Let’s start our post on skateboarding in Mongolia with a photo …
As a visitor, it might seem slightly incongruous to see a Beatles statue in the middle of Ulaanbaatar. However, on the opposite side of the road to the State Department Store is an open space, known as ‘Beatles Square’ after the bronze bas-relief monument. The area is also known locally as Fountain Park or Square.
The 2008 construction was funded privately by members of the public and far from just being a statue dedicated to the Fab Four, this statue, created by Mongolian sculptor Den Barsboldt, commemorates the transition of Mongolia from a Soviet satellite to a democracy in 1990.
One of the avenues that brought the ideals of democracy and independence into Mongolia was rock music. Although illegal, in the late 1980s, the youth of Ulaanbaatar gathered in hidden corners and back staircases trying to connect with Radio Luxembourg and imitating their western idols and the freedoms they inspired. To the community and individuals that funded the Beatles Statue, the statue represents Mongolia being more than just the stereotype of nomads, horses and Chinggis Khan, but a country with a rich urban culture that has been around since before independence even if it was suppressed.
And now when you walk past Beatles Square, you may see members of the Mongolian “Uukhai” Skateboarding Association using the urban space. Uukhai was the battle-cry of the Mongol warriors. It now represents a different battle, one of the youth and creative classes of Mongolia against the toll of the endemic corruption found throughout the country.
Uukhai is a fluid organisation. As well as a group of friends wanting to skate it is also a Mongolian registered NGO established in 2013 providing skateboards to youths in the city that cannot afford them. It also represents freedom against pressures from a traditional society for the first young generation to come of age in a democratic Mongolia. Just as rock music did for those wanting democracy in the late 1980s, skateboarding is one way in which young Mongolians are exploring new modes of self-expression.
Uukhai continues to carve out its identity – fighting against misunderstanding from the more traditional elements in Mongolia’s society – and is working hard to legitimise skateboarding in Mongolia. This includes running their first Uukhai Games in 2020 to celebrate their 7th anniversary – open to all from beginners to more experienced skaters as well as those with scooters and other boards such as longboards and even fingerboards. With the inclusion of skateboarding in the Tokyo Olympics it could be that Monglia will one year be able to enter their own skateboarding representative and Uukhai is working towards funding an indoor skate park to help prepare future Olympic athletes. For now, you will find the skaters outside the National History Museum, Builders Square and the area between the Beatles Statue and the Circus.
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes