Mongolia (country, Asia)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Mongolia (country, Asia)

Mongolia (mŏn-gō´lēə, mŏng–), republic (2005 est. pop. 2,791,000), 604,247 sq mi (1,565,000 sq km), N central Asia; historically known as Outer Mongolia. Bordered on the west, south, and east by China and on the north by Russia, it comprises more than half the historical region of Mongolia; the other part forms China's Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region. The capital and largest city is Ulaanbaatar.

Land and People

A high country, Mongolia has an average elevation exceeding 5,100 ft (1,554 m); the central, northern, western, and southwestern areas are covered with hills, high plateaus, and mountain ranges, reaching 15,266 ft (4,653 m) at Tavan Bogd Uul (Tabun Bogdo) in the Altai Mts. Much of the Gobi desert lies to the south and east; at no point is the elevation less than c.1,800 ft (550 m). Numerous lakes fill the depressions between the mountains; the largest, Uvs Nuur, or Ubsu Nur (c.1,300 sq mi/3,370 sq km) is saltwater. The main rivers are in the north and include the Selenga (Selenge Mörön), with its long tributary the Orkhon (Orhon), which flows into Lake Baykal in Russia; and the Kerulen. Navigability is limited—the rivers are swift and rough; they freeze in the winter, and many dry up during droughts.

The country's climate is dry continental, with little rain or snow and great extremes in temperature. Winters are severe, with low temperatures and high winds that blow away the light snow cover, causing the ground to freeze deeply; summers can be very hot.

The population is predominantly Khalkha Mongol. Minorities include Oirat Mongols, Kazakhs, Chinese, and Russians. Khalkha Mongolian, the official language, was until the 1940s written in the old Uigur Turkic script; it now uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Turkic, Russian, and Chinese are also spoken by some. The dominant religion has long been Lamaist Buddhism, but it was harshly repressed under the Communist regime. It was not until the waning of Communist power in the early 1990s that religious freedom reemerged. There are also small Muslim and Christian minorities.

Economy

The paucity of snow in Mongolia permits year-round grazing, and nomadic herding has been the major occupation for centuries. Animal husbandry is still the mainstay of the Mongolian economy, and Mongolia has the world's highest number of livestock per person. The growth in livestock populations in the 21st cent. has led to overgrazing and land degradation in some areas. Sheep and goats constitute most of the livestock, followed by cattle and horses; yaks are raised in the higher altitudes, and camels are extremely important in the desert and semidesert areas. Agriculture is limited since only 1% of the land is arable. Wheat is the chief crop, followed by barley, oats, corn, millet, rye, legumes, and potatoes.

Hunting is a source of revenue; the country abounds in wildlife, and sable, fox, lynx, marmot, snow leopard, squirrel, and wolf are all trapped for their furs. Mongolia has valuable timberlands, especially in the northern mountainous area; logs are shipped down the Selenga, Orkhon, and Kerulen rivers. Mineral resources are abundant. The extensive coal deposits have been exploited since 1913. Copper, molybdenum, tin, tungsten, gold, iron ore, fluorspar, uranium, zinc, lead, silver, and salt are also mined.

Industry, which was developed with Soviet aid, is centered chiefly in Ulaanbaatar. It is based largely on the country's livestock resources, with dairy products, packed meats, leather and leather goods, and woolen textiles and related items (clothing, blankets, carpets) the chief manufactures. The building-material, copper-smelting, lumber, and oil industries are also important. Choybalsan and Darhan near the Russian border have become industrial centers.

The country has one railroad line running north and south from the Russian border through Ulaanbaatar to the Chinese frontier, with a few spur lines to mining or industrial points. Although the number of motor vehicles is increasing, there are few paved roads and beasts of burden are still used, notably in the south, where camel caravans are common. There are also numerous airports.

Mongolia's main exports are copper, apparel, livestock, animal products, cashmere, wool, hides, fluorspar, and nonferrous metals; imports include machinery and equipment, cars, fuel, foodstuffs, consumer goods, chemicals, building materials, sugar, and tea. Most of its foreign trade is with China, Russia, the United States, Canada, and South Korea.

Government

Mongolia is governed under the constitution of 1992. The president, who is head of state, is popularly elected for a four-year term and is eligible for a second term. The government is headed by the prime minister. The unicameral legislature consists of the 76-seat State Great Hural, whose members are popularly elected for four-year terms. Following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or majority coalition is usually elected prime minister by the legislature. Administratively, the country is divided into 21 provinces and the capital district.

Modern History

For the early history of Mongolia, see Mongols. The area was under Chinese control from 1691 until the collapse of the Manchu dynasty in China in 1911, when a group of Mongol princes ousted the Manchu governor and proclaimed an autonomous Mongolia with Jebtsun Damba Khutukhtu (the Living Buddha of Urga) as ruler. The new state was reoccupied by the Chinese in 1919. The Chinese were driven out by White Russian forces under Baron von Ungern-Sternberg in early 1921, and the Whites in turn were ousted by Red Army troops and Mongolian units under the Mongolian Communist leaders Sukhe-Bator and Khorloin Choibalsan.

