A speech given at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang by the president of Mongolia late last month has caused raised eyebrows for its starkly critical portrayal of the follies of tyrannical rule and the repression of human rights.
President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj delivered the speech on the final day of his visit to North Korea. Mongolia has traditionally maintained friendly relations with the North, but the tenor of the speech is bound to have caused surprise even though it was delivered before an audience of relative loyalists.
The most notable element was the way President Elbegdorj linked the nature of tyrannous governance to prospects for economic development, stating: “No tyranny lasts for ever. It is the desire of the people to live free that is the eternal power,” and that, “Over twenty years ago, the sheer share of the private sector in Mongolia’s GDP was less than 10%, whereas today it accounts for over 80%. So, a free society is a path to go, a way to live, rather than a goal to accomplish.”
“We do not hide our shadow,” he went on. “Our mistakes and our lessons are open. Freedom is a system where one can make a mistake, and also learn from the mistake. The path a free and open society walks on is a learning process itself.”
President Elbegdorj also commented in the speech on the need to foreswear nuclear weapons (Mongolia is a self-declared nuclear-free zone) and capital punishment (which Mongolia has also abolished).
According to the presidential office, the North Korean side put forward the topic of the speech, Mongolia’s foreign policy and the relations between Mongolia and North Korea. However, he was requested not to employ the words “democracy” or “market economy” it it. Although he offered to take questions, none were asked.
President Elbegdorj is just 50 years old. However, he has a long career of pro-democracy activities behind him, and played a major role in freeing Mongolia from communist rule in 1990. The full text of his speech to Kim Il Sung University is reproduced below.
I convey my sincere greetings to the scholars, professors and students of the Kim Il Sung University.
I am delighted to have this historic opportunity to visit the Kim Il Sung University and speak about Mongolia’s foreign policy and the relations between Mongolia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Briefly, from history…
Mongolia is a peace-loving, independent, open country conducting multi-pillar foreign policy. The policies of the Mongolian Statehood have centuries-long traditions. As many of you know, in the 13-14th centuries Mongols had built the greatest empire on earth. In those times, Mongol Empire crafted its policies and governed by a written law, and the law was called “Ikh Zasag”. Back then, Mongols promoted free trade and ran open foreign policy.
Scholars note that it was precisely in the years of the Mongol Empire that the oriental and occidental worlds, Asia and Europe were genuinely connected. The Great Mongol Empire respected the people’s freedom of faith and freedom to create. The Empire ran very active policies toward Asia, Europe and Middle East. These were the Mongol envoys, messengers and diplomats that embodied and moulded diplomatic immunity in the true sense of the word. You may have also heard that for foreign missions Mongol envoys and diplomats were given golden, silver, copper, brass and wooden Gerege -plates that carried the Khaan’s decree affirming the immunity of the bearer of the Gerege and calling for his free passage and travel.
These were the times when Mongols strived to establish trusted relations and engage in talks with other countries with trust and confidence. I wish to note that the Great Mongol Empire never waged wars without a justifiable reason.
Being built and flourished cross centuries, the Great Mongol Empire had seen a collapse, disunity and decadence through centuries.
Modern Mongolia restored her freedom and independence in December 1911. Since proclaiming her freedom and independence Mongolia engaged in very active foreign policy. In 1961, Mongolia joined the United Nations Organization.
On the holistic nature of our foreign and domestic policies…
Any speech on Mongolia’s foreign policy will not be complete without noting some crucial aspects of our domestic policy, for Mongolia’s foreign and domestic policies are entwined and holistic.
Mongolia is a country respecting human rights and freedoms, upholding rule of law and pursuing open policies. Mongolia holds dear the fundamental human rights – freedom of expression, right to assembly and the right to live by his or her own choice.
I believe in the power of freedom. Freedom is an asset bestowed upon every single man and woman. Freedom enables every human to discover and realize his or her opportunities and chances for development. This leads a human society to progress and prosperity. Free people look for solutions in themselves. And those without freedom search for the sources of their miseries from outside. Mongols say, “better to live by your own choice however bitter it is, than to live by other’s choice, however sweet”.
No tyranny lasts forever. It is the desire of the people to live free that is the eternal power.
In 1990 Mongolia made a dual political and economic transition, concurrently, without shattering a single window and shedding a single drop of blood. Let me draw just one example. Over twenty years ago, the sheer share of the private sector in Mongolia’s GDP was less than 10%, whereas today it accounts for over 80%. So, a free society is a path to go, a way to live, rather than a goal to accomplish.
Strengthening a free society and transitioning to it is not easy. It is a daily task, a gruelling mundane routine to clean our free society from ills and dirt, just like parents change the diapers of their babies every morning.
These days Mongolia is paying concerted attention to judicial reform. Corruption is a mortal enemy on our way to development. Mongolia strives to implement a policy of zero-tolerance to corruption.
We do not hide our shadow. Our mistakes and our lessons are open. Freedom is a system where one can make a mistake, and also learn from the mistake. The path a free and open society walks on is a learning process itself. I am a learning man as well. I was born to a herders’ family. I am the youngest of a couple with 8 sons. And I am very happy for the chance given by the free choice of my people, to serve the common interests of my people.
