H.E. Tsakhia Elbegdorj
President of Mongolia
Read the full transcript of his address.
On Friday, July 1, 2011, Mongolia took over the rotating Presidency of the Community of Democracies from Lithuania at the biennial ministerial meeting of the Community held in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. In anticipation of that event, NED welcomed Mongolia’s President H.E. Tsakhia Elbegdorj to address an audience in the U.S. Capitol. The Endowment co-sponsored the event with the Congressional Mongolia Caucus and the House Democratic Partnership.
Honorable Congressman David Dreier, Honorable Congressman David Price, Honorable Congressman Joe Pitts, Honorable Congressman James McDermott, Honorable Congresswoman Susan Davis, esteemed Carl Gershman, Honorable Members of the Congress, ladies and gentleman:
This is truly a privilege to be here in front of you. I was born in a herdsman’s family, with my seven brothers, and raised in a herdsman’s family. I think today, standing in front of you, this is truly a tribute to the freedoms and democracy that both our nations cherish.
First of all, I would like to express my deep gratitude for the continued and consistent support of our nation’s effort to build an open, just, democratic society on our land. Also, I would like to thank American leaders for their continued call for greater peace and freedom throughout the world.
Many people ask how Mongolia, between China and Russia, did this transition to democracy. I would like to tell two small stories, how we began that transition. I studied in Ukraine between 1983 and 1988 and during that time President Gorbachev announced his policy: perestroika and glasnost. When I came to my home, I thought that Mongolia was behind the Soviet Union in terms of perestroika and glasnost. Likeminded people like me and others of my friends, we gathered together and talked to each other and we called it kitchen talk, whispering to each other, you know, something is wrong in our country. We have to fix it. And we decided to establish some type of club and after that we decided to establish non-governmental movements, democratic movements.
And on December 10th, 1989, we actually organized our first demonstration in Mongolia. As you know, the 10th of December is International Human Rights Day. Because of that, we actually chose that date, just showing to the leaders of our country that we are going to celebrate Human Rights Day in Mongolia. Our demands from the demonstration were very, very strong to the politburo during that time. We actually demanded freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to own property, the right to choose a multi-party system, democratic elections in Mongolia. All those were during that time prohibited by law and by our constitution.
And in that first demonstration, there gathered around 3,000 people and later, we found out that every two out of three people were undercover KGB people. We expected a reply from the politburo. Of course there was not any reply but they actually mobilized their machine of ideology against us, calling us rabble rousers, you know, destroying the system.
Then we announced our second demonstration and we got 5,000 people. Then we announced our third demonstration and we got 10,000. In the fourth one, I think we got 50,000. In the fifth one, we got 100,000 people. The politburo, of course, tried to deal with us forcefully. But it was too late. The whole country was on the rise. From that, I made one conclusion: no authoritarian government, no military regime, no tyranny can stand against the collective will of people who are determined to be free. .
After that, we had a long negotiation with the politburo and many people wondered how Mongolia did that transition. During that time, the Soviet Union was intact and the People’s Republic of China carried out the Tiananmen massacre. But between them, small Mongolia, how did it transition without bloodshed, not shattering a single window? We did it peacefully, because in our hands, we only had a microphone and paper. We only demanded from our leaders to sit together, at one table, and discuss and negotiate. Actually, we gave them space.
A multi-party system meant for us at that time: my party is just born, it is a new party. And your party has 70 years of history. When we have a multi-party election, of course, it’s all but certain your party will win. In June 1990, we had our first democratic elections and the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party won 70 percent. But they became a part of the movement. They became part of the reforms. They actually decided to make changes in our constitution. Because of that we gave them those opportunities.
Democracy and freedom are really about opportunity: in Communist regimes, if you make mistakes, they are your last ones.. But with freedom, you can fix it. That’s the beauty of freedom. Our new government, democratic government, makes many mistakes, but we can fix them.
And the second story: I founded with my friends the first free newspaper in Mongolia. In every organization, in every field, actually, we had our supporters. There was a publishing house which published the Party newspaper. We talked with our supporters in the publishing house to ask them to reserve, each time they published the newspaper, one roll of paper from publishing that newspaper, Truth. So they stole one roll of paper every time they published the newspaper. They stole it, roll by roll, roll by roll, until we got around 20 rolls. Within one month, that was enough to publish my newspaper, called Democracy. But in that newspaper, of course, we did not defend the right to steal, we actually defended the right to rebel, the right to create. That is a true story I clearly remember from my past.
Only elections are not a guarantee. Democracy and freedom are part of everyday life. Also, it never grows up. In that environment, for 22 years now, every morning it’s like changing diapers. You have to take care of that every day, every morning. With this daily work, democracy, democratic institutions can advance. Now we are talking about a representative government. It also has some weaknesses. Because of that, we have to encourage public participation. We have to give more rights to the people, to the local governments. Many decisions can be made through referendum. People can ask direct questions and challenge the decisions made by Parliament. I think we will go further in Mongolia in terms of the development of democracy.
Since 1990, we had in Mongolia five Parliamentary elections, five local elections, five Presidential elections. And from one party to another party, we shifted political power without violence. That’s one great thing. But, of course, we had challenges, sandwiched between those two neighbors, making the transition quite difficult.
One thing quite attractive about the Mongolian transition was that we made the political and economic transitions side by side. Some skeptics say that it’s impossible to make dual transitions, political and economic transitions, in Asian countries. But Mongolians broke that stereotype. We proved that it can be done in every country, in every corner of the world; it can be done. We proved that.
I usually say that freedom has no obstacles. But it has challenges. Genghis Khan once said that it is easy to conquer the world on horseback. What’s challenging is to dismount and try to govern. We actually face that challenge every time when we came into government, and when we remained, also, in opposition.
Now my country is becoming the beacon for democratic development. I call my country a “democratic anchor in the East.” Recently we received a delegation from Kyrgyzstan. They were very much interested in our democratic experience, our parliamentary type of governance, and we shared our experiences. If we see Kyrgyzstan become a stable, peaceful, open country, I think Kyrgyzstan’s example will have certain effects on Afghanistan, on the ‘stan’ countries. Also, we have a very unique connection with North Korea. Now we are developing some exchange programs. We have a government commission, an embassy there. We have some unique insights. Those people who came to Mongolia for exchange programs, for meetings, they see that there is a different way of living, a different way of governance. Even though Mongolia by population is a small country, I think we can be a big example in our region.
Taking the chairmanship, the driver’s seat in the Community of Democracies, is really a great honor for our achievements. Imagine: just 20 years ago, we had a North Korea-like society and today we are chairing the Community of Democracies. It’s a great honor for our nation, for our people.
I think we will continue all the great traditions, and the recent reforms, within the Community of Democracies. Also we will help to share transition experiences of each country, for example, from communism to a market economy, from a one- party system to a multi-party system. We will also exchange our experience with the newly emerging democracies in the Middle East and in other parts of the world. We will give support to those people who dream about their freedom. I think freedom is the strongest power man ever has.
For those living under oppression, I would like to say this, “You will have your day.” God planted in every heart the desire to live free. Even if tyranny crushes that desire sometimes, that desire will rise again. In the mountains of Afghanistan, in the sandy homes of the Middle East, in the streets of Havana,, in the jungles of Burma, on the steppes of Asia and Africa, there are many people, still dreaming of greater freedom and peace. I hope that dream will come true and we will help them make it so.
Thank you very much.