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Speech by Tsakhia Elbegdorj, President of Mongolia, at the Special Session of the State Great Khural in Honor of the 20th Anniversary of Mongolia’s Democratic Revolution


Free people of Mongolia,

Mr. Prime Minister,

Distinguished Members of Parliament,
Government officials,

Dear guests,

I convey to you the greetings for the Anniversary of the Democratic Revolution, which is the common achievement of the Mongolian people, and I heartily thank my people who dedicate their all to the cause of freedom.

Precisely 20 years ago, at this hour and moment, the creation of the democratic movement in Mongolia was being declared with its goals and aims introduced to the people. The struggle for democracy was not easy. Yet our achievements and success were common, were collective. The Democratic Revolution is our collective accomplishment and our historic pride.

Democracy now cannot be seen apart from Mongolia’s integrity and fame. Every value of our society is appreciated in association with the practicing of democracy, human rights, freedom and liberties. Democratic election, private property, freedom of expression, multiparty system, freedom of religion, public participation, citizens’ opinion have emerged as the common and collective virtues of the Mongolian society beyond the ownership or guidance of any one political party or a political force. Therefore, I conclude that the past 20-years’ cause has been the common accomplishment, collective success of the Mongolian people.

Any change, evolution and revolution in a human society are linked to the human, to the citizen, at the end of the day. The essence of a society, and of a phenomenon is defined by whether a man is the owner of the institution or is a pin and nail in the institution. The substance of the process that has been taking place in Mongolia since 20 years ago is directly linked to a person, to be more precise, to his or her rights and liberties and their virtual exercise, and therefore, this process is naturally attributed as “democratic”.

The reason we call it a Revolution rests in the fact that a quality change took place in the values of our society, in the process of decision-making and in the life of every single person. No longer is a citizen blamed as rumormonger for expressing his views, no longer a person is punished as a heretic for worshiping a religion. No longer is a merchant tried as a “speculator or illegal profit-seeker”. And our people are no longer fenced, but freely travel abroad. No one is called a “black sheep” for owning a private property. And these are changes that have taken place at the simplest, primary level of conscience. Our society has changed to an extent that all would be astonished if all this was not true. This is, in fact, a natural process when a human being acquires back his inborn, congenital rights.

For Mongolians the Democratic Revolution wasn’t only an internal issue. It rendered us a historic opportunity to attest, in the genuine sense of the word, our independence, freedom and sovereignty, and to be the true owners of these virtues. On the other hand, the events of the past 20 years do not only belong to those particular years, and are not the success and achievements of those particular years. These events are the fruits of centuries-long struggle and efforts of Mongolians, who have authored years-long history of statehood. The children and grandchildren of a Mongol warrior who saddled his horse eight hundred years ago must have definitely earned experiences and settled their lives and shaped values. It would be appropriate to see the events of the past 20 years as a vivid continuation of life, a juncture linking our past, present and future, and during which we regained our freedom, became the owners of our fates, proud and dignified with the history we possess.

Stated succinctly, the choice we have made in the past 20 years, well befits a saying “It’s better to live by your own choice, however bitter it is, than to live by other’s choice, however sweet it is”. Mongolian people do possess traditions, culture and history in which we take a profound national pride. And we have also been able to create the conditions and possibilities to live like any other, to work like any other and assess our success and achievements, mistakes and failures against the same benchmarks and standards.

In the course of the past 20 years Mongolians have written a history worth of pride and admiration. We won many heights, hit many records and tamed many hard situations. We emerged as a democratic country where the society nurtures democratic values and people own their fates. There were grim moments of mistakes, failures, biases and distortions. We talk about them, address them every day. As we chose a society which doesn’t conceal its shadow. Yet there is a virtue of a human society to tempt to foster the better, while learning from the bad. It is a culture, our supreme value to aspire a progress in whatever deed we engage in.

Any societal phenomenons, including major changes and revolutions, have their own leaders and moving forces. It’s not an easy task to try to draw realistic conclusions on a revolution, which laid paths, still fresh and some are untrodden, and which fireplace is still warm. We must pay our tribute and respect to many those people who dedicated themselves to create all the wellbeing we enjoy today, but who are not with us any longer.

