Living under tyranny
is like living in a cage. Freedom means leaving the cage. However,
when the cage no longer keeps you in, it also no longer keeps the wolf out.
This is one of the observations made in an interview with Elbegdorj Tsahkia,
the first democratic Prime Minister of Mongolia. We were privileged
to spend a few hours talking with him about the evolution of democracy and
the problems of transition from a Communist regime to one of freedom.
Now, on the anniversary of our first year in Iraq, we believe these are valuable
lessons we should be reminded of.
We tend to forget that it took 12 years in our own country to get from the
Revolution to the Constitution. Freedom does not come in a package.
By its very definition it must be experienced and we all make mistakes along
the way. We may study our own history or that of Mongolia but, simply
enough, all we have to do is remember our own first tastes of freedom.
Remember when you first left home for college or a job? You probably
wanted the "freedom" of staying out late and making your own decisions, but
you still wanted the "security" that you could tap into the family savings
account if the going got tough, or even go back home, if needed. It
was a sort of half-freedom. What was one of the first freedoms you
wanted to experience? Could it have been parties or a few of the vices
you weren't allowed at home? Whether individuals or nations, it seems
we all go through a transition to freedom; it usually doesn't happen in a
What follows is the first segment of our interview with Elbegdorj Tsahkia
(whose nickname is EB). In this part of the series we get an insight
into the mind of someone growing up within a tyranny and why it is not so
self-evident, at first blush, that anything is wrong. Freedom takes
vision, courage and time. It requires a long view rather than a search
for immediate satisfaction. You'll probably recognize the common problem
facing the "elites" who hold or want to hold power; be it a Communist tyranny
or our own Leftish Democrats. Living in this nation, where over
two-thirds of Americans own their own homes, it is astonishing to contemplate
a culture wherein, until very recently, the very desire to own private property
was considered an act of treason.
Helen: What was it like living under Communism and
what is life like now in Mongolia? It may seem strange, but there are
some people who don't know there is a major difference.
EB: I think we all know that Communism is like a
dictatorship. One party and one man who rules. The rest of the
country works for the Party, for the elite. They confiscate all private
property and close all the entrepreneurial ability of the people. That
ends competition, which results in no growth and no initiative. Everyone
works for the boss, or the elite. The elite makes the decisions for the people.
The main headache of the dictators, the elite, is how to control the people.
Their main fear is that people will not allow themselves to be controlled.
In order to control them they make the people like prisoners in their own
this they must prohibit free expression, and if people exercise their right
to expression; be it ideas, criticism of leadership, or even pursuing happiness
in your own life rather than what the party elite want, or any other way
that the elite does not approve, you are really punished. If you try
to exercise the right of private property, or even your own business, you
also will be punished.
Peter: So it's almost like treason to express yourself, own private property or control your own livelihood?
EB: Yes, treason of the Communist or Socialist ideology.
Peter: How long was Mongolia under rule of the Communist party?
EB: You know many people think that Communists of
the Soviet Union was the longest-ruling party in the world, but they ruled
their country only 74 years from 1917 to 1991. Mongolian Revolutionary
Party, the Mongolian Communist Party ruled our country from 1921 to 1996.
That means the Mongolian Communist party ruled 75 years, one year longer
than the Soviet Communist Party. Yet, in 1996 we actually changed all
Peter: Now until 1991 you had actually been a part of the Soviet Union?
EB: Mongolia was an independent country, not one
of the Soviets. The Soviet Union consisted of 15 Republics, or Soviets,
but Mongolia was not included in that. We did ally ideologically and
were a satellite country.
Helen: 75 years is almost four generations. What was it like when freedom broke out?
EB: Communism, Marxism and Leninism was sort of
a religion. In fact, they prohibited the exercise of any other religious
beliefs. At first, when they came and confiscated property, people
fought against them. But the people lost and were killed or escaped
from their own country. It was very serious during the Lenin
and Stalin times, until maybe 1950, when the Cold War began. But then,
in 1954 when Kruschev came into power, the regime became milder toward us;
they no longer killed hundreds or thousands of people. They did send
them to exile instead or to other countries, to prisons or to mental hospitals.
They also started to make mistakes. For instance if someone from your
family was killed, you would have some type of inner rage inside and would
pass that along to your future generations. Generation talked to generation
and spread the word about how cruel the Communists were. These hurts
didn't, and don't, go away. They remained inside the soul of the people.
1980's, when the Soviet's began Peristroika and Glasnost, there were many
critics of the Stalin and Lenin times. At that time I was a student
in the Soviet Union, in the Ukraine. We read a lot of newspapers and
publications and were surprised that these rulers had been really bad guys.
After that, people also got the notion that not only were one or two people
bad, maybe the whole system was bad. That was the great notion.
