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One Year Toward Freedom
by Peter & Helen Evans
20 April 2004

In this interview Elbegdorj Tsahkia, the first democratic Prime Minister of Mongolia, talks about the evolution of democracy and the problems of transition from a Communist regime to one of freedom.

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 lightning flash. 

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 society. 

To do 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 that. 

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. 

In the 1980's, when the Soviet's began Perestroika 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 1980. 

I was 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 it.

Helen:  What about the people who didn't see the good part; for instance, those who had someone in their family killed by the Communists?

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 way?

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 job. 

I did 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.

This 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. 

I impressed 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. 

It was 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. 

So I 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 Soviet Union.

[This is part 2 of an interview series with Elbegdorj Tsahkia, the first democratic Prime Minister of Mongolia.  We feel it is a good time, during the "one year in Iraq" anniversary, to remind us all about the progress of freedom, be it in Iraq or in Mongolia.   We're fascinated by the story, but find the real fascination is how freedom develops over time and the varying stages it seems to take everywhere.  People seem to accept a lot of terrible things in life until that moment when it dawns on them that they just won't stand for it any longer.  Last summer we met a Cuban dissident who explained you can take things from the people, you can torture them and even kill some of them, but there comes a time when a change of consciousness or a realization finally takes hold of them.  From then on, the people will rise up to demand their freedom.  Yes, there are backslides and mistakes to be made and corrected.   In our last segment, we said that freedom doesn't happen in a flash.  The realization may, but the implementation of freedom takes time. We should be patient with Iraq and Mongolia.  We should encourage and support them, but know that freedom doesn't come in a package.  The people have to take up the cause.]

Helen:  How long were you in the Soviet Union?

EB:      Five years, majoring in Military Journalism.  During that 5 years I tried to publish a student newspaper, but we only published one issue.  At that time it was a big deal and they called us and asked us why we were doing that.  In those days it was still illegal to publish a newspaper that was not approved of by the government.  We told them that is was sort of a journalistic academic assignment and we tried to show to our professors how capable we were since we were not only writing articles, we were publishing them too.  However, they closed us down and told us that if we do it again we will be jailed or at the very least be expelled from school.  All we wanted to do was show our initiative. 

Helen:  Was it at this point that you decided you were not happy with Communism?
EB:      Not quite yet.  It was a small shadow, a small stage, but not complete disillusionment.  The most important thing during my disappointment was the soft power influence by America and other western powers.  Hard power means military, but soft power means freedom and intangible powers such as influence.  The greatest of these was the Voice of America, another was Radio Free Europe.  As we listened to these we realized that they were telling more truths than the news we were given by the media in the Soviet Union. 

Peter:  As a student in journalism, were you conscious of the quality of the official media?  What was the feeling among the other students about the quality of the government media, the official media?

EB:     We thought the newspapers were good and the journalists were of the highest professional quality, but I didn't like the excessive Marxism and Leninist ideology. They taught us that when we write any article we should get some message from either Marx or Lenin, even Engels to prove our argument.  Do you know that Lenin actually wrote 110 volumes!  Commentaries, letters, everything.  Plus we were assigned to read almost all of them. 

Peter:  Their writings were revered just as our Bible is revered by us.

EB:      Yes, like the Bible. 

Peter:  So Marxism and Leninism were the religion, and their writings were the holy books.

EB:      Yes.  Then after my graduation I went to work with the Army newspaper as a journalist back in Mongolia.   I focused on some critical issues in Army Life.  I wrote some big articles about wrong doings in the Army and their achievements.

Peter:  Was that taking a risk?

