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3. Susanne Schmidt: Mongolia in Transition

Susanne Schmidt's book shows how all the overall patterns decribed by various authors af the first book affect life in the city and in the countryside. She divides her book into seven chapters of which the four core chapters are:

The text is accompanied by two introductory chapters (one dedicated to the history of this study, the other one serving as a general introduction to social issues in Mongolia), concluding remarks, a glossary, eleven tables, four figures and one map.

Susanne Schmidt's study (which originated as a doctoral thesis) is a remarkable piece of reading and offers a wealth of first-hand information. The author conducted field work in Bayan-Ölgiï and Bayan-Uul Sum in Xöwsgöl Aimag (aimag centre: Mörön) where she studied the process of decollectivization. Since the privatization and changed property structure left considerable impact on the population, the conditions under which she conducted her research cannot exactly be called favourable; very much like the residents of Ulaanbaatar and in the countryside, the author was hit by the social changes in many aspects; not only was academic life in the capital reduced to a bare minimum, also the data acquisition in the countryside posed a considerable challenge. In any other context, it may seem unnecessary to mention these hardships of the author, but here these hardships demonstrate the initial effects of structural change indeed in a graphical manner.

Schmidt observed how during the privatization the former production units (m. nägdäl) were turned into private companies with or without animals (the first being called m. maltaï kompani). She describes the failure of transforming former production units into companies. On one hand, the local herders were at times deeply dissatisfied with the performance of the newly established companies. On the other hand, for the former unit leaders now turned company heads however this transition was welcome because they could profit from their newly-gained positions in the companies. In addition, the privatization failed to develop positive effects because the value of distributed vouchers did not match the newly fixed prices per sheep-unit which were prone to rise due to inflation (130 tögrög before privatization, 260 tögrög in May 1991, and 2,000 tögrög< in June 1993). This is just one example; the author describes in detail a host of other problems linked to reallocation of property, such as transport by technical means (vehicles and gasoline were scarce) or animals (all camels formerly in the sum had been sold) and pasture allocation for the fluctuating number of animals.

Detailed tables reflect the employment situation (84 out of 147 former unit employees lose their jobs; cf. p. 112, 113 and 154) and the individual income before and after privatization (p. 159). Via individual cases, Schmidt shows how these changes affect the life of her informants:

Ganbileg (ID 15) and Dseman both lost their state employment (white collar and worker) and became private entrepreneurs. They faced severe shortages in their efforts to rebuild the Soum's hotel. Dseman worked as a cook in the restaurant and Ganbileg restored the furniture. The 22 sheep they received through privatization had already been consumed and there was no further life security left except some ten cattle which were looked after by the informant's brother in the countryside.

Susanne Schmidt's book is certainly not targeted at the general reader with a first-time interest in Mongolia. Nonetheless the book tells a lot about modern life in a remote area of Mongolia (in my opinion, Ulaanbaatar is far too frequently mistaken for Mongolia, and vice versa). The author discusses various aspects of transformation theory prior to empirical work. As such, this book is indeed highly recommended for social scientists researching rural restructuring processes in Mongolia as well as for those administrators and specialists who work with international agencies and NGOs with the aim of improving the conditions in rural Mongolia. The reader will find, as mentioned, theory, accompanied by data, and, last but not least, accompanied by an insight into the mindframe of people who are victims or winners of social change.

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