Freedom Day Speech
Dr. David E. Martin, Chairman, M•CAM
In Honor of the 21st Anniversary of the Democratic Union of Mongolia
Honorable Citizens of Mongolia,
It is my distinguished privilege to stand before you this evening as we celebrate the upcoming 21st Anniversary of the organization of the Mongolian Democratic Union. In the short period of time during which my relationships in Mongolia have been deepening, I count it a particular honor to engage as dear friends many of those who resolved, in the Winter of 1989, to choose peaceful engagement to transform this great country. In a world where conflict and injustice is so frequently spotlighted in media and social metaphors, the courage of those who, in modesty and in anonymity, chose to put country before personal gain and put the cause of the citizen above the cause of the State demands our appreciation and evokes our deepest respect. To each of you gathered here tonight, and to all those who read and hear these words, let me promise you that your contribution to humanity’s brighter models of transformation will live in honor.
As I reflect on my interactions with public and private sector interests here in Mongolia, I see an interesting mix of challenges and opportunities confronting this young incarnation of an 800 year old nation. Eight centuries ago, a vision of a unified network of tribes and trade routes led Mongolia to determine a geopolitical and economic model which defined the economic, social, cultural, religious, and military principles for people ranging from the Pacific Ocean to the East to the Mediterranean and North Sea to the West. During periods of European repression of knowledge and inquiry at the hands of power intoxicated clerics, the Mongolian impulse to act expansively on the global stage shaped human history in ways that persist to this day.
It is, therefore, ironic, that on this Freedom Day we would consider the pursuit of Mongolia’s destiny with the words “Freedom”, “Democracy”, and “Revolution”. And I would like us to consider, with great precision, the assumptions embedded in these much used, albeit much misunderstood terms to see if they are the best descriptors of what we gather to celebrate this evening.
Freedom, at its core, represents the principle of being released from restraint. It is, in fact, the absence of a restrictive force or influence. While many celebrate Freedom as an aspiration, this tendency is filled with unintended consequences. In 1989, and for the years leading up to the march to autonomy, it was clear that release of restraints and restrictions on the thoughts, words, actions, and destiny of the citizens of this country was a value worth pursuing. In short, it was very clear in the minds of many that an undesirable State needed to be transformed by rejecting certain impositions and embracing a different path. And in the moment we celebrate this evening, Freedom was a short-term, valuable goal. However, in 2010, the persistence of the messages of “Freedom” may fuel political and social interactions that are destructive to the social fabric of the country. In a multi-party system, dialogue, honest disagreement, and transparent social experimentation for the common good are of far greater value than the tyranny of victory by viewing fellow citizens as opponents. In fact, what Mongolia – and for that matter, the U.S. and many other failing democracies – need to reconsider is whether the impulse to see public disagreement as restrictive and restraint is in fact in direct opposition to the very value we say we hold. By characterizing public service in the paradigm of Freedom, we constantly see struggle and victory as tactical goals and achievements and we quite often lose sight of a common, shared destiny achieved through a multitude of optional paths.
So this evening, I would propose that, instead of Freedom, we encourage the value of Liberty. Where freedom is a response to an imposed force, Liberty is the capacity to fully engage as citizens of a common future. Liberty is both an ideal and a right. However, implicit in the construct of Liberty are the notions of Tolerance (both for self and others) and Citizenship (seeing a communal good as a unifying principle).
In what is thought to be the first Declaration of Human Rights, Cyrus the Great of Persia declared:
“I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them. I will impose my monarchy on no nation. Each is free to accept it, and if any one of them rejects it, I resolve never to war on them. I never let anyone oppress any others, and if it occurs, I will take his or her right back and penalize the oppressor. I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation.”
It is evident that this remarkable vision understood that tyranny of conflict in which one is the victor and the other the loser is destructive to the common good. Liberty of culture, religion, and even loyalty were all seen as fundamentally human.