EB:      Not really, because it was also supported by doctrine.  For at that time in Communism they actually encouraged a kind of self criticism, but there was a limit.  But also we started having talks in our kitchens, which we called "kitchen talk."  This is where we criticized our leadership and we all felt there was something wrong, but we didn't know exactly what was wrong, nor how to fix it.  One thing that Gorbachev gave to the people is that he tried to put make-up on the Communist face.  He said he was going to improve Communism and society.  Well, he tried for five years, but instead of improving, Communism decayed.  Too many people felt it and from that they got the notion that it's impossible to improve the system;  there is something wrong with it.  Instead of improving it, we needed a complete change.  It was one of the turning points in my life.  I continued to talk to my friends at home, in their homes... but not in public places.    

Then, in late November of 1989, there was a call for a big Youth conference in Mongolia and I was selected to be one of the delegates.  Some of my friends were also chosen as delegates. Before this conference I was also a member of the organizers of the conference.  One night we talked about what the conference should accomplish.  At one gathering of about 100 of us, where we were very critical of the leadership, we decided that we should ask that they support Perestroika and Glasnost more.  I suggested that we needed to exchange ideas all over the country, like we were in our small meetings.  I even suggested we publish some type of newspaper for this free exchange of ideas.   After a day or so my friends called and said it's a very interesting idea and they were talking about it more and more.  So the more we talked about it we decided that a newspaper alone was not enough, but we also had to establish some type of non-governmental organization.   We needed an organized movement in Mongolia to support Perestroika.  We finally decided to use this conference where more than 1,000 delegates from all around the country would attend to announce our idea for a newspaper and a movement.  If we used this conference forum we just might succeed.  It seemed a one-time chance to succeed, for if we didn't succeed we might be captured and placed in jail or maybe even killed.  So this was a very serious issue and decision. 

At the conference were not only delegates from all over the county and various youth organizations, but also members of the Politburo.  It was a highly publicized event.   My friends decided I should be the one to announce our plan at the conference since I was a journalist and in the Military. 

So on the first day of the conference I asked the moderator for some time to speak. However, he didn't grant my request and we were running out of time.  We did have a kind of KGB [secret police] system in our country and it worked very well.  I think they knew what we were planning and tried to block it.  So my friends decided they would write my name on a small piece of paper and give it to the moderator and demand that I get a chance to speak.  I was in the first row and many, many papers arrived up front with my name.  Yet, still he wouldn't let me speak. 

So I collected more of the papers and used the excuse of giving the papers to the moderator to approach and get on the stage.  Then I said, "Oh, while I'm here, I'd like to use my time (which was 5 minutes) to make an announcement."   I publicly asked the moderator to speak.  The crowd was clapping and shouting for me to speak, yet the moderator was outraged.  He told me to sit down and was yelling at me. 

Yet, I stood my ground and spoke.  I merely told them that as young people we wanted to establish a non-governmental organization in order to support Perestroika and support our party.  

Peter:  What is Perestroika exactly?  Self Improvement?

EB:     Yes, sort of self improvement.  And Glasnost was openness.  We were actually hiding our true purpose which was to change the whole system.  So I asked anyone who was interested to stay after the conference and we'll all talk and begin to set it up.  After this conference we got more than 100 out of the 1,000 delegates.  We met in one room and chose 13 members to head the organization.  I was one of them.  Now in Mongolia we're called the 13 First Democrats.  We also realized the second stage of our movement must now be announced to the whole country.

Helen:  This is what started you on the road to becoming a politician.

EB:      Yes.  We also decided it was time to organize our first demonstration.  We called to the countryside and the cities that we should organize at the same time.  We would use this to tell Mongolia about its first non-governmental organization which we called the Mongolian Democratic Union. 

Helen:  How old were the people in this organization?

EB:      I was 26 years old.  The age group was 20 to 30 at first.  We organized our demonstration on December 10, 1989.  We choose December 10 because it's International Human Rights Day.  It looked like we were linked to them, or used that day to exercise our Human Rights.   We also announced our demands for the leadership of our country.  There were 14 demands.  They were to allow a multi party system, democratic elections, parliamentary type of government,  privatization of socialist property, freedom of press, freedom of religion; all the usual things.  This was very unexpected by the government.  It really came out of the blue to them.  We also demanded that they give us an answer or explanation of how they were going to implement these things.  We wanted communication on a weekly basis.  If they didn't give us the answers in one week we were going to begin the next stage of our fight.

