Galsan Tschinag

Galsan Tschinag
Photo: Wilma Brüggemann | © Galsan Taschinag

What does the term refugee mean to you?

Refugees are people who have escaped the danger of physical annihilation by fleeing.

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

I would prefer to call this type of economically caused change of residence emigration.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

This is already something essentially different from moving away from one’s place of residence to another, having in mind economic or other advantages. Indeed, this kind of flight can under certain circumstances be even more urgent than flight based on political motives. If the air I am breathing, the water I am drinking have been poisoned, I must see to it that I leave the place as fast as possible.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

When one has been accepted by the community at one’s new place of residence and when oneself has started feeling at home.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

For me, asylum is an inseparable part of my human right to live according to my own will.

If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?

Without conditions in places where human rights are taken seriously.

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

Theoretically, every society should accept refugees without thinking about their numbers first. And this would also be morally correct. But practically, most of today’s societies have set limits they are forced to comply with.

If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?

The limits are where the society accepting refugees runs the risk of getting closer to poverty itself or of having to suffer growing unrest.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others?

In the past the powers that be permitted destitute refugees to enter western Mongolia, because the country was suffering from a lack of population Those were were materialistically oriented and started, with time, to increasingly insist on their particularity instead of thinking about integration. That happened almost a century ago. And in the meantime, they have comprehensively displaced original population groups in many places and destroyed their basis of living and did not even stop short at replacing almost all geographic names by Kazakh names.

If yes: why?

Because the communist order prevalent at the time let itself be guided blindly by a theoretical proletarian internationalism and an abstract form of friendship between peoples in accordance to which the rights of the refugees were respected but never the rights of the original population.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

From the part of the authorities, yes. But never ever from the side of some chauvinist groups who are priding themselves in their allegedly noble Genghisian-Mongolian bloodline and the notorious blue spot, the birthmark on the lower back of the Mongolian people.

Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?

For me personally, yes. Because I am willing to continue letting myself being guided by a shamanic-nomadic philosophy of life. For many, even most of the people in the country, such cuts would be intolerable because they believe that we Mongols live in poverty anyway, but that isn’t true.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

A healthy philosophy of life which is based on gratitude and which does not separate obligations from rights. This concerns the ones arriving. And as for those accepting them: They should strive to integrate those arriving based on healthy religious principles, which do not differ between mine and yours and which allow for terms such as tolerance, empathy and humaneness,.

- on the part of the refugees?

Respect for the laws of the host country as well as for the habits and customs of its population. And a willingness to also give something back for what they take. I am talking here about life experiences, manual skills, knowledge, etc.

- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

They should not demand that the strangers display the same virtues which, until now, have seemed to them to be the only valid ones. To keep awake and inspire in themselves not only the cumbersome burden of having to help those arriving but also the admissible right to be allowed to learn from them.
Do you know any refugees personally?

Yes, I do. And a lot of them! Refugees from racism, from religious fanaticism, from a lack of freedom of opinion and recently, also from civilization’s diseases.

Do you actively support any refugees?

Yes, within the framework of my limited possibilities. We have a tradition in our family in this respect. My grandfather Hylbang was a man with many cattle and he had five biological children and three times as many adopted children. Most of them were Teleute and Kazakh refugees. Once there even was a Russian among his “children”, a former member of the White Guard whose life was saved by the almost inaccessible Altai Mountains but who left the Altai again about three years later, equipped with a riding animal, clothes and provisions; my father, Schynykbaj, the elder of the two sons of the warm-hearted rich man, led the white-skinned brother along hidden paths to the Russian border. And now, three generations later, I am trying to continue serving this noble tradition, taking care of the descendants of the Teleute woman Aiku who had fled across from the Russian Altai in about 1920, with her six small children.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?

It is indeed possible that nothing significant will have happened by then. Mongolia is still missing the essential infrastructures. And Pan-Mongolian chauvinism has increased since the decline of Communism. But I consider both to be temporary phenomena.

b) over the next two decades?

Well, then yes! I would like to leave unsaid, for now, why this is supposed to happen because I do not wish to be accused of defeatism or presumptuousness and thus carry yet another damning label around my neck of which I have had already enough in this life.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

In the far future, yes, when mankind will have become mature enough to definitively stop with such madness as war and the division of its own species into classes and races and religious denominations.

If yes: what does it take?

Good common sense which the creator should have enclosed in the bag of fate allocated to each of us two-legged creatures.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

Flight as a result of weather conditions, from one pasture to another is simply part of a nomadic lifestyle. For other reasons – not yet. And every day, we live the continuation of the stories of our forebears mentioned further above. And that is the capital stock of my Adaj-Irgit clan, something which, in the end, turned me into a cosmopolitan and also empowered me as a writer. The fact that the original inhabitants of the Altai had to leave their pastures and hunting grounds is the direct result of Kazakh chauvinism, fueled and systematically led by the leadership of the district and the counties.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

Nothing is impossible.

- If yes: why?

In case the little pack of chauvinists should attain leadership of the Mongol state in my vicinity, too.

- How do you prepare yourself?

I remain awake even when I am asleep. Especially when in luck. And I permanently continue polishing and sharpening the primeval nomadic core in myself and in those closest to me. I do this in an imaginary way every day. Something which one has done already hundreds and thousands of times in one’s thoughts can be translated into practice fast and well when the moment of decision really comes.

- To which country would you take refuge to?

Where humaneness is still at home.

How much “home” do you need?*

Actually only one, and that is planet Earth. The individual parts of the body of Mother Earth may have different names: The belly might be China, the back might be Russia, the right calf might be Germany, the left thumb Switzerland, the sole of the right foot Iraq, the left one Iran, and so on. But all of this belongs to the body of the earth, planet Earth. And it belongs to you, to me, to her: to each African gatherer, to each Chukchi hunter. She produced us all, nourished us and will admit us again into her big, kind belly when our time on earth will come to an end. For this reason, she is our mother, and for this reason, we call her Mother Earth. And this one and only Mother Earth is our big, shared home!

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.