Mongolian Nazis?

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The UK's Guardian reports that a society of neo-Nazis has emerged, preaching supremacy of the Mongolian race.

Where:

Mongolia

What's happening?

The group is called Tsagaan Khass, or White Swastika. Its 41-year-old co-founder, who calls himself Big Brother, says he respects  Adolf Hitler because "he taught us how to preserve national identity."  But while he admires Hitler's nationalist ideology, Big Brother says Tsagaan Khass doesn't align itself with his extremism and violence.

Still, the rise of Nazism in the small, Asian country is surprising - all the more so given that Hitler once mandated the execution of Soviet prisoners of war who looked Mongolian.

Notably, the Mongolian neo-Nazis aren't championing the violence of Hitler's regime. And they may be interpreting the Swastika differently. The Swastika, an old Indian Buddhist symbol used long before German Nazis made it a global icon of hatred, is also a Chinese character which represents a Buddhist shrine. According to Gyorgy Kara, a Mongolian language professor at the University of Indiana, it was printed on the original badge of the Mongol pioneers before 1933.  

Members of  Tsagaan Khass are advocating for ethnic purity and continued distinction from their powerful Chinese neighbors. "If we start mixing with the Chinese, they will slowly swallow us up," 23-year-old Battur told The Guardian. "Mongolian society is not very rich. Foreigners come with a lot of money and might start taking our women."

Tension between Mongolia and China isn't new. Throughout the early part of the 20th century, Mongolians struggled to gain independence  from Chinese rule. Though they've been independent since 1921, Mongols still "transmit hostility" toward China to the younger generation in schools, says Chris Atwood, the chair of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies and associate professor at Indiana University. Youth are taught early about the common enemy.

And in the last 20 years, an emerging trend of Chinese economic colonization has led to frustration in the Mongolian market. Mining products now comprise a huge percentage of the Mongolian economy, and China is becoming the sole market for its exports. "So Mongolians feel like they are increasingly becoming a raw materials supplier for Chinese industry," Atwood explains. "China supplies the development, Mongolia supplies raw materials."

What's next?

Big Brother claims the group has become less extreme recently, a result of the influence of younger, less radical members. Still, with the U.S. State Department reporting on increased xenophobic attacks in the region since this spring, some are worried that the clout of the Tsagaan Khass could grow.  

Atwood doubts the group's Nazi ideology will gain much more traction in the society. "It is easily possible to exaggerate the importance of these neo-Nazi groups," he says, "But I can't foresee them becoming an important political force."

Most Mongols worry about two political issues: the economy and corruption, Atwood says. "I don't think the Mongolian population, at this point, is going to think racial politics are going to solve those problems," Atwood says.

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Elizabeth Weingarten is an editorial assistant at the New America Foundation. A former Slate editorial assistant, she also previously wrote for and produced the Atlantic's International Channel.

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