Helen:  What was the next stage?

EB:      We announced that we would organize public meetings every week and announce what answers we got, or didn't get.  In the first meeting we got 1,000 people; in the second meeting we got 5,000 people; in the third meeting we got 10,000 people and, in the fourth meeting, we got 100,000 people!  In Mongolia, a country with the population only about 3 million people, that's a lot of people to show up.  Our supporters popped up everywhere, it was like mushrooms popping up after the rain.  And it was all members and ages of society that popped up.  They also organized the MDU of their individual district or city.  It was spreading fast. 

My conclusion is that dictators can hold their country for a long time, as it was 70 years in Mongolia, but if people get the notion or consciousness of a different, free way of life, people will mobilize in a day, a week or in just one month, as with us.  This also happened within Eastern Europe. 

It happens fast, because our first demonstration was December 10, 1989 and the Politburo resigned on March 9, 1990. That was about 3 months from beginning to the end of dictatorship.

Helen and Peter:  That's truly amazing!

[So far we've seen an amazing story.  The seizing of a momentary opportunity and the on-going struggle of a people resolved to live in freedom, but unfamiliar with freedom's exigencies.  However, we'd like you to think of when you resolve to do something; to get a better job, to diet, to pay off bills, whatever.  There is initial excitement, but that begins to wane with time and especially with the first obstacles encountered on the way.  Now, we don't want to make it too simplistic, but there are some basic problems inherent in attaining freedom and living responsibly.  Certainly they can be overcome, but it takes vision and planning.  It calls for patience, for courage and for keeping our resolve.  We can learn a lot from America's experiences as far back as the Marshall Plan, and as recently as in Mongolia and Iraq. 

We'd also like to point out that the establishment of the new government in Mongolia included members of the old Communist party.  This sure is a slippery slope.  To paraphrase Victor Davis Hanson, from his book,
An Autumn of War, letting bygones be bygones doesn't work very well.  He suggests that the second World War need not have happened if we had truly defeated Germany in the first.  Many have suggested that a complete victory in the first Iraq war would have prevented the second, from which we're still cleaning up.  We must defeat the enemy decisively and humiliatingly; be it through a formal ceremony of surrender, as with Japan after WW2, or simply by showing pictures of an unshaven Saddam Hussein with lice in his hair.  This is one of the criticisms of the UN "peace-keeping" policy which doesn't allow a decisive victory for either party.  Both sides feel they've won (at least, not 'really' lost) and want to gain power again.  It's just a way to prolong the struggle. 

However, let's consider what to do "after the revolution" when the only people around who know how to run a country are members of the old ruling party.  Do we trust them?  What should we do with all of them?  In what follows, we see what happened in Mongolia.  We've seen what happened in Romania, and now we're dealing with the same problem in Iraq, where there are still members of the socialist Ba'ath party, wearing a new name and asking for their fair role in the new government.]

EB:  In 3 months we mobilized the whole country!  The members of the Politburo tried to use force and capture us.  They tried to use the same methods they used in Tienanmen Square in China, but they also saw that their people were no longer going to implement their directives. 

Peter:  People were starting to look to you and your supporters instead; to the First 13 Democrats. 

EB:  Yes, 13 people became 30,000, then 100,000 people, then the whole country.  Then we also published our first free newspaper.  I finally realized my dream from long ago.  Then in June, 1990, only six months after the first demonstration, we got our first democratic election. 

Helen:  So now the people have freedom.  How did they like it, how did it evolve?  What's the transition period like?  It must be difficult.

EB:  Yes it's very difficult.  To be free means to be brave, also to take responsibility. While you develop those traits you also have the practical considerations of feeding your family and feeding yourself.  Before, the state fed us.  We were sort of like rabbits in a zoo.  We liked being free from the cage, but, when it came feeding time, we wanted to go back to the cage to be fed.  Freedom is like life in the wild and we had to fend for ourselves. 

