Thanks to Chris Shannon for sending me a link to an interesting and well informed article from The Times last week about the economic changes taking place in Mongolia. The article focuses on 'Ninja Miners' - Mongolian '49ers risking life, limb and lungs at a number of mining sites/ecological disaster zones throughout the country.
Recent protests held by the Nationalist 'Soyombo' party in Sukhbaatar Square were against contracts granted to the Canadian Ivanhoe Mines Company which, according to opponents, give the foreign company "66% of the sub-soil wealth of Mongolia" (UB Post). There is a general sentiment that foreign investors are securing deals that short-change the Mongolian people via the expediency of bribing key officials.
One reason that Mongolia has such large unexploited natural mineral resources is a very strong tradition holding the land, especially mountains, sacred - a sanctity which specifically prohibited digging the earth in such places, specifically prohibited treating nature as a resource to be exploited. There is, furthermore, a very strong tradition carried since Chinggis' times - and reinforced by some of the higher ideals of communism - that this land belongs to the people as a whole, and is a common wealth to be shared and protected for future generations. Whilst opponents of the current state of affairs mostly do not call for an end to mining in its entirety (although this opinion has been expressed by no small number of people), there is a strong sentiment against the national wealth being squandered by the few, and by foreigners.
Deeper resentments, social division and the uglier face of nationalism will only be fed unless the management of Mongolia's gold and copper is more equably handled in the future. I often find myself coming back to the thought that Mongolia is a large country with such a tiny population - just over two million people - and so it's conceivable that the problems faced here, if there is political will and people of the moral fibre and strength to fit the task, can be resolved.