Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

The Secret Driving Force Behind Mongolia's Successful Democracy

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

The Secret Driving Force Behind Mongolia's Successful Democracy

Article excerpt

Twenty-five years after Mongolia's first free and democratic election, the country is commemorating the peaceful revolution that radically changed this country. Throughout these celebrations, we are reflecting on both the result of the changes of the past 25 years and the means by which those changes occurred. Not only are Mongolians marking the occasion, the nation is finally being heralded by the international community as an example of peaceful democratization. In my role as a member of the State Great Mural (parliament) of Mongolia, I am often asked, "How did you manage to do it?" Or, less frequently now, "How did we never notice Mongolia's democracy before?" Hearing these queries so frequently prompted me to seriously reflect upon the process by which Mongolia transformed from a Soviet satellite state into a robust and thriving democracy.

The harsh winter of 1989-1990 was a critical juncture in my country's history. It was too cold for any foreign reporters to come here and witness first-hand Ulaanbaatar's demonstrations. Peaceful, modest demonstration started on December 10, 1989, at the Youth Square of Hlaanbaatar to celebrate International Human Rights Day, and to announce the birth of the new non-communist movement "Democratic Union of Mongolia." The demonstrations grew bigger and filled the square by mid-January. Mongolia's weekend used to be only one day-Sunday-and the demonstrations took place almost every Sunday from January through May.

There was no bloodshed, no windows broken, and not even a fist fight during those frigid Sunday demonstrations for democracy. The media all too frequently overlook the dog that didn't bark in favor of reporting on the rabid dog that bites; Mongolia's peaceful demonstrations would not make for catchy headlines, and thus were neglected by international media in favor of splash- ier events elsewhere. Mongolia's democracy rallies and events happened at the same time as protests were coming to a head in Eastern Europe. The international press was focused on Eastern Europe, leaving Mongolians to the process of demanding and constructing our own democracy.

Mongolia's successful transition, though overlooked until recent years, has profound implications for the international community. When I escorted high-level government, NGO, and media representatives from Myanmar during a recent visit to Mongolia, I was asked many questions regarding issues that we take for granted. As the head of the MongolianMyanmar parliamentary group, I extended my best wishes to the Myanmar people's effort to reform their country into a thriving democracy. I further promised to share my knowledge and experience whenever asked. As the head of the Mongolia-Kyrgyzstan Intergovernmental Committee, I also had a chance to share our stories with Kyrgyz politicians who have bold aspirations to change their country peacefully and successfully "like Mongolia."

Compared with many post-communist Central Asian countries, and even some Eastern European countries-most notably Russia-Mongolia's public is the least nostalgic about the past communist years. According to the Sant Maral Foundation, an independent polling nongovernmental organization (NGO), over 90 percent of the Mongolian public voted "No" every quarter for the past 25 years when asked, "Do you regret that Mongolia chose democracy in 1990?" This is the highest level and the most consistent national consensus among other regular, repetitive questions that Sant Maral asks in its quarterly polls. From the family point of view, it means that almost every family in Mongolia- which was the world's second communist country after Russia (the USSR) less than a century ago-appreciates the democratic choice that the nation made.

Why is this important? It is a big responsibility for Mongolia to act as a democratic model to those countries that aspire to be "like Mongolia." We must critically examine our democratic history and share that experience frankly so that other countries are not lulled into thinking that democracy is easy to achieve. …

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