Peter:  Without the cage, it no longer keeps you in, but it also no longer keeps the wolf out. 

EB:  So we were in the wilderness where we had to feed ourselves, shelter ourselves and find jobs.  So what happens now?  Everyone who was active in our movement was fired from their jobs.  No work... that's a big sacrifice.  We were attacked as criminals.  Plus, even though the Politburo resigned they didn't go to their graves.  They were living people.  There were over 170,000 of them. 

So in the transition, because people didn't know how to fend for themselves, the shops were empty.  People couldn't even buy food for themselves and the first thing they did was blame the 13 Democrats for taking away their leadership who had provided them with food. 

Helen:  They didn't know that, when you destroy one system, it takes time to create a new one.  So, one disadvantage of it happening so fast was that there was no time for a real transition.

EB:  So, the first year of our transition was very, very difficult.  One thing that helped was that Mongolia became an open country before the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.  But in Mongolia we already had our first democratic election.  We were 14 months ahead of the Soviet collapse and that saved our country.   When the Soviet Union collapsed, everything stopped, and we had been subsidized about 90% by them.  Electricity, oil, everything was coming from the Soviet Union.  All that would have stopped in 1991, but since we had our elections beforehand we became members of the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and IMF.   So the collapse didn't hurt us as much. 

After the democratic elections, we got many brothers, many friends from around the world helping us.  Plus many western countries came to help us.  In the winter of 1990, we had our first donor meeting and 14 western countries showed up, including America, Japan, South Korea and Germany.  They gave us about 300 million dollars.  With this 300 million we paid for the electricity, gasoline and some essential goods we were still buying from the Soviet Union, but in dollars, rather than rubles.  If we were a Communist country in 1991 I don't think Mongolia would have survived.  We needed the western assistance, both in loans and actual assistance.  That came because we had become free. 

Peter:  Because it would have been pulled down by the Soviet Union?

EB:  They could no longer give us their products, and they were charging in dollars now.  Also, their own economy collapsed. 

Helen:  It seemed very shaky for those 6 -12 months, but very necessary.

EB:  It was necessary.

Peter:  Is there much foreign investment in Mongolia?

EB:     It's growing.   In 1990 only 3% of the economy was generated by private companies, now it's 70% of our economy.  In 1990 we had 300% inflation, now it's one digit. 

Helen:  So the risk, the courage pays off?

EB:     Yes.

Helen:  Yet, the old members of the Communist party assumed power again.  Why?

EB:     First of all, we made this transition to a democratic country without a single drop of blood shed.  No violence against the existing regime.  We didn't do what happened in Romania.  We told our supporters that if we use stones or bottles against our government then the police will have a reason to use force against us.  If we shoot at them, they will have a reason to shoot at us.  The only thing we had in our bare hands were microphones and paper.  All we asked was that they sit down to talk and negotiate.  

Secondly, we gave a chance to the Communists.  We didn't say that, "we are going to persecute you."  We weren't going to kill them when we took power.  We even asked them for help in the next election.  We knew they were the most talented and powerful people in the country and we were going to allow them to use their talents. So within our promise of a multi-party system we allowed them to have their party too. 

We decided to have fair competition.  You'll have your program, we'll have our program and we'll give it to the people to choose who will rule our country.  If the people choose you, we'll follow you; if they choose us, you should accept the implementation of our programs.  These things made sense.  They saw some type of chance rather than destruction.  This is how we differed from other Communist countries that found freedom.  The old rulers didn't see any threat from us.  They didn't even change their name, they are still the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP).  It's still their Communist name; however, they did change their program in some ways.  They are now back in power.

