I never posted this blog written July 2008 because going to the election riots was a clear violation of my volunteer contract. However, it's a year later and I'm procrastinating dissertation research - so voila.
At around 7:30pm July 1st I was getting ready to head to a bar for a quiet Canada Day drink when I got a text message from a friend saying she watching rioting on the Mongolian news. With all the campaigning over the past month I knew the election was the day before, and had heard that the communists had won a surprising majority. Despite rumors of election fraud I was still in disbelieve that pacifist
I was in front of the Mongolian People’s Revolution Party’s headquarters where wood scraps and styrofoam tubes where being rushed in from the neighboring building site to build the fire which was already pouring out of the first floor windows. A generation of young Mongolian men were running into the building with scraps and running out with computers, documents, rugs, and bottles of booze, some would make off with their loot while others would either have it stolen them or burn it up in the smaller fires littering the park in front of the MCRP building.
Police were keeping a distance, firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, intermittently everyone would start running towards you and then you would turn and run towards others trying not to get trampled until the mass realized it was another false alarm and then race towards the chaos yet again.
Then the riot police charged. I was tying a shirt around my face after some tear gas had dropped close by when I heard the screaming and turned to see the riot squad rushing in, I thought I was going to get crushed under the rabble, when I reached the fence the task of maneuvering a spot to fling my leg over seemed an impossible task between all the bodies. Making it beyond the first obstacle there were still rows of hedges we had to tear though to get to the street, lining up to rush though the spaces between the branches the police were moving in closer and closer to us, I was almost at the end of the course when a large woman struggling thought the gap blocked my way, I turned to see a baton wielding riot cop right behind me and suddenly realized that with a t-shirt tied around my face I no longer looked like the humanitarian volunteer I am employed as, I looked like a target. My blood stream filling with adrenaline, I shoved the woman through to the other side and didn’t stop running.
A few blocks away in relative safety my friend and I were passed some vodka by rioters either amused or impressed at our presence. We learnt that the police had been overcome by the crowd and when we got back many of the fighters were brandishing the clubs and riot gear they’d acquired. The fires which had died down were again growing while footpaths were being torn apart into ammunition to be hurled in the direction of the police retreat and the MPRP building which police inside were trying to protect. Flags were pulled down from poles and brandished by protesters chanting for free and fair elections, democracy and fire. With all the smoke and remnants of tear gas it was difficult to see what was going on when the bulldozer from a construction site was hijacked, its front loader in a blaze people were climbing onto it and posing for pictures.
As the messages from my sponsoring organization began getting more urgent for all volunteers to get off the streets and rumors of the army’s imminent arrival grew we made our way into
Soviets only 18 years ago, rioters were trying to pry open a safe to burn the votes in it.
Was this all an excuse for gratuitous violence? The destruction spread to the nearby
As many of the rioters claimed perhaps this symbolizes the real revolution against corruption and the communist party which continued to grip onto power long after the Russian tanks rolled out, maybe the Mongolians needed to fight for democracy after all.
Taking a long route back home and climbing up the nine flights of stairs to my apartment from my window I could still see a pillar of smoke flares shooting up from the area we just retreated from. We flipped the news channels watching police beatings and bloody faces when the channels started tuning to static one by one. President Enkhbayar had declared a four day state of emergency; only government sanctioned news was available, alcohol sales banned and a curfew allowing police to arrest anyone outside between the hours of 10pm and 8am was put in place.
July 2nd was eerily quiet in
The national celebration in
While some Democratic Party MPs boycotted the parliamentary sessions for some time, by the time Tuvshinbayar won Mongolia’s first gold medal in the Beijing Olympics in mid-August it was barely a shock to see the MPRP and DP leaders singing the national anthem together in a drunken embrace on national television (unfortunately was taken off youtube).
Just before leaving