Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Mongolia: Genghis Day

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Mongolia: Genghis Day

Article excerpt

Genghis Khan is cutting it fine for his own celebrations next month. In the year that Mongolia marks the 800th anniversary of its unification by the ruthless ruler in 1206, every major project is behind schedule. Ulaanbaatar, in fact, has a bad dose of Wembley Stadium syndrome.

Builders are working round the clock to complete a [pounds sterling]300,000 statue in the capital's main square. At Bogd Khan Hill the first stone of a massive relief portrait of the conquerer's noble features has yet to be placed. And work on the Mongolian state history museum in front of the parliament building has stalled, way over budget.

With 400,000 foreign tourists expected to turn up for the occasion, the good news is that rehearsals for the cavalry display by 500 members of the armed forces are proceeding smoothly. Dressed as 13th-century warriors, they will re-enact the exploits of the marauding hordes that created the world's largest-ever empire, which extended from Beijing to Vienna.

And the Naadam festival, the annual summer event which finds the nation's best wrestler, archer and horseman, is guaranteed to produce the goods.

For the older generation who saw their traditional culture slowly crushed and virtually every Buddhist temple destroyed by the old, Soviet-backed regime, the Genghis Khan anniversary has a rich significance. The romance of his achievements helped inspire the freedom movements of the late 1980s, and his stature has grown since independence in 1990. …

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