Helen:  They are back in power again.  Let's see if you agree with a theory of ours.  When people are first free they see all the advantages, then they realize all the responsibilities that come with that freedom and they get scared and want to go back into that cage for a while.  We liken it to kids who go away from home for the first time.  At first, freedom is great, the parties and staying out late are great, but they want to know that they can go home if things get rough.  Then as maturity settles in, they don't need that parental security as much and, later, not at all; but only after a few years of transition.  So, people want to go back to the cage, but the door must be left open so they can move back and forth between freedom and responsibility on one hand and, on the other hand, security and being taken care of.  What do you think?

EB:     That's described very well.  We remained in opposition for 6 years.  We worked very hard for the people.  In 1990 we had our first election, and I was also elected to the Parliament.  I was one of the youngest members of Parliament.  We also drafted our first new democratic constitution.  However, it was a tough road, for there were only 10% Democrats in the Assembly and 90% were Communists.  One thing in our favor was that the Communists sort of lost their orientation.  They were actually in a panic and they began to listen to us because of the attention we were getting. 

Helen:  So, they were changing too.

EB:     Yes, they were changing too, and in late 1991 we got our new constitution.  We also called our second election in 1992.   We were defeated again, but in 1996 we had another election and we finally defeated Communism... after 6 years.   That ended the 75 year reign of Communism.  But then in 2000, we were defeated.

Helen:  What were the main reasons for your defeat in 2000? 

EB:     I think the main reason was that people's expectations were very high. 

Helen:  That "government should do it for me?"

EB:     No, no, no.  Their expectations were that if the Democrats take power we will live in a very good society.  We will have a very good life, a life like in a western country.  their expectations were very high and we could not make it all happen in one year.  It was impossible.  They expected much of us and we were new and inexperienced. 

For instance, before us, Communism had fixed prices, but we let the market take over.  For example, before you can have a free economy you have to have a level-ization price control.   If something cost 50 cents before, it was now costing $3.00.  Or one day you might pay $1.80 and then in two days the same item is $5.00 or $6.00!  You would become very angry and it was very hard for the people. 

We tried to tell them that, for example, maybe this product costs 50 cents, but maybe the true price of it is 40 cents, but during the transition you might have to pay $6.00.  However, after maybe 6 months the true price will come back and you might pay 40 cents.  Many people understood this, but many didn't.  We couldn't predict how long it would take for the free market system to stabilize itself. 

So, while this was going on, we were up against the Communists, the masters of spreading ideology.  They are very good at that.  They began telling people that "those Democrats are destroying our country."  They'd ask if the people's lives are better now with the Democrats than with them, all sorts of things that were short term.  So most of the people began to say their lives were worse. 

Helen:  Over here we say "freedom is not free."

EB:     That's right, but it's new for us.  Also, we privatized the socialist shops, cafes, hotels, apartments, cattle, everything... big changes happened overnight.  It was a huge task. 

Peter:  Since 2000, when you lost the election, was the privatization reversed?

EB:     No. I think in any former communist country there is not enough force to reverse those things.  Once people have their own property and if I came and told them I would confiscate it they would yell, "No, no way!"   I would guarantee that they couldn't ever reverse this notion of private property.  The current party can slow things down, but they cannot reverse it.  In Mongolia we have a saying, "bad things should happen very quickly." We are seeing corruption rising, but that's the cost of freedom.  And you know that Communism is like socialism; big government and bureaucrats should decide everything for the people. 

Helen:  There will always be segments of a society, Mongolia or America or anywhere, where some people do want someone else to take care of them, want someone to make the decisions for them. 

EB:     Yes, and now I will give you a more precise answer to your question.  Before, I was telling you how it came about.  I was giving you the big picture.

Helen:  Knowing what you know now, what would you have changed during those 4 years you were leading Mongolia?  How would you have made it easier for the people, easier for democracy?

