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Keeping in Steppe

Anthropologist David Sneath has been visiting Mongolia for over twenty years. He reports on how new political freedom and ideas are transforming ancient cultures.

Anthropologist David Sneath has been visiting and working in Mongolia for over twenty years, exploring both the realities and misconceptions of this vast land and its past.

Within the span of a single lifetime, Mongolia has undergone the trauma of two revolutions; first as it changed from a Buddhist aristocratic country into a fiercely controlled communist state dominated by the Soviet Union; and more recently it saw the collapse of state socialism and the rapid rise of a market economy.

David Sneath meets a cross section of contemporary Mongolian life, talking to people from business, journalism, academia, shamanism, herding, Buddhism, and music and the arts. As Mongolia confronts the confusion of change in the modern world, David describes how the country has sought solace in traditions of landscape and in the glories of the past.

For seventy years under communism, Mongolia was a semi-secret and unvisited country where Soviet ideology chipped away at many spiritual and cultural traditions. Buddhism, Shamanism, even the country's great history of empire was discouraged or outlawed. How do the vast open grasslands influence the way Mongolians view themselves and their culture? What happens to the nomadic lifestyle of the herders as mining companies move in and young people flock to the city? What is the role of history and tradition in the new Mongolia?

A Whistledown Production for BBC Radio 3.

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45 minutes

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