Which brings me to “Democracy”. The Greek ideal, clearly defined by Plato as the “rule by the governed” is as elusive today as it was 2600 years ago. And, in 2600 years, the same challenges and threats to manifesting the ideal exist. In its present state, democracy’s greatest threat comes from the commercialization of the public office. In countries calling themselves democracies, the financial corruption of this social institution has reached epidemic levels. In the recent elections in the U.S., over half the GDP of Mongolia was spent in eight months on trying to purchase influence in the U.S. Congress. The fact that people vote in elections is somehow confused with the ideal of democracy. To be clear, voting is NOT democracy – it’s a procedural and parliamentary decision methodology. Democracy requires those who are citizens selecting among their fellow citizens those who are worthy of leadership. Long ago, the United States abandoned the notion of public service in high office. The business of government begins, far too often, at the compromise of pure intention for the expediency of power or financial gain. And to be clear, without a conscious decision to take another path, the future for Mongolia could be very compromised as the world desperately seeks to influence those who will provide concessions to the expropriation of Mongolian resources for the benefit of special interests and foreign investors. If elections are funded or influenced by any foreign interest, they are NOT democracy. In fact, the functional corporate-led coup d'état which led the financial markets and industrialists to rule the U.S. and the U.K. from the 19th century to present is a risk facing Mongolia today. If Democracy is to be manifest in its true form in Mongolia, this young nation must clearly set down mechanisms to insure that the people’s voice – not the special moneyed interests – are clearly and most powerfully heard.
Which brings us to my final theme. In the fashion of other founding impulses, there is a predisposition to see transformation of social systems as Revolution. There is a certain pride associated with forging an identity that is galvanized around the passion of Revolt. Out with Oppressors and Power to the People seems like such a wonderful, populist ideal. However, let us be quite clear. In the two decades since Mongolia began its current history, what has been the case is that the colonial powers of industry and oppression have been traded for colonial powers of the global capital markets. When the Government of Mongolia purchases goods and services from China, Korea, Russia, Taiwan, the US and EU, this government does not use economic development tools like trade credits, joint venture manufacturing agreements and technology transfer to build its economy at scale. When local natural resources – metals and energy – are planned for development, the country becomes indebted to its own resource use. Rather than using tools of true empowerment and development for the social good, Mongolia has traded one form of oppressor for another in many instances. This is not revolution, independence or sovereignty. Rather it is the persistence of seeing outsiders as those who wield power over the destiny of the citizens of Mongolia.
Tonight, we can do better. In a few short months, we’ve established many partnerships with a singular focus to deal with this challenge. At the heart of the transformative challenge is the greatest challenge facing Mongolia – Information Asymmetry. The Government of Mongolia has not made bad choices – they’ve not been shown real choices. The People of Mongolia have not selected exploitative models of global engagement – they’ve been asked to accept what’s been offered. It is the role, not only of the Citizens of Mongolia but on the Citizens of the Global Community to realize that equal access to information is the most important variable in the transformation of this great nation. If the herder in the South Gobi gets information about water resources from a company who benefits from the disproportionate use of water, it’s not acceptable. If a city official in Ulaanbaatar is told how to control air quality by those who control fossil fuel interests, it’s not likely to be objective. In a world where communication and information seems to be infinite, we lack here and around the world, the ability to ask the question that we didn’t know to ask. We will never find that for which we never knew to look.
So on this Freedom Day night, I encourage you to reclaim the passion that many of you shared in the cold December evenings of 1989. Realize that, on this night, we celebrate the peaceful launch of a great social experiment in one of the most wealthy countries on earth. Wealth measured in metals, fossil fuels, ecosystem of water, sun, and wind exposure, culture, heritage is in abundance here. As such, each of you, together with me and those like me who seek to build a more perfect union, must stand together. As citizens, we must extol the virtue of Liberty. As responsible stewards of a nation with resource and cultural wealth, we must insure that leadership is not turned into a commodity to be bought by the highest bidder. And through the culture of honored citizenship, the transformation born in Mongolia may once again serve as a beacon for a world that needs the inspiration of a country which honors the ideals it promotes. To that end, you have my pledge and my deepest gratitude and respect.