By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
At the opening ceremony for the
annual Nadaam festival in the Mongolian capital Ulan
Bator, the star of the show comes not from today but from
700 years ago.
Bursting on stage in the middle of
the national stadium is the unmistakable figure of Genghis
Khan, the Mongol warrior who built a vast 13th Century
For many Mongolians, Genghis
Khan is a symbol of a potent past
In flowing, fur robes the great Khan
seats himself on a giant golden throne. The crowd roars.
On the field his minions bow before him.
These rather over-the-top theatrics
are part of a growing cult built around the image of
Under Mongolia's former Communist
rulers, the mere mention of his name was outlawed. Now
there is no escaping him.
An hour from the capital, the annual
Nadaam horse races see hundreds of racers gallop across
the open steppe kicking up huge clouds of dust. The racers
are all children, but the competition is still fierce. Ask
any of them who they most admire and the answer comes
"Genghis Khan, he was a great
Mongolian!" says 13-year-old Batsukh.
In Ulan Bator there is now a
Chinggis Khan Brewery [Chinggis is a closer
transliteration of the Mongolian than Genghis], and even a
Chinggis Khan night club, packed with young Mongolians
knocking back Martinis and glasses of cold beer.
are 2.5 million Mongols struggling here in a country
with a poor economy, poor infrastructure, with strong
The Great Khan is not only
ubiquitous, he's cool.
But why are Mongolians so hung up on
the blood-thirsty absolute monarch who died more than 700
Sumati, one of Mongolia's most
acerbic social critics, suggested one answer: "Mongols at
that time were much more powerful as a nation comparing to
what they are now. There are 2.5 million Mongols
struggling here in a country with a poor economy, poor
infrastructure, with strong neighbours.
"But really there is little
knowledge about that time, just more emotional than based
on some facts, when people relate to the name of Genghis
Young Mongolians may have little
idea who their hero really was.
But in a country that suffered so
much under communism, and which now faces a deeply
uncertain future, Genghis Khan is the one figure they have
to cling on to - a symbol of a time when these horsemen of
the steppe ruled half the known world.