A protest movement has sprung up in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar to protect a monument to the Beatles that may be in danger of demolition.
The artwork shows a bronze bas relief of the band on one side, and a Mongolian man strumming a guitar on the other. It stands in what is unofficially known as Beatles Square, which was built in 2008 to celebrate Mongolia’s move to democracy in 1990.
The sculpture recalls the 1970s in Ulaanbaatar, when groups of teenagers would gather in apartment stairwells to sing Beatles songs. The plaza, which is surrounded by cafes, restaurants and cashmere shops, is a hub of activity in summer.
Residents are protesting against plans to build more commercial property in the square. Tsoggerel Uyanga, a community organiser, told the Reuters news agency: "For a long time there were stories about construction on the land, but nobody wanted to believe it."
Protests began following an announcement on 2 August that construction work would start, with residents calling the project a "land grab" and expressing fears the Beatles statue would be demolished.
Authorities have said the plan is to pedestrianise the area and build an underground shopping mall with street gardens. A lawyer for Mongolia’s National Construction Association said there were no plans to remove the statue.Â
Uyanga told Reuters that similar promises to protect public spaces had been made in the past and had not been kept. He gave as an example the Bogd Khan nature reserve on the edge of UlaanbaatarÂ where the World Bank had raised concerns about overdevelopment.
The monument has become a test case for a wider struggle over the development of Ulaanbaatar. The city has been a centre of domestic migration in Mongolia, resulting in a situation where 40% of the population live there.
This means that a city built to accommodate 600,000 people now contains twice that number, with the result that while the country is near empty, its capital suffers from all the evils of urban overcrowding, including slums, housing shortages, traffic jams and deadly pollution.Â
Image: The statue was erected on John Lennon’s birthday in 2008 (Clay Gilliland/Creative Commons)