One’s lifetime may, at times, be not long enough to accomplish a good deed. Yet, the mission and causes of those who believe in good, who fought to create those beauties, carry on. It is a noble mission of the living generation, dignified responsibility of those alive to continue the feats and endeavors of those who we miss. Therefore, the efforts and actions, the struggle for freedom, justice, for a better society is the responsibility of each and every one for the good of all.

The complex and difficult challenges of 1989-1990, the solutions and keys to them were not easy indeed. The participants in the events of those years, every one of them was a revolutionary, fighter, educator, critic, discussant and a leader. I wish to name two of the vivid representatives of the events of those years, who are watching us today from the heaven. Jambyn Batmunkh, the then the party and state leader. And Sanjaasuren Zorig, the leader of the democratic movement.

The role and activities of these two men are indispensably associated with the events, which shook the old society, and which later would be called a Revolution, they were the guarantors of the conditions to ensure that the evolution and solutions of the Revolution would come to be peaceful, and continuation – democratic. With people like J. Batmunkh and S. Zorig, the achievements of the democratic revolution of that Year of White Horse were made complete. Made complete, the revolution yielded fruits, accessible equally to all, legitimate and recognized as the core value of our society to be inherited as a supreme pride of our current and future generations. I am especially touched and delighted to state that this was possible because trust and respect, faith and conviction, after all, the strength of will and strength of mind for Mongolia prevailed in those who participated in the historic decision-making that winter.

Any nation, any country has an auspicious date, a historic event which the whole nation celebrates proudly. For Mongolians, this history of fame is longer than twenty centuries. We are the masters of numerous achievements and records which date back centuries and millennia ago. Yet, historic events do not occur every year. It may occur once in one generation’s lifetime. Or it may not occur at all. Through the tests of time, some historic events are highlighted, whereas some wither and fade away. At times, historic events fuse into each other. Yet the past 20th century has seen a number of historic, revolutionary and progressive events take place in Mongolia. The first half of the century witnessed a national independence movement, people’s revolution, recognition of sovereignty and establishment of diplomatic relations with neighbors. Sufficient would be to name Mongolia’s membership in the United Nations, and the Democratic Revolution, for the second half of the century.

It is the diligent responsibility of generations to esteem the historic events in the life of the country, hold dear, uphold and enrich common values of the nation. Today’s Special Session of the State Great Khural of Mongolia, the legitimate representative of the people of Mongolia, dedicated to the Anniversary of the Democratic Revolution, is a state solemn ceremony of profound meaning and the highest respect and esteem. With this event, Mongolians are putting an end to the 20 years of divide. We have done with now past schism of viewing the democracy by some as a Deed of Honor, and by some others as a misfortune. At the state high level and by each single Mongol man, we have been able to earn the recognition for democracy as the common value of all Mongolians. From today on every Mongolian is a democrat. There is no democracy without democrats. We all have become democrats. Congratulations, Mongolians, congratulations, democrats.

The policy-makers of any times have the possibilities to make decisions to influence their countries’ destiny. I deem it rightful to note that the current State Great Khural does have the possibility within the term of its plenary powers to make a decision of historical magnitude to mark in the history of the Mongolian people. Viewing from only the time perspective, the events of historic importance marked in Mongolia’s history in the 20th century occurred some 20 or 30 years apart. I am convinced that within the walls of this Hall, the current Mongolian Parliament – the State Great Khural, does assume the authority to command both responsibility and the power to make the very decision whether Mongolians, backed with our 20-year old democracy, mark the 21st century as the era of colossal development and progress, OR, remain the same and where we are today.

The current State Great Khural does have a chance to become the midwife of historic decisions to empower the economy and reinforce the meaning of the goals to consolidate democracy and justice. Perhaps we may name two events, which took place in little over a year term and which would be clearly marked in the history of the incumbent Parliament – the Oyu Tolgoi Agreement, and a recently organized by the Subcommittee on Human Rights Public Hearing. If the momentum is maintained and laws are refined, these two events would constructively contribute to consolidating the new choice of the Mongolian people, and would enhance confidence in the choice we’ve made.

