Mongolia’s Path to Democratic Revolution – The Diplomat
It is December 10, 1989. A Mongolian band sings “The Sound of a Bell” in Sukhbaatar Square – symbolically awakening the Mongolian population and welcoming democracy. At this time, the Soviet Union was on the verge of disintegration. Although Mongolia was never a Soviet republic, the solid decades-old relationship, the planned economy, and the significant financial support suddenly changed, leaving Ulaanbaatar to find its own democratic means to develop, grow and develop. prosper.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was indeed a glimpse into Mongolia’s political, economic and social transformation. Mongolia’s rulers have also had to transform. For many decades Mongolian intellectuals have been trained in Marxist-Leninist ideology and policy making. Between the 1970s and 1980s, students who would later become rulers of Mongolia studied abroad in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk, and Ulan-Ude. The ideological and practical transformation had to start from the top.
Faced with the rise of popular protests and hunger strikes, the leaders of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) have refused the use of force and have been open to dialogue and negotiation. In an interview, the last leader of socialist Mongolia, J. Batmunkh said that “the demonstrations and protests were something new to us. I gave them instructions that they should not use force under any circumstances. No force should be used. There is no need to use the police or involve the military. The organizers of these movements and demonstrations should be responsible for social order. In fact, these protesters, participants and protesters are our children. “
The resignation of the government of J. Batmunkh put an end to the one-party rule in Mongolia. The emergence of the Mongolian Social Democratic Party and the Mongolian National Democratic Party, together forming the Democratic Union Coalition, has brought Mongolia into a new era of semi-parliamentary system. The first political change in Mongolia took place during the 1993 presidential election. The first democratically elected President of Mongolia, Ochirbat Punsalmaa, wrote in his memoir “Heaven Time,” which the June 10 edition of the French newspaper Le Monde said “Ochirbat dramatically defeated his opponent, who had been nominated by the Communist Party. ”
The singularity of the Mongolian revolutionary process deserves to be underlined. Nothing predestined the country to experience such a development at a time when the Soviet Union had not yet collapsed and so soon after China, a few months earlier, had crushed the revolt of its youth in the square. Tiananmen.
The relative ease of the revolution was the result of a convergence between the reformers of the democratic movement and those of the dominant party. At the time, many agreed that the change had to be profound to pull the country out of the doldrums of the 1980s, a decade of stagnation. Above all, many saw the course of events as a historic opportunity to break with Soviet tutelage and regain full independence and sovereignty. The events of the winter of 1989-1990 therefore constituted a national revolution. It allowed Mongolia to fully assert its independence and sovereignty.
To keep the promises of the revolution, the Mongols gradually designed their own political and economic system. The democratization of Mongolia required a new constitution, filled with legislative and executive powers to support the country’s emerging economic policies.
Since the adoption of a new constitution – after two years of debate – Mongolian voters have agreed that power should be distributed among the three branches of the state: the Speaker of Parliament, the Prime Minister and the President. Initially thought of as a semi-presidential system, the Mongolian political regime gradually evolved into a fully-fledged parliamentary regime following two constitutional amendments adopted in 2000 and 2019. The choice of a parliamentary system was presented at the time as a tool to limit foreign influence on Mongolian decision-making.
The collapse of the Soviet Union hampered Mongolia’s economy, foreign investment and joint projects in general. The sudden change resulted in sudden privatization, price liberalization and the sale of all livestock. In addition, Mongolia was already facing a large external debt to the Soviet Union.
Former Prime Minister P. Jasrai wrote: “In view of the historical turning points of Mongolia, Mongolia became a member of COMECON [from the 1960s to the 1990s]. Because Mongolia was one of the weakest members of the economic group – in order to engage with others economically – it sought to attract foreign investment by receiving grants, subsidized loans, and creating joint ventures. Although the construction project was not trivial, in the end, the amount of external debt increased enormously.
In order for Mongolia to rejuvenate its economy according to the capitalist school of thought, policy makers abandoned the planned economy. Moreover, to promote a new era of economic growth, the Mongolian authorities have chosen a radical transition process based on the “shock theory”.
A gradual transition was difficult to envisage because of the structural dependence on the Soviet economy and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) of the USSR. The transition resulted in a violent economic crisis.
Mongolia’s GDP did not reach its 1989 level until 2003, while the volume of foreign trade returned to its 1989 level in 2004. Unemployment and hyperinflation created social hardship culminating with the ration tickets in early 1990s. Due to the magnitude of the crisis, the years after 1990 are considered a “lost decade” for Mongolia. Policymakers needed to capitalize on Mongolia’s comparative advantages, primarily the country’s natural resources, coal and copper.
Moreover, at the end of the Batmunkh era, most of the COMECON countries faced similar economic challenges. It also meant competition for financial and economic resources. Mongolia has sought to strengthen its already established diplomatic ties, focusing primarily on economic issues and seeking assistance from donors beyond Russia and China. Mongolia looked to the four “Asian Tiger” economies – South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan – as examples of successful development models. Former Prime Minister Jasrai Puntsag wrote in his memoir: “If you were to say that Batmunkh only understood this in 1989, that would be a big misconception. In 1985, Mongolia’s foreign policy took a new direction. During those years, we started to strengthen Mongolian relations with Japan, China and establish bilateral relations with South Korea. We aimed to strengthen the economy and trade, science and technology and development in the humanities sector.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the brutal democratic revolution deprived Mongolia of the security guarantees offered by the Soviet Union and forced it to ensure its own independence and the protection of its sovereignty. This situation has led the authorities to formalize an innovative and original strategic response that plays on the democratic specificity claimed by Mongolia. This strategic approach is based on three priorities. Mongolian diplomatic efforts are primarily aimed at developing friendly relations with its two geographic neighbors, Russia and China. Mongolian diplomacy then focused on developing and strengthening privileged relations with democratic and developed countries, its “third-party neighbors”. In this pursuit, Mongolia has successfully established strategic partnerships with Russia and China, and neighboring third countries around the world in addition to its international peacekeeping operations.
As Mongolia recently celebrated the 110th anniversary of the establishment of Mongolian diplomacy, the country is moving forward with a strong foreign policy that engages the country in regional and global affairs. The collapse of the Soviet Union transformed Mongolia, but Mongolia’s peaceful democratic revolution remains the keystone of Mongolia’s multi-pillar foreign policy approach that protects Mongolia’s national interests.