It wasn't only one or two people who were wrong, the whole system was wrong.
Helen: Does communism actually proclaim to the people
that it's a system "for your own good?" In other words, how do they
present themselves to the people? And do the people believe them?
EB: Many of the people genuinely
believed in the Communist ideology. They present themselves very clearly,
in a very good way. They actually hide their shadow and they only show
the good things. The highest peak of Communism was between 1970 and
so surprised how everything was available to the elite, of which I was one
at that time. You could go anywhere, do anything and get anything and
the state paid for it. For example, I was a student and bread
was without charge in restaurants. Then we bought soup and ate
the free bread with it. Plus, the government paid all our tuition,
housing and even gave us some money. The metro was good and ran well.
The shops we shopped in had everything we wanted... but it didn't last long.
However, it did divert people's attention for a while, to think, "maybe Communism
works." Plus, they kept telling us that after 20 or 30 years your life
will be much, much better than now. Everything will be free in Communism.
When you believe in Communism you don't want to ask such questions so, when
they tell us that it's going to happen for the better in 10 or 20 or more
years, we want to believe. They would also point to East Germany and
say they have almost achieved the perfect state. So we kept waiting
for perfection, for the perfect society. Many people truly believed
Helen: What about the people who didn't see the
good part; for instance, those who had someone in their family killed by
EB: In order to kill people, the
Communists organized a sort of fabrication. They would charge 'espionage',
'treason' or 'betrayal' against the person they wanted to kill. For
example, in America, some CIA agent would be charged with working with the
Soviet Union. A very common charge was "betrayal of the communist ideology."
It was very difficult to find out what exactly was betrayed. Or another
charge was that the individual tried to organize an illegal organization.
That would usually mean some sort of non-governmental organization, or a
possible opposition party. It was like that. A whole machine
worked to prove the guilt of the person charged. In the Soviet Union
they had about 7 types of newspapers, for instance Pravda, a children's
newspaper, a youth newspaper and others. Plus, only one channel on TV, and
that channel was owned by the government and said only what the government
wanted people to hear. For instance, programs about how heroically
people build Communist villages and how heroically they fought against the
bourgeoisie, who had land and property before Communism.
Peter: You grew up with this all around you and
you didn't know anything else. So what helped you to begin to see another
EB: It was very difficult to see another way.
When I was young and a child, we were members of the Party beginning in elementary
school. In secondary school we became Pioneers. And then there
was another Committee from 16 years up, if you behaved well and had good
grades. Then, if you are exceptionally good, you are a member of the
Communist Party, the elite. The Communist Party membership opened doors
to a good career. Without membership, it is difficult to live with a good
believe in Communism after graduation of high school. I dreamed
to study at university, but didn't ever dare dream of studying in the Soviet
Union. I dreamed to become a journalist and to study in Mongolia in
our capital city. There were different schools for different professions;
for instance, if you wanted to be a doctor you went to one, a journalist,
another and so on; but there were only so many slots each year. When
I graduated, there weren't any slots open for a journalist. So I decided
to go to work in a State company.
was a big change for me since, for the first 16 years of my life, I lived
in the countryside with my parents, far from a big city. They were
ordinary herdsmen. So, after I graduated, my parents, who had become
old after raising 8 children, myself being the youngest, decided to move
to the city. After one year of working in the city in the State company
I was recruited into the Army. Every man in Mongolia is obligated to
serve in the Army for three years.
my Commander in the Army and was in charge of the Revolutionary Youths.
I was even promoted to Sergeant, with 3 stripes. Also I had a passion
to write poetry and wrote small poems, and I also wanted to be published
in our Army newspaper.
a big surprise when two of my small poems were published in the Army newspaper.
It was also big news for my friends, since it was like being published in
the New York Times or Washington Post. Then the commander
called me to his office. I thought I had done something wrong!
Instead, he told me that the Chief of the Army newspaper wanted to meet me
and I was being given 24 hours off to go meet him. He actually didn't
believe it was my writing. He asked me if this was really my poetry.
I replied, "yes." So he asked me if I could write something while I
was there in his office. He gave me about 30 minutes and I wrote a
small poem. When I showed it to him he said, "hmm, looks good."
Then he asked me if I would like to go study in the Soviet Union for journalism.
Well, that was my dream. I said, "yes" and he told me there were two
slots, but it was not ordinary journalism, but military journalism. There
were also 50 competitors for those two slots.
took the exam which consisted of 3 subjects and I was chosen. I served
in the Mongolian People's Army for only one year and then I was sent to the
End of Part 1 of series.
& Helen Evans, international teachers and authors, write articles and
teach a philosophical approach to conservatism. Their website is http://peterandhelenevans.com.
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