We have talked a lot about the past 20 years. We will continue these talks, our judgements, our contemplations. Possibly, the Democratic Revolution is one of the dramatic historical events that were and are most intensely exposed to public discussion. Commemoration of the Anniversary of the Democratic Revolution will not be confined only to today. Today only marks the beginning of it. A whole year around we will be discussing and concluding on our past and will plan for the future. Indeed, there is much work to be done.

What shall we accomplish in the next 20 years?

What shall we accomplish in the coming 20 years time! This is an issue which is even more engaging and concerning ourselves, the current decision makers than the issue of what we achieved in the past 20 years. Stronger than what we have to accomplish we feel the emergence of the challenges and difficulties we are to encounter in the coming two decades, “the tough questions” in political jargon.

We will encounter new geopolitical issues, which for 20 years or even longer, have been evading us. We are likely to make fortunes never heard of in the past. The fortunes to trail interests. Conflict of interests would increase. It would become increasingly difficult to resolve the issue. These difficulties will challenge both the state and the people.

On the other hand, a lot of things will change radically. The climate is changing. Knowledge and information is changing. The roles of the society and the state are changing. The world is working differently these days. But one thing is clear. The coming 20 years will not be like the passing 20 years. And I ask you again – what do we have to accomplish in the coming 20 years?

Let me begin with the immediate chores. Let’s begin with our economy. When I spoke about development this fall at this rostrum, I highlighted the significance of introducing the best practices, standards and criteria of others. I emphasized the need to enhance Mongolia’s competitiveness. If Mongolia wants to become a big economy, we have to think big. We have to think beyond our borders. We have to look at our family economy at the level of a soum economy, the soum economy – at the level of an aimag economy, aimag’s economy – national economy, and the national economy as a global economy.

In early 20th century, Dashdorj Natsagdorj, spoke about a pot laid upside down. Let’s plan our work seeing the destination first before we embark to build a plant or establish a company. And not otherwise, rivaling and contending. The globalization has expanded the horizon Mongolia can reach out. We will waste time, if in search for a global arena, we tempt to contest with what others have created, or what others have, or even just to acquire what we miss.

Mongolia could enter the global game field with our mineral assets. With our agricultural products. In 70s of the 20th century Yavuukhulan wrote “I aspire a global arena”. A global arena is needed for Mongolians’ intellectual capacities. A global arena is needed for Mongolian copper, coal, uranium and cashmere. If we see the globe as our arena, a Mongol will be a friend to a Mongol. If we remain under the cauldron upside down, we will come to blows with each other, exhaust ourselves, and drain each others down.

One of the merits of the Democratic Revolution was the fact that it chucked out the upside-down-cauldron. Although we did away with the iron pot capping the society, we have not done away with a pot inhibiting our souls and minds. We must enter the world in the coming years. We ought to come to the world to compete with what we produce and what we can market. Any achievement, any alleged value doesn’t live long if it is not appreciated by people and is not economically worthwhile.

We have to create a tangible and consumable wealth, only then will we be able to make our contribution to our own country’s as well as to entire humankind development and prosperity. It is our goal to make Mongolia relevant to the business and affairs of others. We are entering an era when a country, especially a country like Mongolia, fortifies her independence and progress by enhancing, and not diminishing, her relevance for other countries. Many would agree that one of the most objective and substantive achievements of Mongolia’s democracy were the successes of our foreign policy. The “economizing” of external relations, i.e. expanding the economic dimension of foreign relations that our Government often notes of, is the very idea to reach out the global markets with what we produce and sell internationally. It is a policy of working together to seek and maintain a good partnership. This solidifies our national interests and benefits by influencing the interests and benefits of others, in essence, by our contributions to the development of other countries.

In the coming 20 years Mongolia ought to evolve as a country with rapidly developed economy, an industrialized country with ever solidified and strengthened rights and benefits. Mongolians have to be shining from inside in order to pursue a good name and fame. Our country cannot progress in our external, foreign efforts if we do not competently manage our domestic affairs. Not a single stride will be made ahead if laws are violated, courts are unjust, and government is ridden with red-tape and lacks public approval. In the last 20 years we have had enough changes in terms and phrases, the signs and symbols we use. Now we need the change in the substance. Statistics proves these realities. About 90% of our people respond in surveys they support democracy. But when a certain question is asked about the performance of a government institution, less than one third of the population lends support. This illustrates that the fruits of our past 20-year long toil haven’t reached the people, have failed to forge trust and confidence among the people.

