Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ulan Bator Moves to Restore Use of Old Mongolian Alphabet by 2025

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 21—Yesterday, the Grand Khural of Mongolia gave preliminary approval to a measure that would restore “Mongol Biching,” the old vertical Mongolian alphabet, by 2025, as the main script in that country in place of the Cyrillic-based script that has been in use since the 1920s (


            The issue has been under discussion for some time. On the one hand, if it did not make this change, Mongolia would be the only Asian country still using the Russian alphabet, something that many Mongols see as a denigration of their national dignity (


            But on the other, if it does, it will have to find the money to retrain its adult population or risk their becoming functional illiterates in their own country and may put at risk its expanding contacts with the Buryats of the Russian Federation who at least for the time being are going to continue to be using the Cyrillic alphabet.


            Moscow’s reaction to this Mongolian decision almost certainly is ambivalent. Many Russians will see this as the latest retreat of what they call “the Russian world,” but some may be pleased that this will reduce the speed at which ties between the Buryat Mongols within the Russian Federation’s borders and Khalka Mongols in Mongolia have been expanding.


            If in the past, the Russian authorities viewed the extension of the Cyrillic alphabet as a way of projecting Moscow’s influence in Mongolia, they may now conclude that the elimination of that alphabet and its replacement by one few Buryats know as the best means of blocking Ulan Bator from extending its influence northward into a weakening Russia.


            That is especially likely given that Buryats now say that the current economic crisis means that they need to be looking to Mongolia rather than to Moscow, a shift in perspective that few in the Russian capital are likely to welcome (



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