On lessons learnt, On Capital Punishment, Nuclear-Weapon Free Status, UN…
We have nothing to teach, nothing to preach, yet we have always been happy to share with the lessons we learned from our mistakes. Today Mongolia faces many challenges and uneasy decisions. The principle we uphold in tackling those difficulties is being more open, more transparent, and with greater citizens’ participation.
Mongolia cherishes one’s right to life holding it for the supreme value. Since June 2009, Mongolia has fully stopped capital punishment. We stand for full abolishment of capital punishment.
Twenty-one years ago, Mongolia declared herself a nuclear-weapon-free zone. The five permanent Member States of the UN Security Council have confirmed Mongolia’s status in writing. Mongolia prefers ensuring her security by political, diplomatic and economic means. As of today, Mongolia established and maintains diplomatic relations with 172 out of 193 UN Member States.
Mongolia pursues active policies in our region and in multilateral forums.
Mongolia - DPRK relations…
Now let me briefly speak about Mongolia and DPRK relations. The relations between the peoples of Mongolia and Korea date back centuries ago. During my current visit, I visited a historical monument – the Tomb of King Kongmin. I was deeply touched and impressed by the beautiful story of love, affection and respect between the King Kongmin, the King of Koryo, and his Mongol Queen.
And today, Mongolia and the DPRK maintain traditionally good relations. Our bilateral relations are the fruits of hard and hearty efforts of our honourable seniors.
We’ve never forsaken each other at the times of hardship…
Mongolia is the second country to establish diplomatic relations with the DPRK. On October 15, 1948 Mongolia and the DPRK signed an Agreement of Mutual Recognition. In early 1950s, in the heat of the Korean War, our two countries decided to establish respective Embassies in the two countries.
Mongolia’s First Ambassador to the DPRK was a renowned statesman of Mongolia, who served as the Chairman of the Presidium of the State Great Khural of Mongolia for many years, Mr. Jamsrangiin Sambuu. And during the War, when Ambassadors were urged to leave the country for security considerations, Ambassador Sambuu was the only Ambassador to stay behind in DPRK: ”We are not that type of people who leave the friends behind. I will stay with comrade Kim Il Sung during these hard times”, said Ambassador Sambuu.
Leader Kim Il Sung visited Mongolia for the first time in 1956, during the post-war extensive construction and development works in DPRK. For the second time, he visited Mongolia in 1988. This year marks the 25th anniversary of that visit.
It is our duty to further enrich our relations, the foundation to which was laid down by our respectable seniors. Our two countries are good friends who didn’t forsake each other in the times of need and desperation. We are the people who even raised our orphan children together, who stood by each other with hands extended for help, and souls offered for solace. And I do believe that Mongolia and the DPRK will enrich our relations with new stories of shared success and happiness.
On Recent Developments…
In recent years, we have started seeing active reciprocation of high level visits between our two countries. We have in place the Mongolia-DPRK Intergovernmental consultative commission, which has reinvigorated its activities and is tackling many issues. Also we see that our public organizations, citizens, businesses have started actively engaging with each other. On this visit, there are many Mongolian businessmen wishing to do business with the DPRK. We also have with us Mongolian children - our junior soccer players.
I do believe that the economic relations between our two countries are consistent with the goal of leader Kim Jon-un to establish a “state with a powerful economy”. Mongolia has been striving to actively participate in strengthening security in Northeast Asia. Mongolia has proposed an initiative Ulaanbaatar Dialogue on Northeast Asia Security. This initiative aims at strengthening confidence and resolving issues through peaceful and diplomatic means in our region.
I wish to reiterate my sincere gratitude to the people and leaders of the DPRK for the warm hospitality accorded to me and my delegation during this visit. I have met with the leaders of your country and engaged in crucial talks and dialogues to invigorate our relations in political, economic, social, cultural, sports and humanitarian fields.
We unanimously agreed that expansion of relations in education sector, academic exchanges of scholars, students, and youth is vital for our bilateral cooperation. There are ample opportunities to exchange artists and athletes and engage in joint projects, and we shall support such efforts. I was so excited and happy to attend the opening of a soccer tournament of junior soccer-players of our two countries yesterday in front of 50-thousand fans and spectators in the stadium.
I am equally excited and rejoiced to have this opportunity to visit the Kim Il Sung University, speaking in front of you about Mongolia, and the relations between our two countries.
I know well that for any country, the intellectual repository of the nation – universities, their scholars and professors, students and youth – play an enormously important role in shaping and defining the fate, the life of the entire nation. I will always remember with delight and warmth this meeting of mine with you - the Korean youth, the future of your country.
I do believe in the vigour of mind, creativity and energy of the youth. The leader of the DPRK Kim Jon-un is also a young man. I do believe that you have all what it takes to lead the Korean people to a happy and prosperous future. And with this, I sincerely wish success in all your future endeavours.
I would be happy to respond to any questions that you might entertain. Thank you.