Let us give the rights to the people

This seemingly complicated issue has a stunningly simple solution. There is only one solution to all our needs to change, to fix and to correct. This is citizens’ participation. Let’s give the people their rights. That’s all. Simple as that.

Mongolia has legacies of freedom. And our state has traditions to encourage civil participation. An issue of a family is discussed and resolved by the relatives altogether. The collective challenges of a province would be addressed at local assemblies of all where rules would be made to enact solutions. We are the people who elected our world-renowned Great Khaan at the Great Khurildai, a convention of people.

There is no a society without people’s participation. No civil society without civil participation. Civil participation doesn’t complicate the situation, instead it factors the viability of the solution. People are inspired to enforce, to implement, to undertake actions, decided and agreed with their own participation. The misery of our government organizations stems not from the inability to make decisions, rules and instructions, but from the under-enforcement, poor enforcement.

The citizen whose rights and interests are affected should participate in making the decision on the matter, at least the citizen is to be informed about the decision being made. That’s all. Such decisions are enforced by the citizens, and in case of failure, the state enforces compliance. In this way, the moral framework of state decision enforcement becomes integral. Another agony of our government lies in as if “conspiratory” nature of decision making –as if a group of connivers gather and secretly make a decision, then this plotted decision making is vociferously revealed by some “just” people, which, eventually leads to a total disarray where any decision loses any meaning.

As I said, civil participation is simple. Let’s have the soum budget discussed and scrutinized not here, but in the soum; let’s have the soum people decide on the use of minerals found within their territory, and not in Ulaanbaatar. If the solutions are closer to the people, the enforcement becomes up to the people as well.

Not a single deed can we achieve without civil participation. In contrary, there are a host of sectors, an array of relations where direct government participation is redundant. Poverty isn’t alleviated, as we have seen, by implementing billion tugrugs worth projects, in the absence of civil participation. Without civil participation, land and assets privatization and distribution turn into a robbery. Without civil participation, we are unable to seed and cultivate the values of democracy and justice, vowed and fought for for 20 years, on the Mongolian soil. Without civil participation, the government fails to perform even when we implement good governance projects and adopt new budget allocation rules. Without civil participation we destroy the ecology instead of preserving it.

By calling for civil participation, I am not pleading for another revolution, or asking for a mission unachievable. Using a clean ladle when getting water from a spring, a beautiful tradition we have had, is a “civil participation” in protecting the nature. A housewife neatly collecting the family food in a store against the money she has in her purse is what we call a “citizen participation” – rendering this right and the same sense of responsibility and diligence for discussing the country’s budget, rendering this right and this sense to our every citizen wherever they reside and work is what the civil participation is all about. A boy gives back to his parents the change he received in a shop for a loaf of bread, but appallingly, a public official and a company director sneak halves of billion-tugrug tenders.

If the powers of the state emanate from the people, if the owner of this country, owner of the social wealth is a citizen of Mongolia, let us give him or her those rights and powers – this is what I am calling for. Let’s each of us do our jobs rightly – let the owners be the true owners and let the servant be the true servants. This will lead us to the very society we aspire, and prove that the people made the right choice.

In a country of a democratic revolution the state has to change. And the citizens too. Just think of how many times did a mere TV set remote control changed its appearance since the Democratic Revolution took place! Yet, has the citizens’ perception about the government, and government’s perception about the citizens changed? No. I am speaking of a change in the context of solutions for issues of social and civil nature.

The government’s role is shifting from administering to regulating pattern, and from regulating to serving the citizen, helping the citizen mode. And the government now is being told not to help when help is not needed.

Thanks to the Democratic Revolution, the government doesn’t any longer carry the whole burden of the society. The bulk of the load now falls on the shoulders of the free and wealth creating people of Mongolia. Look at the herders, look at the farmers. Look at stores and restaurants. Look at our business people. Then artists, media. Look at families carrying their own load of life. Why the state, having shifted the load to the people, fails to give them the rights? This is a shame of us, the Mongolian leaders. Even “shame” sounds too weak a word. So let us give our people the right to make the decisions, the right to participate in making the decisions.

