| ULAN BATOR, July 2
ULAN BATOR, July 2 A Mongolian neo-Nazi group
has rebranded itself as an environmentalist organisation
fighting pollution by foreign-owned mines, seeking legitimacy as
it sends Swastika-wearing members to check mining permits.
Tsagaan Khass, or White Swastika, has only 100-plus members
but it is one of several groups with names like Dayar Mongol
(Whole Mongolia), Gal Undesten (Fire Nation) and Khukh Mongol
(Blue Mongolia), expanding a wave of resource nationalism as
foreign firms seek to exploit the mineral wealth of the vast
country, landlocked between Russia and China.
From an office behind a lingerie store in the Mongolian
capital, the shaven-headed, jackbooted Tsagaan Khass
storm-troopers launch bizarre raids on mining projects,
demanding paperwork or soil samples to be studied for
"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," the group's leader, Ariunbold Altankhuum, 40,
told Reuters, speaking through a translator.
On a patrol to a quarry in grasslands a dusty two-hour ride
from the capital, members wore black SS-style Nazi uniforms
complete with lightning flashes and replica Iron Crosses.
They questioned a mine worker against the sound of machinery
grinding stones about paper work, opting to return in a week
when the owner had returned.
"Today our main goal is to save nature. We are doing things
to protect the environment," Altankhuum said. "The development
of mining is growing and has become an issue."
The group, founded in the 1990s, says it wants to halt
pollution in the landlocked former Soviet satellite as foreign
companies dig for gold, copper, coal and iron ore using cheap
labour from neighbouring China and nearby Southeast Asia. But a
lot of the pollution is caused by local, illegal miners working
"We used to talk about fighting with foreigners, but some
time ago we realised that is not efficient, so our purpose
changed from fighting foreigners in the streets to fighting the
mining companies," Altankhuum said.
Foreign-invested mining companies contacted by Reuters
either were unavailable for comment or did not want to comment.
Mongolians fear foreign workers are taking up scarce jobs in
an economy where nearly 30 percent of the population lives below
the poverty line, according to the Asia Development Bank.
"Mining is important because it's 90 percent of our
economy," said political commentator Dambadarjaa Jargalsaikhan.
"But the unequal channelling of this revenue, the inequality in
this country, that's the major issue."
Not helping the Tsagaan Khass environmental credentials
among mainstream observers, apart from the uniforms, is
Altankhuum's reverence for Adolf Hitler.
"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," he said.
ENJOYING THE ATTENTION
Because of comments like that, some observers dismiss groups
such as his as self-serving and irrelevant.
"Mongolia's neo-Nazis have been receiving too much attention
from global media, and they've obviously been enjoying it," said
Tal Liron, a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago who
specialises in national identity. "They do not, however,
represent Mongolians as a whole, any more than neo-Nazis in
Britain represent the Brits.
"...Mongolians are cosmopolitan, savvy and perfectly 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. 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."
Resource nationalism has been a major election issue in
Mongolia, where the largest foreign investment is the Oyu Tolgoi
project, 66 percent owned by global miner Rio Tinto
and the rest by the government.
Oyu Tolgoi is expected to boost Mongolia's economy by about
a third by 2020. Annual output in its first decade is expected
to average 330,000 tonnes of copper and 495,000 ounces of gold.
But Rio has said since February it will not begin exports
from the mine until it resolves disputes with Mongolia over
royalties, costs, management fees and project financing.
"They are saying they have signed contracts on it and are
giving some percentage of that to the people," Dorjgotov
Purev-Ish, a 39-year-old manual labourer, told Reuters,
describing government assurances of the advantages to flow from
"But our family hasn't received any benefit."
Incumbent president Tsakhia Elbegdorj, who wants more
controls on foreign mining investment, won a second term last
week, riding concerns over the faltering economy and the growing
role of foreign firms.
Colonel Tumenjargal Sainjargal of the National Police
Department said the right-wing phenomenon began 15 years ago
when young people grew angry at the appearance of foreign
languages on signs and made threats against business owners.
"They said it was too much, that it looked like a
Chinatown," Sainjargal said.
"There are complaints that some foreign-invested companies
hire Mongolian employees and cheat them, use violence, over work
them, or refuse to pay money owed to them. Afterwards, some of
these Mongolians call the nationalist groups. There have been a
few incidents with nationalists coming to companies for violent
reasons to resolve the conflicts in their own way."
It seems unlikely Tsagaan Khass's new green thinking will be
enough to repair its reputation after accusations of violence,
such as shaving the heads of women it claimed were prostitutes
serving foreign customers.
"We didn't shave the heads of the women, we just cut their
hair," said Altankhuum. "But today we are changing. That was
crude. That time has passed."
(Writing by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by Nick Macfie)