Communists took control of Mongolia from China in 1921 and renamed its capital Ulan Bator, or "Red Hero," the name of the nation's ruthless and brilliant founding father was unmentionable--wiped out of history books. That revisionism was part of a Soviet-sponsored purge that left untold thousands of Mongolian warriors, hunters and Buddhist priests dead or imprisoned.

Only today is "the Great Khan," as spokesman Chimeddorg called him this week, being rehabilitated.

The nation's youth--the majority of Mongolians are under the age of 25--are learning for the first time the exploits of a man known variously as "The Perfect Warrior," "The Mighty Manslayer" and "The Scourge of God" during the 13th Century, when he united Mongolia's fractious clans and khans and conquered nearly half of the known world by building what many military historians consider the fiercest army in history.

Mongolia's Hero

Despite Chimeddorg's praise, the ruling party is proceeding slowly in rehabilitating the memory of Genghis Khan. After noting that he deserves credit for unifying the first Mongol state, the government spokesman added that it cannot be forgotten that Genghis Khan had, indeed, "killed many people."

Zorig, though, was anything but oblique in describing the legend that has become a symbolic centerpiece of his movement.

"For us, Genghis Khan was an outstanding man," he declared.

And, in what is perhaps graphic proof that most of Zorig's countrymen agree, Western diplomats noted that the hottest song in Ulan Bator today is a rock 'n' roll number entitled "Genghis Khan."

"Rock music, you see, is the medium of the movement, and it's very much open and very much sanctioned in Mongolia now," said the diplomat who recently visited Mongolia. "And it's clearly the mode of expression of choice of the young people; everyone under 25, it seems, is studying electric guitar.

"It's really no different than it was in the '60s in the U.S. or even in the '80s in Moscow, which is where the Mongolians still look for inspiration. Rock 'n' roll is an expression of discontent, and it's the most powerful way to make a peaceful statement for political change."

The diplomat added that neither the medium nor the tone of that statement is likely to change in Ulan Bator in the near future.

"This simply is not going to turn violent." he said, "Neither myself nor anyone else I've spoken to there thinks Ulan Bator is going to explode within the next month or two.

"For one thing, it's just too damn cold in Mongolia."

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