Monday, September 14, 2015

An Old Communist's Digression on Mongolia

So, in Moscow, in 1942, I was in prison with a commissioner from the Ministry of Health in Mongolia. He described Mongolia to me. Today Le Monde or even the American papers still express surprise and joy that Mongolia is on Russia's side, that it hasn't let itself be talked around by the Chinese, that it was admitted to the UN in return for Mauritania. That was some deal. Independent Mongolia and independent Mauritania. The next day Mauritania voted against the West and America, and Mongolia became a go-between for the Afro-Asian camp. What kind of place is Mongolia? (I'll make it fast because we might not come back to this later, and it's interesting.)

He was a commissioner in the Ministry of Health. What does that mean? It turns out that collective farms were not introduced in Mongolia, they didn't touch the majority of the monasteries, and they left the old Mongolian customs alone, they were so old. There were ministries, and the ministers were Mongolians. And in every ministry there was a security commissioner with his own secret office. The Mongolian minister had a limousine, a villa, servants, and girls, and, besides that, as a doctor, my friend the commissioner would supply him with hashish or opium--I don't remember which. He could do anything if it was connected with health. He'd been in power, my cell mate, but there was also the NKVD where all the strings came together, in a little building, not interfering, the NKVD outpost for Russians sent from Moscow. They had orgies there every night in the NKVD building, he and those NKVD people. Well, but then he tripped himself up. At that time no one was permitted to travel to Mongolia, but a group of French communists or progressives arrived there. They took a picture of a cemetery where dogs were ripping apart the corpses that hadn't been buried deeply enough out of sheer slovenliness. The ground was stony. The delegation of progressives returned to Moscow with that photograph, and there was a scandal. He probably had other things on his conscience as well. For example, he was also accused of stealing a beautiful and very ancient ivory sculpture from a monastery. He described that sculpture to me: it was of a monastery with a great many monks. He said, "All right, but we all did that, all of us: I went to that monastery with my friends from the NKVD." Of course he said that he had sent the sculpture to his wife in Moscow, and his wife was supposed to donate it to a museum but hadn't gotten around to it yet. They all stole. And that was a People's Democracy. Without collective farms, where the customs and the religion had been preserved.

And so I thought Poland would be a sort of Western European Mongolia.
from "My Century" by Aleksander Wat, p. 114-115