Zaisan, Buddha, Customized History
Just south of central Ulaanbaatar, across the Tuul River, is a memorial to Mongolian and Russian soldiers who were killed while cooperating in WWII. It sits on an important point of rock that was once a much more impressive monument than it is today. When we arrived in Mongolia, an embassy driver passed by this spot as a shortcut from the airport. Then you could see the entire six hundred steps that led from the street to the memorial. From the top you can still get an almost uninterrupted view of the city, but it may not last long. Beneath the memorial, nestled in the arch of the long stairway to the top, is a new luxury apartment building that has not yet reached its final height. Already it blocks the memorial from the street below so that on the same drive today, you would not even be aware of this memorial's existence.
I asked someone who is plugged in to Mongolian politics and business how such a piece of real estate so important to Mongolian history could find itself for sale for a luxury hotel. He said that, as Judy has wondered, "Maybe it is a part of their history that Mongolians do not want to remember."
Nearby a giant golden Buddha has been dwarfed by three towering buildings, aptly named the Buddha View Apartments. Apparently nobody flinched at the conflict between commercialism and Buddhism that would render this large religious icon minuscule among luxury housing, trinket vendors, and sellers of sausage sandwiches.
Every culture has its reasons for selecting its own remembered history from among the many events that form its past. Prime among the reasons here is the fact that much of Mongolian history and religion were suppressed under the Soviets, so when they left in 1990, Mongolians had a resurgence of interest in their own culture, with an opportunity to reinvent it—a task that has proved to be harder than it seems. This article in the UB Post
talks about the predominance of products, places, and institutions in Mongolia that are named after Chingas Khan, articulating just one aspect of this selective memory.