When I was young, there was a large statue of Lenin in Ulaanbaatar. In 2012, the Mongolian government removed the statue, denouncing Lenin as a ‘murderer’.
In that same year, I heard this joke:
A Muscovite watches a communist demonstration next to a large statue of Lenin, upon which is inscribed, YOU DIED, BUT YOUR WORK WILL LIVE LONG!
A passerby reads the inscription, sighs, and says, “It would have been better had you lived a long time and your work died.”
Humour historically has been the most popular and widespread form of political protest in Russia and the former Soviet Union. As someone who grew up in Communist and later post-communist Mongolia, but within a Buryat family, jokes like these were rife throughout. However, Khalkha Mongolians were much more conservative about taking the mickey out of the State – as a very superstitious nation, they didn’t dare make jokes against the State, as it was considered blasphemous. Before the revolution, they didn’t dare share their ideas and opinions because they were afraid of repercussions and being imprisoned for their political views.
Some Mongolians who had studied in the USSR, learned about Glasnost and things such as freedom of speech and economic liberty. My friend’s grandmother used to say to me:
“When I was a young girl, people who worked in state jobs and represented the government, were honoured. Nowadays, it is something to be ashamed about.”
It was Roger Rabbit who said: “If you don’t have a sense of humour, you’re better off dead.”
One thing that I have learned being Mongolian is the sense of humour you develop when faced with adversity. And it is this sense of humour that allows Mongolians to joke amidst the rise in unemployment, alcoholism and corruption. Here are a selection of jokes to keep you amused. As these jokes are living oral traditions, I have discussed them with a humorist and tried to adapt them a little, to make them even funnier for my anticipated English-speaking audience.
Two housewives are talking each other. The first woman says, “Did you hear about that new income source? If you leave some good comments about the former president on some website, you can earn 5,000 MNT. Why am I joining an online beauty product business?” Her friend replies, “Five thousand is nothing. They paid me one million to participate in a hunger strike for the former president at Sukhbaatar Square. I took the money and lost weight. Before, we paid money for slimming products, but now we’re earning money to lose weight. How’s that for progress?”
A parliament member was going home and some hooligans didn’t recognize him and beat him up, demanding vodka money. After they went away, the parliament member stood up and cleaned his clothes. “It’s good that they didn’t recognize me,” he mumbled. “They would never have beaten an innocent man, hit him around the head, and left him to recover and go about his honest business like a good citizen if they had known I was from the government.
And finally, I will leave you with this one:
Once, a train full of parliament members was in an accident. When police and investigators came, the local people told them that everyone had already been buried. The police asked, “They all died?” The local people said, “Some of them said they weren’t dead, and tried to prove they were alive, but parliament members always lie. Nothing they ever say is true, so we did not believe them. Would you?” As usual, the police officers were a little lost for words.
These jokes might be funny, but it shows one important thing – Mongolia needs to see change. And soon.