By Julian Dierkes
In a post to the Globe & Mail’s Worldview blog, Mark Mackinnon wrote about neo-Soviet experiments in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. When Mark tweeted about this article he wrote, “Twenty years after fall of the USSR, Russians and their neighbours still struggling to end authoritarianism”. You can guess the direction that I will be going with this…
Twenty+ years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Mongolia remains the only post-Soviet nation/republic where democracy is somewhat reasonably entrenched. This is one of the features of contemporary Mongolia that makes it so fascinating.
[N.B.: The category of “Russians and their neigbours” is clearly too broad in another way as that would include Finland, the Baltic countries and Japan where none of the arguments that Mark makes seem to apply.]
Sure, Mongolian democracy is dominated by patronage politics and sees its share of convulsions (see “Current Convulsions in Mongolia’s Political Party Landscape” Asia Pacific Memo #52, Feb 1, 2011; “Why no Anti-Mining Party in Mongolia?” Asia Pacific Memo #106, Oct 4, 2011; “Mongolia, A Sultanistic Democracy?” and other posts in the “democracy” category of this blog). Yet, successive, peaceful changes of government (ignoring for the moment the riots of July 1, 2008) are but one criterion that points to the institutionalization of democracy. In the run-up to the parliamentary election next summer, many – reasonably – expect turmoil, but few fear any kind of turn toward authoritarianism.
For the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, Mongolia sits squarely in the “flawed democracy” category, a classification it shares with France, Greece (“The Cradle of Democracy”), and many nations of the former Soviet Bloc, Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine being the only other neighbours of Russia in this category, while some other neighbours (Finland and Japan) are in the “full democracy” category.
The Freedom House Index firmly marks Mongolia as “free” (political rights: 2, civil liberties: 2). It shares this status with Estonia, Finland, Japan, Latvia and Ukraine among Russia’s immediate neighbours.
The inclusion of the Ukraine in relatively high categories in both these indices may well change in coming editions due to the controversy surrounding the arrest of Julia Tymoshenko.
Mark Mackinnon identifies political responses to criticism as the focus point that may determine the fate of democracy in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. By this measure as well, Mongolia fares very well. Since the murder of Zorig in 1998, there has been no overt political violence in Mongolia (unless you believe conspiracy theories associated with Khurts, his arrest in the UK, and subsequent release in Germany this year), nor repression of dissent.
While the Mongolian press can veer toward the sensationalistic at times, it certainly is lively.
My reply to Mark Mackinnon thus is: Not all neighbours of Russia are struggling to end authoritarianism, some have succeeded long ago!
Or, in the (paraphrased) words of one of the world’s great fictional freedom fighters, “THE YEAR IS 2011 C.E. and the former Soviet Union and its neighbours are entirely occupied by authoritarians. Well, not entirely… One small nation of indomitable Mongolians still holds out against the invaders…”