Sound of Gunfire and What It Means
On September 16, last Monday, a group of non-governmental organizations and environmental activists protested against the amendment of the law concerning prohibition of mining and quarrying in environmentally protected areas of water and river basins and forested areas, otherwise known as “the law with the long name”.
The incident caused much alarm and stir among the public and foreign media watchdogs alike, as the protest involved a shoot fired just outside the Government Palace and confiscation of explosives, grenades, and guns.
The incident was quite a shock, as the issue was not at the forefront of the public’s attention, and such severe and drastic action was not warranted. Reportedly, the shot was fired by accident while Government Palace security agents struggled to disarm the protesters inside the public park behind the Government Palace. But as to why they brought guns and chose to load them, was the question on everyone’s lips.
The firearms and explosives were reportedly brought by protesters from the Gal Undesten movement, who “wanted to show their seriousness” about the issue and their readiness to take drastic actions by bringing guns.
Eleven arrests were made, and even after the protesters scattered, law enforcement agencies found hidden explosives in a nearby building. Government buildings, ministries and nearby establishments were evacuated for police searches for possible weapons and explosives. Local newspapers reported that an explosive was found in a bin outside Central Tower, and another was been found days after the incident.
If indeed these explosives were planted by the Gal Undesten movement, they are surely an act of terrorism and the action warrants years of imprisonment. But it seems rather beside the point to try to blow up Central Tower or innocent bystanders for environmental protection.
The whole point was to protest against the amendment of the law with the long name to preserve the environment. The protestors claimed that the law was not being implemented, and mining activities were still taking place in environmentally protected areas of water basins and forested areas.
According to on-site reports, the protesters had banners stating “40 percent of Mongolian lands should be protected by the state and 1,782 extraction permits should be terminated in accordance with the current Extraction Law on River Basin and Forested Areas.”
I would venture to guess that if the government were to terminate 1,782 mining permits which has already been issued, Mongolia would discourage all of its foreign investors and even domestic miners would not want to do business here.
The whole point of amending the law with the long name and the foreign investment law is to bring back investors, which were part of the reason Mongolia lost business credibility and foreign investors when the bills were passed rather abruptly last year.
But here are these movements claiming that the laws – which caused the loss of who knows how many potential investors and brought about the closure of many businesses - weren’t even implemented to begin with. I suppose with lands as big as Mongolia’s it would be rather costly and logistically difficult to inspect all mining activity sites thoroughly.
But back to bringing guns to protests. In my opinion, this was an incredibly dangerous and thoughtless action on the part of the movement. By bringing guns outside a heavily protected building they have put their own safety at risk and that of those around them.
Furthermore, they drew more attention to the fact that were ready to engage in a gun fight with law enforcers than they did to the cause they were demonstrating for.
After the incident, the public scarcely paid attention to the implementation of the law with the long name, preservation of environment, or anything else related to the cause. All that news coverage and stories focused on was the fact that guns were fired outside the Government Palace, and explosives were found.
Thankfully, no-one was hurt by explosives or gun fires. But the whole episode was a catastrophe which failed to prove their initial point and spawned even more issues.
Other issues totally unrelated to the protest’s motive, such as gun control, anti-terrorism measures and other matters, were brought up after the protest, but the law with the long name will still be discussed by the government, and most likely be amended. But this isn’t the worst. International media reported on the event from the perspective that resource nationalism is taking over Mongolia, which frightens foreign investors still in Mongolia and fades the interest of those who would want to invest in Mongolia, hurting its political and business reputation further.
The question of why they chose to bring guns still remains however. No one forced them to bring them and they weren’t facing any imminent threat. In fact, footage of the event posted on the internet showed how irate the protesters were. Irate and armed is not a healthy combination, and only leads to disaster. Gunned protests rarely accomplish anything but war and blood. But the protesters claimed that they had tried all other forms of protest, and this was to prove the point that they were ready to take arms to protect their lands. But I didn’t hear about them having peaceful demonstrations before – they jumped right into their ultimatum, which ties into another point I want to make.
Peaceful demonstrations have lost their meaning and heed no results; hence, people are making reckless moves to get their point across. Every time a severe issue rises, groups and individuals demonstrate at the Central Square in front of the Government Palace. A year doesn’t pass without a couple of people demonstrating. It’s turning into something resembling tradition.
A demonstration is usually a last resort, a solution to a problem that is blatantly being ignored by the authorities. Some government officials talk about hunger strikes and demonstrations in a nonchalant manner, calling it the spring or fall “syndrome,” the chosen time of protests. This light-hearted attitude towards the very real issues of the people, is symptomatic of a problem that is even deeper. A strike, a last resort that demands attention to a pressing issue, is ignored, showing that the leaders of the country don’t care about the fate of those who are led.
Protests happen because individuals and groups have issues that need immediate attention, but are not being addressed or listened to by the authorities, and the leaders of this country seem to have grown numb to this fact.
People don’t show up in mass numbers at the square because they want to pester you, or because they have too much time on their hands. Mongolia’s management has been screwed up for so many years due to corruption and bureaucracy, that when a person is faced with a problem, they don’t know who to appeal to, because those in charge aren’t willing to or able to resolve their concerns.
It includes small things, such as students protesting unfair hikes in tuition fees, but being blatantly ignored. Just the other day, a man drove his car into a hole dug by a construction company at night. The hole was not marked, and the man was lucky to survive the crash. The driver of the car got his wrecked car out of the hole and called for compensation, but was met with insults from the construction company, and says that he cannot win a lawsuit against them for damages.
When issues aren’t addressed, there will always be protests. And if the politicians and authority figures are tired of reckless protests, demonstrations and strikes, they better start fixing the existing issues at the root, by fighting corruption and weeding out all the bad branches.
Attitude towards leadership only reflects the quality of leadership. The people are ready to speak their minds and take action, but it’s plain to everyone that Mongolia’s leadership is the root cause of inaction, because it doesn’t care about the people of this nation.
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