Almost 70 years after the end of World War II and the collapse of Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich in Germany, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people around the world still cling to the vicious ideology of Nazism. Indeed, neo-Nazis have sprouted all across Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand -- in Greece, for example, they have even been elected into Parliament.
However, neo-Nazis come in all shapes, sizes and colors -- they even exist in the remote, sparsely populated northern Asian state of Mongolia. According to a report from Reuters, Mongolia’s neo-Nazis have expanded from targeting foreigners (mostly Chinese) to what they view as a far more dangerous enemy: foreign mining firms that plan to exploit the poor country’s huge untapped natural resources and spread pollution in what has always been an unspoiled, pristine land.
Mongolia boasts a number of small, hard-core neo-Nazi groups with names like Tsagaan Khass (White Swastika), Dayar Mongol (Whole Mongolia), Gal Undesten (Fire Nation) and Khukh Mongol (Blue Mongolia), some of which have added environmentalism to their armor of fierce nationalism. Like their counterparts in Western Europe, Mongolian Nazis shave their heads, stomp around in jackboots, sport swastika tattoos and don SS-style apparel. But now, instead of just attacking foreigners and immigrants, they also barge into mining projects and demand to see paperwork, while testing the grounds for contamination.
"Before we used to work in a harsh way, like breaking down doors, but now we have changed, and we use other approaches, like demonstrations," Ariunbold Altankhuum, a Nazi leader, told Reuters. "Today, our main goal is to save nature. We are doing things to protect the environment. The development of mining is growing and has become an issue. We used to talk about fighting with foreigners, but some time ago we realized that is not efficient, so our purpose changed from fighting foreigners in the streets to fighting the mining companies.”
Mongolia is believed to be blessed with an embarrassment of riches in gold, copper, coal and iron ore. Foreign companies have poured into the landlocked country to commence mining operations, often bringing in cheap labor from China and Southeast Asia. The entry of these foreign workers outrages not only neo-Nazis, but ordinary Mongolians -- 30 percent of whom live below the poverty line, according to the Asia Development Bank.
"Mining is important, because it's 90 percent of our economy," political commentator Dambadarjaa Jargalsaikhan said. "But the unequal channeling of this revenue, the inequality in this country, that's the major issue." Indeed, mining dominated the recent presidential election, where the incumbent and victor, Tsakhia Elbegdorj, triumphed on a vow to curb foreign mining investments while demanding that domestic entities take a bigger portion of strategic assets, including the mines.
A key part of Mongolia’s mining economy is the $6 billion Oyu Tolgoi gold-copper project, which is two-thirds owned by British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO) and one-third owned by the Ulan Bator government. Foreign mining investments have driven the Mongolian economy to surge in recent years -- GDP jumped by 17 percent in 2011 and 12 percent last year. Oyu Tolgoi alone is projected to increase the size of Mongolia's economy by about one-third by 2020. The site is expected to produce 330,000 tons of copper and 495,000 ounces of gold annually during its first decade of operation.
But Rio Tinto has repeatedly fought with the local government over such issues as management fees, project financing, royalties and other costs. As such, exports have been repeatedly delayed, while operating costs have soared. “The time has come for the Mongolian government to take Oyu Tolgoi matters into its own hands,” Elbegdorj told lawmakers in April, according to Bloomberg. The president has demanded that Rio Tinto provide more management jobs to native Mongolians, among other entreaties. The massive mining operations in the country is also changing the character of what used to be a nomadic, pastoral society of ancient customs, into an economic rising star, which, of course, includes the modern scourge of industrial pollution.
Beyond the environmental issue, Mongolian neo-Nazis regard Hitler with deep reverence. "The reason we chose this way is because what is happening here in Mongolia is like 1939 and Hitler's movement transformed his country into a powerful country," Altankhuum said. But not everyone is impressed by these new Asian storm-troopers. "Mongolia's neo-Nazis have been receiving too much attention from global media, and they've obviously been enjoying it," Tal Liron, a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago, told Reuters. "They do not, however, represent Mongolians as a whole, any more than neo-Nazis in Britain represent the [British].”
Liron added that Mongolians are cosmopolitan, savvy and capable of adapting many foreign ideologies and fashions to their context. “For example, they have since 1990 thoroughly and vibrantly embraced representative democracy, just as they embraced socialism before 1990,” he noted. “I think that's the real story here: Mongolians are not and perhaps never were a remote, isolated people. And they're also quite capable of understanding irony, especially in regards to their contemporary condition."
Mongolians lived under communist domination since the end of World War II: first, the Soviet Union (whom Mongolia helped to defeat Adolf Hitler) and now China, which has provided millions of dollars in military aid. They are particularly angered over the Chinese incursions into their country in recent years. The Dayar Mongol group exploited fears that the Chinese seek to destroy traditional Mongolian culture and also dilute what they consider the “pure” Mongolian race. As such, Dayar Mongol warns Mongolian women against sleeping with Chinese men.
Dayar Mongol’s leader, Erdenebileg Zenemyadar, openly exhibits Nazi swastika on his website and in public demonstrations, although he personally always wears the traditional dress of Mongolian’s nomadic herdsmen. Tough young members of Dayar Mongol have been accused by human rights activists of repeatedly attacking foreigners and the women consorting with them, as well as homosexuals.
In one notorious case that was broadcast on the Web, Dayar Mongol associates shaved the head of a Mongolian woman to shame her for being with a Chinese man. Zenemyadar defended the act, although he claims he does not condone violence. “I think this is right,” he told Western media. “If you ask the Mongolian people what they think about it, the majority of people would support that act. Young people see foreigners breaking the law, and they're not happy. So they're threatening them, sometimes robbing them. It's wrong, but it's happening a lot. Sometimes they are our members, but the majority are not. Maybe they're our supporters, but we don't know them.”
Ironically, during World War II, when German soldiers captured Russian forces, they often executed anyone that looked Asian or Mongolian. Still, Hitler’s adherence to racial purity has great resonance among some in Mongolia who feel threatened by the encroaching outside world. One Mongolian neo-Nazi told Western media: “We have to make sure that as a nation our blood is pure. That's about our independence. If we start mixing with Chinese, they will slowly swallow us up. Mongolian society is not very rich. Foreigners come with a lot of money and might start taking our women.” Indeed, the fact that Mongolia has a small population of just 3 million versus China’s huge billion-plus population causes much anxiety. “If our blood mixes with foreigners', we'll be destroyed immediately,” one Mongol Nazi told Western press.
One of Dayar Mongol’s young members, a man named Soronzon Jamsran, wearing combat trousers, a black T-shirt and a swastika around his neck, told BBC: “Germany's nationalists tried to cleanse their nation, so for me [the swastika] stands for keeping our nation pure. It's not like I support Germany or I'm a Nazi. It's just nationalism.” But a larger inspiration for these “Nazis” are the glories of Mongolia’s ancient culture and warrior tradition, which they celebrate and revere. After all, the largest empire the world has ever known, the Mongol Empire, was founded by the greatest of all Mongolians, Genghiz Khan.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.