S.Erdene’s ‘Fire Challenge’ nominates Mongolia


Shortly after Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi employee S.Erdene set himself on fire during a press conference to oppose the state-owned company’s deals with foreign companies, numerous copycats have emerged.
Many people have threatened to violate themselves or their properties, in one form or another, as a form of protest. The most notable and popular ultimatum recently came from an unlikely crusader, artist L.Unurchimeg, who is famous for her ability to paint with her foot and under water. The artist wrote an open letter, which was widely shared on social media, demanding the “execution” of Parliament member S.Bayartsogt and first president P.Ochirbat, and threatened that she would “cut off” her breast in front of the Chinggis Khan statue at Chinggis Square.
“Let the troubles of my nation end with me,” she said. “Watch the fall [parliamentary] session carefully! Don’t wait for next year’s election! I am not afraid, even if it is true, the malicious and oppressive secret law to imprison all those who organize demonstrations.”
L.Unurchimeg, who had one of her breasts surgically removed due to cancer, ended her letter with, “Dear President Ts.Elbegdorj! I personally demand that you meet me to discuss Mongolia’s development solution. Awaiting your reply.”
The public reactions to the demands and threats are taking on an increasingly exasperated tone. After S.Erdene set himself on fire, the public was largely shocked, but some were commending his courage. Some said he should have assassinated one of the corrupt politicians instead of hurting himself. Some disapproved, saying that there would be more copycats, and some claimed it was all the elaborate scheme of a political movement.
One thing the public agreed on was the effectiveness of S.Erdene’s action. Although extremely dangerous, risky, and arguably irresponsible, S.Erdene’s voice was heard and his cause got the attention he wanted.
In a frantic attempt to control the situation, the government, particularly Prime Minister Ch.Saikhanbileg, made some eyebrow raising maneuvers. On the day S.Erdene set himself on fire, the Prime Minister ordered Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi heads to pay S.Erdene’s medical bills and attempted an investigation of the state-owned company. But the next day, he backtracked and changed his approach, calling S.Erdene’s action an act tantamount to terrorism during a semi-coherent speech at a meeting with law enforcement heads.
Stories of people attempting self-immolation for a cause – or blatant selfish gain in some cases – are pouring in from everywhere. Mongolian social media users are jokingly dubbing the phenomenon “Erdene’s Fire Challenge”, and nominating candidates for the challenge, in a take on the popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge which went viral last year.
Though it is not in the least bit humorous to watch other people maim or immolate themselves, the disapproving and slightly scornful tone of public opinion is fitting. Self-immolation and acts of violence as a form of protest should be discouraged, as they only bury the objective of a movement beneath other issues.
I believe that S.Erdene’s action was that of a desperate man trying to bring light to issues he was deeply discontent with. And although effective in gaining the spotlight, his approach to address the issue – or “form of protest” as he puts it – has inspired many undesirable consequences, such as the numerous copycats threatening dangerous and violent actions for issues that are complicated and irresolvable by force.
S.Erdene is not facing any charges for setting a fire in a building that prohibits a fire, causing property damage, or endangering the lives of the people in the room who had no idea of his plan to start a fire. This is largely thanks to the support and popularity he gained through his action. But, if it were anyone else that set fire and posed danger to others, they would be charged and penalized.
There are numerous examples of such exemptions being made in the recent history of Mongolian law, such as the controversial presidential pardon of SouthGobi Sands executives who were found guilty of tax evasion, and the pardon of former President N.Enkhbayar who was charged with corruption. If these people were not as popular as they were, they would not have received such leniency. This suggests that the popularity of an individual and their status merits leniency from the law, which should not be the case in a country that upholds the rule of law.
I’m not saying that S.Erdene should be imprisoned, or that he is wrong about the issue he is fighting for. I’m merely saying that he took a very risky and dangerous action, and he should bear the legal and social consequences like everyone else to become the martyr he wants to be. If there are no consequences for reckless and dangerous behavior, whether it is for a cause or not, copycats and opportunists will continue to take advantage and benefit from the chaos that ensues.

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=17134

Posted by on Nov 27 2015. Filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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