Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Understanding my Mongolian heritage: part two

I remember going to Inna’s house with my grandma, meeting her little dog Juchka and listening to their talks. She was friends with Anastasia Tsvetaeva, sister of Marina Tsvetaeva, whom she met in the Gulag. She was friends with Rerikh, the famous Russian painter. She was friends with many other Russian and Mongolian intellectuals of the time, most of whom suffered under a horrible regime.

Radna’s first husband, Dash Sampilon, was considered the first unofficial President of Mongolia. He was a true advocate of pan-mongolism, the ideology of uniting all the Mongols spread around Eurasia, including Central Mongolians, Buriads living in the Russian Republic of Buritya, and Mongols living in Inner Mongolia, China. He was the Minister of Trade and had spent most of his life in Germany and France. There are articles about Dash travelling around Europe by an English author, Serge M. Wolff. Dash was repressed and sent to jail in Siberia for a decade, before being shot in 1938.

Nima, my great-grandmother, was the couple’s daughter. She subtly remembers her days with Dash, even though she was only five years old at the time. She still has several pictures of him and other elements of her early life, including the house where she lived in Berlin, her nanny, Tante Eva, whose real name was Mrs. Ruediger and her teddy bear. There is a beautiful picture of the three of them taken in Berlin in 1925, when Nima was only three years old.


Knowledge saved his life


Before his death, Dash asked his apprentice, Rinchen, to take care of his wife and daughter. Radna got married to Rinchen, who would later become one of the most important founders of modern Mongolian literature. His statue can be found in front of the Central Library of Mongolia.

Rinchen was an internationally acknowledged writer and a linguist who perfectly utilised several languages, including Manchu, Czech, French, German, Russian, Polish, Chinese and Esperanto. He was friends with many international scientists and academics. His works were closely connected with Mongolian history, including that of the Huns. Rinchen was also into research on shamanism, a trance ritual of spiritualism.

Sadly, Rinchen was also repressed. His works were closely watched and controlled. When he was sent to a jail for execution, a government official needed a French translator and he was subsequently released. Knowledge saved his life.

Rinchen lived a long and hard life. One of his most memorable statements was: “Life amongst stupidity feels like a century, life amongst brightness feels like a momentum.” This reminds me of Einstein’s explanation of the theory of relativity.


I never met my grandfathers, only living with the image of my female family members


Later, Rinchen was diagnosed with cancer. However, the leader of Mongolia, Tsedenbal refused him his passport. He was left to suffer until his death in Mongolia in 1977. His name is known by every Mongolian today.

I never met my grandfathers, only living with the image of my female family members. When I was growing up, I started to see my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother not just as women dealing with their busy daily lives, responsible for raising their children and grandchildren, but as women with individual stories.

I wanted to know more: how they were as young women, what they felt when they lost their fathers or their husbands. How did they overcome this burden of constant humiliation, control and repression? They all were so educated and proud. There was a fire in their eyes. They never gave up, they never complained. They just did what they had to do, working hard to keep their heads up and raise their children. I don’t know if I am as strong as them, but whenever I am in a hard situation, I think that it is nothing compared to what they went through.


I hope that young people will learn about their histories and avoid repeating dark moments of the past


This is just a small part of modern Mongolian history. It is about the intellectuals, whose lives and destinies changed against their will.

There are few families with a history similar to that of my own but there are thousands of Mongolians who experienced the difficulties of communism and, later, the transition to democracy.

The great repression has killed many intellectuals. The consequences are still visible today. The country has been left in a difficult situation without those who can lead and guide, who give reasonable explanations, and leave valuable works behind.

This is a sad story but I believe that things will change in Mongolia. I hope that young people will learn about their histories and avoid repeating dark moments of the past.

My family believes that education is the most important thing and, together with a language, it can make major changes to anybody’s life. There is a powerful proverb we use: “if you learn a language, you earn a leg.”

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