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.