EB:     We were very inexperienced.  Most people in government in power are 50 or 60 years old, I was only 35 as Prime Minister.  We made many mistakes.  Also, after 1996 a lot of the people from the rural areas came into power positions and, when they tasted power, they found it tasted good.  Sometimes people want to use that power to make their own life good first; they demand it.  Other people come second.  It's hard to remember their ideals when their own needs are not yet met.  It's hard to remember the principles of a democratic society. 

Peter:  You say that the democracy is parliamentary, not congressional like America's.   In the parliamentary democracy there is not such a strict separation of powers.  Mongolia is more like the British system.  So you were the leader of the party, also the Prime Minister and also your cabinet was included in your party?

EB:     Yes, and the majority of the cabinet were members of our Party.

Peter:  Has the constitution been modified significantly since it was first adopted in 1991? 

EB:     It was modified 7 years later, in 1999.

Let me go back to when we first came into power.  In the Parliament there are 76 seats.  Our Party got 35 seats and the other coalition of our party got 15 seats; or 50 out of 76.  We had a majority, but according to our Constitution, in order to make Parliamentary decisions we need 2/3 of the members.  2/3 of 76 is 51, but we had only 50.  During the first day of our Parliament the Communists quit the session.  We were in shock.  It literally stopped Parliament's work. 

Helen:  When you said, "let's be fair about this," they used that same fairness against you.

EB:     Yes, that's it.  After 75 years in power, eating and drinking the good life, the election was like losing their life.  They were really angry and opposed us at every turn.    

Helen:  Just because you played fair, you thought they would play fair also.  Seems it didn't work that way. Tyrannies don't play fair.

EB:     That was the biggest problem of being new at governing.

Helen:  Enemies don't play fair.

EB:     Yes, exactly.  But we kept influencing them. 

Peter:  So the change in the constitution was what?

EB:     They now only need a simple majority to pass legislation.  Plus now every vote should be open. 

Helen:  As we watch democracies pop up around the world, including Iraq, we hear critics saying, "it's not working."  When in fact, it's working perfectly, because human nature takes time to adjust to freedom.  Democracy doesn't come in a package. 

EB:     I say to my people that democracy is like life.  In life you have good people and bad people, you have the light side and the dark side.  You have everything.  Freedom doesn't hide its shadow.  With freedom you have alcoholics, bad people in the streets, but also good, creative people, good morale also.  It's all there.   You have to deal with every kind of person in every segment of society. 

But more than that, when Communism decays, the transition is very difficult for the people.  You have to have some salary to survive.  You have to find bread.  It's very tough and I also say to my countrymen that there is no country in human history that made this big a transition so fast, and we have to learn by doing, learn by sacrifice, but we are learning.  Most of all, we are succeeding. 

It's a long view, because maybe the next generation will have less to learn. 

Helen:  Many people forget that it took 12 years in America from the time of the Revolution to the first Constitution.  Freedom takes time.  Only the people can do it, for that's the definition of freedom, people assuming responsibility for it, not government giving it to them. 

EB:     Literally, it's like going through Hell first.  Our geography is not helping either.  If we were closer to western powers instead of being between Russia and China, things would be different. 

Peter:  How do you evaluate your chances in 2004?

EB:     Even though we had 4 difficult years in power, we learned from our mistakes and experiences and we also learned more when we lost power, because we also lost our jobs.  During the time out of office we had more time to think about what went wrong.  I think there is a good chance for the Party in 2004.  But remember that 72 seats out of 76 are controlled by the former Communist party.  They pledge things such as free higher education or free medical assistance, but they don't have the money to provide it.  They will over-promise and won't be able to deliver.

We actually now have two parties in the country.   We need to stop fighting between the parties and pay more attention to the people.  For instance, the gap between rich and poor is widening.

Peter:  That can happen for many reasons, but the two main reasons are that the rich are getting richer or, the poor are getting poorer.  What is happening in Mongolia?

[Here in America, we often mouth the phrases that "freedom is not free" or "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance," yet most of those we talk to don't really believe that freedom can die, or is even at risk.  We here in America, have been blessed with it for hundreds of years.  We hope this interview will  help readers to realize that freedom is an on-going, risky experiment and it takes time to master. 

