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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 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.
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?
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 per cent. 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?
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 and Helen Evans is a husband and wife team who are freelance writers and speakers and teach a philosophical approach to conservatism. They are also real estate agents in the Washington, DC area.
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