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Peter: What is Peristroika 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 it's 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 socialists 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 alot 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 along 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 in March 9, 1990. That was about 3 months from beginning to the end of dictatorship.
Helen and Peter: That's truly amazing!
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 per cent 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 shakey 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 per cent of the economy was generated by private companies, now it's 70 per cent of our economy. In 1990 we had 300 per cent inflation, now it's one digit.
Helen: So the risk, the courage pays off?
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 per cent Democrats in the Assembly and 90 per cent 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.
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