We're still working on ours.  It took 100 years to free the slaves and we're constantly being asked to submit to UN regulations or leftist demands that would curtail our sovereignty.  It's a never ending struggle, and it gets harder when even one generation doesn't hold the fort.  Abraham Lincoln called it "the silent artillery of time."  He knew that the wounded from the Civil War would remind the population what they were fighting for, but knew when the wounded grew old and died the new generation would tend to forget. 

We've seen seeds of liberty and democracy planted in Mongolia and while the old Communists now hold the majority in the Parliament, they have had to change dramatically to adapt to the new, non-Soviet reality and to regain power.  They are forcing themselves, however reluctantly, to continue the initial reforms, while still retaining the privileges of power. There is still a chance in this great world of ours that those seeds of liberty and democracy will grow.  With a courageous man like Elbegdorj Tsahkia taking up the cause again, armed with greater maturity, his advanced education during his recent years in the United States, and his understanding that ideas are more powerful than bribes or handouts, we'd say that you'll see a different Mongolia in the coming years.

You can see for yourself where we are in our own experiment and we hope this first hand glimpse into the formation of a democracy in Mongolia will inspire you to cherish our great heritage of freedom and to honor those who risk everything to bring that freedom to others in the world.  President Bush said it best... "Freedom is not America's gift to the world, but rather, God's gift to mankind."]

EB:  The middle class is disappearing.  I define the middle class as those who can sustain themselves without outside assistance, small businessmen, etc.  Because of high taxes and corruption, these people are joining to the poor of society.  It seems only those who have connections are succeeding.  The poor are paying for the small percentage of those who are getting rich.

Peter:  Does everyone vote?

EB:  Just about everyone votes.  But a new thing is happening where the young people are not voting.  These young people are supporters of a free society, but they didn't come into the election.  The old Communists in our county are surviving because of the over-50 crowd.

Helen:  It seems to me, within the 20-30 year old age group is a somewhat natural urge to "make the world better," to bring about change.  It seems to happen in every country.   It also seems, as long as there is a platform, they will join it, if they can feel belonging.  What can you do for the young people in Mongolia?

EB:  We need to do something.  We're missing that group in the process toward democracy.

Peter:  What portion of the population is urban?

EB:  About 50%.  We still have a nomadic or rural population.

Peter:  And what is the median age of the population?

EB:  It's younger.

Peter:  Is it that they want so much freedom that they don't realize that a responsibility that comes with freedom is showing up and making an X on a ballot to vote?

EB:  I think so.  You see many of them have a very good life. Their parents work to support them while they study and, of course, go to clubs and dance. 

Peter:  That sounds like middle class to me. 

EB:  Our middle class is shrinking.  We need to expand it. 

Peter:  It seems the middle class is the flywheel which gives the economy the momentum to thrive.

EB:  When I go back, I will begin to talk to the middle class and ask them to become involved, if only in dialogues, to tell us what they feel about their lives now.  In the past many people were very frustrated with us and didn't want to get involved in politics.   It seems, if you are in power, you will be hated by the majority of the people. 

We speak of individual responsibility and that is necessary, but first I think the government should be responsible to the people.  That's the first and major item any nation needs for the population to thrive.  When governments forget their responsibility to the people, to the constitution; then people tend to forget their own responsibility also.  I cannot blame the ordinary people when the government doesn't show leadership. 

You know politics is different than business.  If you invest as a businessman in your firm you have to take responsibility, otherwise you lose your investment.  With politics, however, losing the people's investment doesn't mean you've lost your job.  I believe government has to be responsible to the people for their investment.  

You say Mongolia is inspiring, to watch its growth of freedom and democracy.  I believe that, and I say to my countrymen that we must pay attention to the health of our freedom and our democracy.  Otherwise we won't be inspiring.   For now we are eating the meal provided by the first Democratic Union, but that is finished, and we have to sustain ourselves and sustain our economy.  You cannot ask everyday for more loans and commitments from other countries.  Now is the time to pay attention to our own internal issues and our own growth. 