I have just addressed the work that our state isn’t willing to do, and the right the state doesn’t want to render. Now let me address one important issue to my fellow citizens. Another reality that we confronted in democracy is that we have to come to be responsible for ourselves. The responsibility, roughly speaking, the price, for our own lives in order to live a decent human life. When Mongols marry and build their own family, they tend their fireplace and mount their ger by themselves. We must make the brick and lay them for our house by ourselves. Hence, the very substance of a democratic revolution rests in bringing about a fundamental transformation in the relationship between the state and a citizen.

A country’s development is its people’s development. The times when a country developed thanks to a good king, or to a good government are being lived away. This has to be realized by both the state, and the citizens. Love of the entire nation is not a performance criterion for a state or a leader, or a government official. Yet, the success of the entire people is what we have to judge the state’s performance against.

The 21st century’s concept and theory about democracy is now different from those of the 20th century. The Churchill definition of democracy is outdated as well. Back then, the notion of democracy was more bound with power and its division. Today, democracy is more associated with individual citizens, individual civil rights and duties and with social justice.

Notion of the Law is also undergoing a change. Laws tend to embrace the humans, individuals and not organizations and institutions. Health Law of Mongolia, for instance, turns out to be a Law on the Ministry of Health eventually. Yet, a law to enable a citizen to enjoy his health and safe livelihood rights is what is appropriately needed in reality. We need a law which secures a citizen’s right to obtain information, and not a law on a media organization. If our law-making authority abstains from producing laws about organizations, and starts enacting laws to enforce civil rights of our people, Mongolia will have made a stride toward qualifying as a country upholding democracy. We will have rectified our current law-making practice if and once laws come to coordinate rights and duties and not to safeguard powers, for the state; but become the guarantor of rights, for the citizens.

We suffer not for we do not have money, but for the lack of responsibility

At times, a democratic process is compared with a marathon. The few starting kilometers are very hard. From then on, it becomes a normal, routine part of life. And in fact, we did surmount the hardest part, and seem to be running on and around the same spot on the race.

We used to hear from many that the most serious complication of a transition period was a change of the mindset, mentality change. Yet, for today, the most serious difficulty confronting the society is ensuring that the officials implement and enforce laws. The list of law offenders then would go on to those who have money, those who have connections and so on. A simple issue in a serious deadlock. If everyone equally obeys and upholds law, this major deadlock will be mended.

While some changes are needed in the substance matter of work of our state, certain terminology of public service needs to be changed, legalized and practiced. The literary expression “government office” has to come to literally mean and denote “public service, service to the community, to the society”. Just replace the term “government officer” with a “public servant”. When speaking about their work, let the government officers say that they serve not the government, but the public, the people, the citizens. Such simple changes may speak louder than the words of the oath of government officers.

What the democracy necessitates us to do, in the simplest form, is, for the citizens –assume our natural human face recognizing our duties in front of the society and enjoying our rights, and for the state – acquire our right place to serve our people. And ensure that our laws equally serve both the state and the citizens. Logically, judicial reform is to be conducted. Judiciary awaits its revolution in all aspects – governing laws, the system and performance criteria and principles; it awaits for a major overhaul. I will speak more elaborately on these issues when I introduce the judicial reform program at the Parliament. National Security Concepts of Mongolia and their implementation is high on the agenda as well. The National Security Council has made a decision to revise the National Security Concepts and a working group has been formed. There is much work to be done in this domain as well.

Earlier I have made two points on the emerging challenges of the new century. Let me share with a third point. This is an issue of unequal and unjust distribution of common wealth. The gap, divide between poor and rich. If in this country, 8 of every 10 citizens are poor, there is no point for planting flowers; equally, senseless is for the 5% of the population own the 90% of the nation’s wealth. If this situation persists, we will end up in another stalemate – side with the many poor against the few rich, and side with the few rich against the many poor. In order to resolve this impasse, we have to resolve the two issues I addressed earlier. We must secure our citizens their right to be true owners of their freedom and the true owners of the wealth.

