Steppes on the path to prosperity

The capital city Ulaanbaatar is home to one third of the entire country’s population.

When Genghis Kahn created the Mongol empire 800 years ago, he consolidated the states under one system and opened them up to trade and cultural exchange. He was considered responsible for giving Mongolia a unified and ethnic identity and provided stability for the nation during uncertain times. Most Mongolians regard him as a great leader, whose infamy for brutality is balanced by the positive effects he had on the Mongol state. When Mongolia withdrew from the Russian bloc in 1990, the people upheld the Great Khan as a symbol of the free national identity.

As the government had been modeled on the Soviet system, until 1990 the Communist MPRP was the only functioning party in Mongolia. A sudden shift towards reform took place when the Mongolian Democratic Union appeared on the political scene. As a result of increasing political opposition, the MPRP resigned and the constitution was amended to allow for opposition parties, create a standard legislative body and establish the office of president.

While the long path towards democracy has not been easy, Mongolians are, by nature, adaptable, ready to make the transition a success. “We Mongolians are a nomadic people. We have to be ready to move whenever it may be necessary. To make the change to democracy was like migration and moving to a new pasture,” says Nambaryn Enkhbayar, the nation’s president. “Democracy is a test and a challenge which presents opportunities. Now we live in a society where we try to fully realize our potential. In the old system, we were allowed to live, study, and speak without using our potential. That’s the difference between the totalitarian regime and democracy.”

Mongolia has, for the most part, been receptive to change. Urban development, people’s lifestyles and the construction of larger factories and enterprises are considered key factors which have allowed the country to endure and absorb transition. However, key priorities such as infrastructure, tourism, education, information technology (IT) and the mining sector still require further development. The government is currently looking to attract investment from the foreign private sector. More funds, technology and outside experience are the principle ways Mongolia is looking to make progress.

Another important challenge for Mongolia is to capitalize on its strategic geographical position between Russia and China. Plans are underway to develop the rail network that links these two countries across Mongolian territory. A regional electrical power sharing initiative to connect Mongolia, Russia, China and Northeast Asia is also making steady progress. “We need to keep the country open politically so that we can change economically,” says Prime Minister Miyeegombo Enhkbold. “If we can keep Mongolia open for investment and construction of infrastructure, we can become an important player in northeast Asia.”

Geographically, Mongolia’s position between China and Russia has not made it easy to develop an independent and dynamic economy. For years it relied heavily on the Soviet Union until 1990 when the regime was dismantled. The nation subsequently suffered a recession; however, later, after a sweeping privatization of the economy and a shift towards free-market economics, Mongolia was on the path towards economic growth. After a series of reforms and the stabilization of the banking sector, the economy has since found its equilibrium.

The progress and changes which Mongolia has made and gone through during the last 800 years since its original formation have become a cause for official celebration: eight centuries of statehood. To celebrate, the government has declared 2006 a year-long celebration with special activities planned almost every day. “The 800th anniversary of the establishment of the Great Mongolian state is a great opportunity to promote Mongolia and to make the world understand its outstanding history,” says the prime minister. From dances and parades to contests and exhibitions, the activities pay homage to Mongolia’s unique cultural heritage. The culmination of festivities falls on the national holiday, Nadaam, on July 11th-13th. Another big festival will be held at the end of August in Kharakorum, the former capital.