Peter:  To whom will you say that?  To the Communists who are in power?

EB:  It's a kind of general message to everyone. 

Peter:  That may play well in America, but what will they think of it in Mongolia? That's hard to say to people who will elect you.  In other words, you're saying, "vote for me and you're going to have to work harder, pay attention, make sacrifices."  The other guy is saying, "vote for me and I'll give you a school and a hospital, bread and so forth."

[note to readers;  you should have heard EB laughing at this point!!]

EB:  Many will not like my message in Mongolia.  Well, in 2004 we will have the Parliamentary elections and, in 2005, we will have the Presidential election.  However, even though the President is elected by the people, he's more a symbol.  The Prime Minister is the real power and Chief Executive. 

Peter:  Is it similar to France?

EB:  Yes.  We had nationwide elections 7 or 8 times.  Some people voted 4 or 5 times for those who promised them the world; even free bus passes.  They even distributed goods in some districts before the elections; sometimes only flour, or maybe even a car if someone asked for it.  So they got those votes.  But finally they're beginning to realize that they can eat that flour for only one month, eat that bread for only one day.  Then they'll have to wait till the next election for the next hand-out.    So I will ask them to be pragmatic and realistic. 

Helen: Do you think more investment, which will show people succeeding, will inspire others to try to succeed also?

EB:  Yes.

Helen:  I remember when you spoke at the Heritage Foundation about "planting seeds."  You said, sometimes it doesn't grow as fast as you'd like.  That made me think of King Arthur.  Before his major battle he told a young page to go forth and spread the word of the round table.  Even if he didn't personally succeed, the idea was important enough to carry on.  Not in his lifetime, but it was an idea strong enough to grow eventually and the young page was the messenger; the seed bearer.  We certainly hope you'll be nurturing that seed you planted as a courageous youth only 10 years ago. 

EB:  I don't know about that.  You see the transition brought lots of suffering for my people.  I and my friends feel very responsible for that.  I think that's the difference between the Democrats and the Communists in Mongolia.  The Communists don't have the responsibility for democracy.  They blamed the suffering on us, not on the growth of democracy.  For instance, we allowed free newspapers for the first time in 75 years.  Now those same newspapers are writing articles against us; but we gave them the freedom to do so.  So we brought the freedom and also accepted the responsibility for the transition, but the Communists are reaping the benefits of our change. 

Also, we privatized many companies.  But we, who fought in the streets, didn't have the money to buy into the new, private companies.  Only the Communists, who had run them before, had such capital and they are now again in charge of the company, yet it is a privately-owned company.  They bought almost everything.  They knew that in a few weeks the company would be privatized and they talked to their other friends who had been in power and were able to buy and now own what they had been general manager of before.  The Communists are now the biggest capitalists in Mongolia!

Peter:  Did they really change their minds?  For instance, you grew up as a Communist, but changed your mind.  But that change came from within, not from changing situations without. So it seems the people who were in power before are still in power because they shifted with the changes.  For example, as you said, someone may say this is a state company today and I'm running it, but it's going to be private tomorrow and I'll own it.  So do we just have to wait for those people to die?  It doesn't seem they will suddenly become Democrats, they've only changed the method of how they do business.  As you said, during that convention it seemed you had to make your move for dramatic change and nothing will be the same.  The country changed around them but it seems strange that they would have changed so fast. 

EB: Communists reach people by their things, their money, their companies, their jobs.  I reach people with ideas.  I think people will listen to me.  During my time in the United States I studied at Harvard, I made some good connections and I recharged my batteries.  I will go back and establish some type of think tank and hope people will invest in my ideas.  I will be transparent and responsible and set a good example. 

Peter:  Thank you for your time and our best wishes go with you.

Peter & 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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