The history of the humankind did see countries which were devastated and destroyed by their very people, who, having nothing to lose except their chains, and having nothing to commit themselves for, ignited destruction, “a revolution” by their own definition. Such destructions are caused by the numb governance of self-adoring officials who lack vision and wisdom to comprehend the nature and scale of their problems. Of course, any government under any difficult circumstances tries to implement its policies and enforce its laws. It is the democratic government which is able to both enforce the legislation and rectify the errors. Some argue that the government must be powerful. I do share this argument. In a democracy, the power of the government is the people’s trust, people’s participation and the rule of law. I wish to emphasize from this rostrum on this auspicious day that these are the criteria against which we have to check ourselves, to catch up for what we failed to succeed, to fill the empties and complete the halves.

At the end of the day, many of the difficulties we have are caused not by the lack of money, but by the lack of a streamlined accountability system. Briefly, blame not money, but ourselves for the misery we have. And the people should demand from the state not the money first, but justice. Majority of the Mongolians view that the difficulties people encounter in their lives have not much to do with the money but with social justice, to be more precise, with equality of men in front of law, and this is a very healthy phenomenon. When speaking about this healthy phenomenon, I am not representing those who, while watching TV every evening blame the state as if full of thieves, but who try to flirt with the state.

In a democratic society, whatever consequences are to follow, those elected have to resolve the issues pertaining to state-social affairs. In doing so, without centralizing the powers in his or her hands, those elected must listen to citizens and ensure and expand citizens’ participation everywhere. Let me repeat. I demand from government organizations at all levels to establish an order to publicly hear, discuss and resolve the issues in a manner analogous to the recent public hearing by the Parliament.

We will seriously default on our developmental path if we turn away from democracy to worship government, to worship official position. Abandoning official position for democracy would be the wise choice. I wish to express my commitment and support, as the President of Mongolia, to any initiative and effort by the Parliament or the Government or local government to undertake a major reform to ensure justice and strengthen democracy and civil rights.

Summing up all I stated above, I reckon that it won’t be enough for us to succeed if a government officer learns and reads by heart the values of our free society – democracy, human rights, freedom, local rights, justice, and citizens’ participation. These values should come not from the brains, but from the heart of government officials. In other words, in a democratic society, these values have to emerge as a culture and an established order of work of our government officials. These values must become their sincere and cherished values, as only such values prevail in human actions and decisions.

My people, each of my fellow citizens contemplates in his or her mind the ideas, the wishes for Mongolia to achieve in the coming 20 years. Let us make the list of what we have to achieve and accomplish. Let’s do our best to translate into reality these plans. Ultimately, the fate of Mongolia depends on you, the citizen of Mongolia. Our country’s development and prosperity, your family’s wellbeing and your own success rest in your hands, my fellow citizen. The performance of the government depends on you as well. The country’s progress and developments begins with you. And it is precisely because of this, did we enshrine in our Constitution the goal to aspire humane, civil and democratic society.

One would be tempted to say a lot on an Anniversary date at the Special Session of the Parliament. But I wish to note with pride one moment. Mongolians are optimistic. And this was proven by a survey conducted by Sant Maral Foundation last October. Eighty four percent of respondents of the nation-wide survey responded that they were optimistic about their near future.

Mongols are upbeat and visionary people. We did achieve a lot in the past 20 years. We will achieve a lot in the coming 20 years too. We can do it. We must further robustly aspire progress. Mongols have to grow many. Mongols have to live a decent life, a beautiful life.

I mentioned earlier about a Mongol warrior who started out on his horse some eight hundred years ago. Imagine the warrior is coming home, getting off his horse outside his ger. We the Mongols have a rich history to be proud of. Mongols have seen a lot on their horseback. And have built and created a lot off his horseback. Our fathers and forefathers are watching us, with our motherland, sovereign and independent, and our people, free and thriving. Our younger generation is optimistically shouldering us. What else do we need? The only thing we need is to commit ourselves, each and every one of us, to realize the dreams of generations of Mongols, to aspire free and dignified life. We must do our best.

The great history of Mongolia, our freedom and democracy have heroes. These heroes are the Mongolian people. From this high rostrum, from the bottom of my heart, I congratulate my people, the heroes for your rise for freedom and democracy in the vast Mongol steppes at the time when half of the world was red. I earnestly thank you for safeguarding and strengthening the accomplishments of our hard-won democracy.

May my Mongolia dwell eternally.
Thank you