Mongolia was proclaimed an independent state in July, 1921, and remained a monarchy until the Living Buddha died in 1924. The establishment (Nov., 1924) of the Communist-led Mongolian People's Republic was followed by a struggle to divest the old privileged classes of their capital (largely in the form of land and livestock) and persecution of the Lama priests; this in turn led to the Lama Rebellion of 1932, when priests led thousands of people, with some 7 million head of livestock, across the border to Inner Mongolia.

In 1936 the USSR signed a mutual aid pact with the republic, thus formalizing the existing close relations between the two countries. A constitution adopted in 1940 consolidated the power of the Communist regime. During World War II the Mongolian army joined the USSR in Manchuria in the last, brief stage of the war against Japan. In 1945 a plebiscite was held under a Sino-Soviet agreement, and the republic overwhelmingly voted for continued independence. Khorloin Choibalsan, the prime minister from 1938 until his death in 1952, was succeeded by Yumzhaggiin Tsedenbal. A new constitution came into force in 1960, and Mongolia was admitted to the United Nations in 1961.

In the ideological dispute between the Soviet Union and China, Mongolia traditionally supported the Soviet Union. Mongolia's position shifted during the 1980s, however, and it established diplomatic relations with China in 1986 and with the United States a year later. After a series of demonstrations in the late 1980s calling for freedom and human rights, the Communist party voted to relinquish its constitutional power, which led to the election by the parliament of Punsalmaagiin Ochirbat as president in 1990. In the same year a multiparty political system was also instituted, and in 1991 the country was renamed the State of Mongolia.

In 1992, Mongolia opened its first stock exchange and adopted a new democratic constitution; the Mongolian People's Revolutionary party (MPRP—the former Communists) overwhelmingly retained control of parliament in elections that year. However, Ochirbat, running as a non-Communist, won Mongolia's first free presidential election in 1993. In the first half of 1996, Mongolia was beset by wildfires that raged for more than three months and scorched 41,000 sq mi (106,000 sq km) of forest and rangeland. In the 1996 parliamentary elections the opposition Democratic Union Coalition won a stunning upset, gaining nearly two thirds of the seats. Following a downturn in the economy, Natsagiyn Bagabandi, the candidate of the MPRP, won a decisive victory against Ochirbat in the 1997 presidential elections.

Parliamentary elections in 2000 resulted in a nearly total win for the MPRP, which won 95% of the seats; Natsagiyn Enkhbayar became prime minister. Bagabandi was reelected in May, 2001. In the 2004 parliamentary elections the opposition alliance, now called the Motherland Democratic Coalition, won two fewer seats than the MPRP, but also claimed two seats that MPRP contested in court. The unexpected turnabout led to weeks of wrangling and a delay in inaugurating parliament. In August, however, the MPRP and the opposition agreed to form a unity government, and Democrat Tsakhiagiyn Elbegdorj became prime minister. Elbegdorj had previously held the office for seven months in 1998.

In the 2005 presidential elections, MPRP candidate Nambaryn Enkhbayar won; Enkhbayar had served as prime minister in the early 1990s. In Jan., 2006, the unity government collapsed when the MPRP withdrew. The MPRP formed a new government with support from minor parties and some Democrats; Miyeegombo Enkhbold, the former mayor of Ulaanbaatar, was named prime minister. Enkhbold resigned in Nov., 2007, and was succeeded by fellow MPRP member Sanjaagin Bayar. Parliamentary elections in June, 2008, resulted in a majority for the MPRP. Although international observers called the vote free and fair, the opposition alleged that there had been electoral fraud, and a riot in the capital led to a brief state of emergency.

In the May, 2009, presidential election, former prime minister Elbegdorj defeated Enkhbayar. Bayar resigned as prime minister in Oct., 2009, and was succeeded in the post by Sukhbaatar Batbold, the foreign minister and a wealthy businessman. A severe winter in 2009–10 killed more than a sixth of Mongolia's livestock, with more than 30,000 families losing half or more of their animals. In the June, 2012, parliamentary elections the Democratic party won a plurality, and the Mongolian People's party (MPP; the main body of the former MPRP) placed second. The Democrats formed a coalition government with Enkhbayar's splinter MPRP and other small parties, and Democrat Norov Altanhuyag became prime minister. In August, Enkhbayer was convicted of corruption, on charges that he asserted were politically motivated; the manner of his arrest in April and his subsequent jailing was questioned by Amnesty International. Elbegdorj was reelected president in June, 2013.

Bibliography

See O. Lattimore, Nomads and Commissars: Mongolia Revisited (1962); R. A. Rupen, The Mongolian People's Republic (1966); A. M. Pozdneev, Mongolia and the Mongols (Vol. I tr. 1971); S. Akiner, ed., Mongolia Today (1989); C. R. Bawden, The Modern History of Mongolia (1989).

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